Give children a sick day

Gillian Ravenscroft reviews the latest educational resources for science

Owlpuke By Jane Hammerslough Workman Publishing, US$13.95 Hunkin's Experiments by Tim Hunkin Pelham Projects, pound;7.99 Solar System Blue Whale by Christine Malloy American Museum of Natural History, pound;7.99 each

Alongside "bad" and "wicked" in the street parlance spoken by children, the current mot du jour for something good is "sick". Off to a head start then, is Owl Puke by Jane Hammerslough (pictured below), where "sick" doesn't sum up the fascinating insights in offer, but is also - quite literally - the case.

Aimed at 8 to 12-year-olds, it consists of a colourful information manual, plastic sorting tray and heat-sterilised owl pellet; a regurgitated ball of indigestible bones and fur. There are instructions on how to dissect the latter and identify the remains - generally belonging to small mammals or birds - and the combination of practical activity, facts, diagrams and photographs will help consolidate knowledge and understanding of food chains, skeletons and digestion. However, the material is very real and may not be appropriate for children - or supervising adults - of a squeamish disposition.

The emphasis is on "doing" in Hunkin's Experiments, an eclectic collection for ages 8 to 80 by the creator of The Rudiments of Wisdom cartoons. Tim Hunkin's book is a DIY manual for would-be inventors with a sense of fun.

Instructions for each experiment are presented in cartoon form and where appropriate carry a warning symbol. However, while turning a violet red or making oxygen from ivy may well complement children's learning, the line between experiment and party trick is sometimes blurred and there is little by way of explanation which might further scientific understanding.

Young children will delight in pulling back the covers of The Solar System to reveal an attractive frieze of the sun and planets. Christine Malloy's titles are aimed at 6 to 10-year-olds and include snippets of information on each page -such as in what order planets orbit the Sun - which are further expanded upon in the mini paperback attached. The visual effects in The Blue Whale are less impressive, but the text on the panels is more detailed. An adjoining booklet on the whale's adaptation to life in the ocean provides opportunities to extend children's learning.

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