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The truth about the body

THE EGG AND SPERM RACE By Fran Balkwill. Illustrated by Mic Rolph Collins Pounds 12.99. 0 00 196517 4

The Egg and Sperm Race is a clear. comprehensive guide to the human body by the joint winners of the 1991 Copus Prize. Fran Balkwill's text combines up-to-the minute cell and molecular biology with basic facts about the human body. She is a scientist whose day job is running a laboratory investigating new treatments for cancer - but she also has the gift of communication and writes for children with an easy flowing style.

The great thing about this book is that it never under-estimates anyone. A child can understand the complexity of microbiology if it is put across in the right way. Many books for children about "The Body" read as if they could be understood by a glove puppet. Children don't need this. They can absorb enormously tough theories and processes faster than most adults.

Here, everything about the body is explained. Nothing is left out or glossed over, from the first life on Earth to the future of humanity. A vast expanse of information is poured out but it never feels forced or confusing because the writing is so well paced. The text is perfectly balanced by the quality of illustration. Mic Rolph's style is bright and graphic and enhances the text every time. He is the kind of illustrator every science writer dreams of teaming up with. His pictures always make the text work better; they are never dull and never overwhelm the words with distracting images.

Each chapter looks at a different function of the body from skeleton through to brains and digestion. All the normal biological information is there, but it is ignited by the magic of molecular biology. In this book a bone isn't just part of a skeleton. The text always goes much deeper than that into cell structures and functions. Neutrophils and macrophages dance before the eyes, and quite right too. If a child is told the truth that is what it will learn. This is a simply splendid book.

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