Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Browsing the Biosphere: The Natural World: the World in Infographics by Jon Richards


Using icons, graphics, and pictograms, infographics visualize data and information in a whole new way!

Owlkids Books launches its new nonfiction series, The World in Infographics, with its just-published The Natural World (The World in Infographics) (Owlkids Books, 2013) in a format that maximizes interest for the elementary school reader. The editors and author Jon Richards start off with a sure-fire subject for its target readers--middle elementary students--the world of nature, in a design that will stir  inquisitiveness about the wonders of animals and plants.

Richards' design covers one facet of the biosphere in each double-page spread in this brief book, beginning with The Order of Natural Things, breaking down the kingdoms of plants and animals into their subordinate scientific hierarchies by phyla, class, order, family, genus, and species, using the "descent" of the familiar wolf as its final species. The following eleven topics include Microscopic World, Genes and Cell Division, Growing Up, Food Webs, Evolution, Fast and Slow (speeds of animals), Big and Small (sizes of plants and animals), Record Breakers, Animal Countdown (timeline of appearance of plants and animals), and Under Threat (endangered species), as well a a very helpful glossary and index.

Clearly this book is intended as an introductory browsing book for young readers interested in the natural world: each two-page subject could easily be a book in its own right, and Richards' selectivity of what facts to include under each topic is clearly intended only to pique interest and provide an framework for further study.

While the use of graphics, icons, charts, graphs, and pictograms is not new to nonfiction, author Richards and illustrator Ed Simkins make good use of this design technique, for example, in the section on maturation, the short-lived ant is shown on a continuous length-of-life line which ends for animals with the Galapagos tortoise (at 190 years) and for plants with black coral which have endured for at least 4,265 years. Food Webs shows how phytoplankton begin the process ending with tertiary consumers such as the polar bear and arctic whales and birds. Big and Small features icons representing the tallest animal (giraffe), down through the largest, the blue whale, through elephants, horses and camels, to humans. A separate comparison shows that a giant sequoia is as tall as 29 stacked elephants, and a fact book points out that the largest living organism is actually a fungus in Oregon covering 3.4 square miles. The chapter on threatened animals shows eye-catching icons side by side representing the relative number of, for example, elephants in Chad declining from 400,000 to 10,000 between 1970 and 2006.

Publishers Weekly gives The Natural World (The World in Infographics) a starred review for its inviting layout and well-chosen examples encouraging student interest in the natural sciences, saying "Richards and Simkins use bright digital graphs, charts, pictograms, and other high-impact images to explore topics related to life on Earth in this smart kickoff to a series."

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