13th October 2000 at 01:00
THE KINGFISHER SCIENCE ENCYCLOPEDIA. General editor Charles Taylor. Kingfisher pound;30

This big, glossy encyclopedia contains a wealth of information to help with homework and fuel interest in science.

The overall impression of the book is appealing, with well laid out, welcoming pages. The text is well spaced and clear, yet there is enough of it to make youngsters feel that this is a book that takes things seriously. The illustrations are on the whole large and well drawn and effective use of colour make the diagrams attractive and easy to understand.

There are also plenty of striking and informative photographs. However, in some cases expert knowledge is needed even to decide which way up the pictures should be. In these cases the captions do not provide the information necessary to decipher the pictures.

This is very much the sort of book that schools buy for the library and parents buy to help their children's science education. Does it do the job? In many ways, the answer is yes. There is plenty of information on most topics, although not enough for in-depth studies - in site of the claims on the dust jacket. The index is clear and easy to use. However, the sophistication of the content is variable, as if different contributors were pitching their material at different age groups. For example, some of the biology has been simplified to the point of being wrong in the context of the science taught in schools (cells are not usually described with a thin outer wall), yet in other places the language and level of technical jargon seems excessive. Only the brightest nine to 10-year-olds would be able to understand this book; many 11 to 14-year-olds would find it useful and interesting; while the appeal for older children would depend on their ability - more able students would already be working at a more advanced level.

So it's a lovely book, but gives the feeling of being produced without a clear view of whom it is aimed at. With money to spare I'd buy it, but if there was only going to be one science encyclopedia in the house then I'm afraid that I would prefer Dorling Kindersley's.

Ann Fullick is a science writer and former head of science.

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