Wednesday, May 13, 2009

First Things: First Space Encyclopedia, edited by Coroline Bingham

The latest entry in Dorling Kindersley's noted First Reference Series, First Space Encyclopedia (DK First Reference), bravely takes on a REALLY BIG subject--space and what is out there in it.

Actually, more a browsing book than an encyclopedia, this volume utilizes DK's trademark spot art and a similar spatter-shot textual design which serves more to tempt and tantalize students to delve deeper than as a compendium of all knowledge. Not that any volume could cover all of space, but DK really doesn't even try. Rather, informational text boxes, paragraphs, lists, and a great many salient questions dot each two page spread, fulsomely illustrated with color photos, drawings, and diagrams. One recurring sidebar lures students into a "Curiosity Quiz" which reviews information already presented. Another "spot," a circular text box headed by "Become An Expert..." refers readers by page to related subject elsewhere, while another, "Weird but true" teases the student with fascinating factoids.

Although there is no traditional paragraph, section, and chapter arrangement with identifiable headings and subheadings to signal the interrelation of information presented, DK does divide the subject into major topics: What Is Space? Exploring Space; The Solar System, Comets and Meteors, Mysteries of Space, Space for Everyone, and a Reference Section with a full glossary and index.

In addition to coverage of telescopes, manned and unmanned space exploration, and varied hardware, the book takes on the "mysteries" of space--dark matter, supernovas, black holes, and UFO's. Discussion is given to the recent discovery of a possible Earth-like planet circling star Gliese 581, as well as the reasons for the demotion of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet status.

With astronauts preparing for extra-vehicular activity around the Hubble Telescope right now, this is a good time for students to become aware of the awesome history of manned space exploration thus far. For young readers who like to like to take brief space walks outside our earthly atmosphere, First Space Encyclopedia (DK First Reference), is a great addition to home, classroom, and school library shelves. And for adults like most of us, for whom science classes are well in the rearview mirror, this one is a great review of stuff we all probably once knew.

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