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Confident with questions

From acids to X-rays, Jackie Hardie looks at a resource that clarifies all those hard-to-explain topics

The Young Oxford Encyclopedia of Science. By Richard Dawkins and Robin Kerrod. Oxford University Press. pound;30. www.oup.co.ukisbn 0-19-910711-4

We all dread the "what", "why" and "how" questions that children ask and we feel guilty when our response is a bewildered shrug. The Young Oxford Encyclopedia of Science and its related website could put an end to all this.

The impressive collection of authors, consultants and editors have compiled an alphabetical list of topics - from acids and alkalis to X-rays - and have attempted to explain each one using straightforward, accessible language and full-colour diagrams and photographs. If you can't find a topic by flicking through the book, you can use the comprehensive index.

Some of the topics, such as those about nuclear energy and relativity, are very demanding and probably beyond the grasp of key stage 2 and 3 pupils who are the target audience. A few topics are so broad - astronomy, chemicals, earth, plants and weather, for example - that it's impossible to do them justice in one or two pages. But others, such as alloys, seasons, temperature and telescopes, are not too technical and contain information that links to school courses. However, there are some odd overlaps. Why pages are needed on eyes, ears, skin and hair, but not on noses is open to question.

At the bottom of most of the topic pages is a "footer". At first glance it appears to contain cross-references, so it seems bizarre that the footer on a page about bacteria and viruses is concerned with balance, balloons, a cross-reference to aeroplanes, and barometers. Then the penny drops: the words are in alphabetical order and reveal topics that don't have their own article but are covered on pages elsewhere. It seems an unnecessary addition when there's a more than adequate index. However, it does provide a few minutes light relief - what could be the link between bacteria and aeroplanes? If you search the text you find the word "hijack" is a possible link.

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