Picture Book Perusal: General Relativity for Babies…

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I’ve got one for the science buffs today with General Relativity for Babies by Chris Ferrie.  I requested this one from Netgalley for review on the logic that I, as an intelligent, adult gargoyle, should be able to understand a concept – even one as advanced as general relativity – when it is explained at a baby’s cognitive level.   Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

A brand-new board book series with simple explanations of complex ideas for your future genius!

It only takes a small spark to ignite a child’s mind! Written by an expert, General Relativity for Babies is a colorfully simple introduction to Einstein’s most famous theory. Babies (and grownups!) will learn all about black holes, gravitational waves, and more. With a tongue-in-cheek approach that adults will love, this installment of the Baby University board book series is the perfect way to introduce basic concepts to even the youngest scientists. After all, it’s never too early to become a quantum physicist!

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So, was my reasoning spurious?

Long story short: yes.

Yes it was.

I was unable to grasp complex scientific principles delivered at the cognitive level of a baby.  The first few pages were okay.  I was pretty confident with my grasp of things having more or less mass, and the ability of mass to warp space.

But when we got on to particles not being able to go where they please, I was lost.  It was all over.  Nevertheless, I persisted to the end of the book, picked up some basic information about black holes and subsequently consigned all that talk about particles taking the shortcut through warped mass to the black hole of my memory.

As far as baby-appeal goes however, this book is on the right track.  The illustrations are bright and consist of large shapes in contrasting colours.  The text is short.  The images are stark and perfect for babies at an early stage of development who like big shapes and simple images against solid background colours.  Science fans will get a kick out of reading this to their mini-lab-assistants-in-training.

Overall, this is a super fun idea for a series of board books and are a great way for parents to engage their mini-fleshlings in topics that set their scientific hearts aflutter.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Many Worlds of Albie Bright: A GSQ Review

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It’s time to look at all that’s good, sad and quirky about The Many Worlds of Albie Bright by Christopher Edge, a new release middle grade romp that features science fiction, science fact and lots of sciencey faffing about with bananas and wayward cats.  We received a copy of this one from Allen & Unwin for review after eyeing it covetously on various “coming soon” lists of middle grade fiction.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Albie’s mum dies, it’s natural he should wonder where she’s gone. His parents are both scientists and they usually have all the answers. Dad mutters something about Albie’s mum being alive and with them in a parallel universe. So Albie finds a box, his mum’s computer and a rotting banana, and sends himself through time and space to find her…

the many worlds of albie bright

The Good

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As UK middle grade reads go, this one is quite original.  If you discount the oft-used “child coping with the death of a parent” storyline, there is plenty here that goes beyond the usual bounds of middle-grade fare.  We’ll discuss those bits more in the “quirky” section though.

Albie is a character who will resonate with many readers; a young man trying hard to honour his mother’s memory, while his father just works to forget.  There are a number of competing themes going on here including family realignment after the loss of a parent, dealing with grief, finding one’s purpose and challenging accepted boundaries of thought.  The pace of the book is even, with an episodic plot that follows Albie as he hops from one world to another.  I particularly enjoyed the character of Alba and her interaction with Albie and would have loved to have seen more interactions like this throughout the book.

The Sad

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There was something missing throughout this book for me and I suspect that the missing something was a strong supporting character.  For much of the book Albie goes it on his own, so the narration comprises a lot of Albie telling us what’s going on or relating his thoughts without much to break this up.  A bit more banter between Albie and …someone…would have made the book a bit pacier and more engaging in my opinion, and allowed for a bit of unexpectedness in a plot where the reader suspects everything will turn out in the end.

I also had a problem with the straightforward way in which Albie manages to solve all the problems of inter-dimensional travel without much effort. The plot is full of complex, nebulous scientific ideas that even proper scientists have trouble with, but Albie’s scientific problems – such as getting from one world to another and how to get home again – are solved by accident or dumb luck.  I felt that the author couldn’t quite decide whether this was supposed to be first and foremost a book about science and parallel universes, or a book about grief and personal growth, so left both plotlines a little underdeveloped in order to manage such big ideas in a book for young readers.

The Quirky

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I can safely say that this is the first time I have encountered such a focus on science in a middle grade fiction offering.  Throughout the story many theories, experiments and facts are brought up – including, but not limited to, the Large Hadron Collider and Shrodinger’s Cat – and this will really appeal to those young readers who can’t get enough of science fact and how it might be imagined as science fiction.  I can imagine that after reading this book at least one kid (or adult!) will grab a bunch of balloons and their younger sibling’s favourite toy and attempt to launch the two into space.

Overall I enjoyed this book but not nearly as much as I expected I would.  I was hoping for a little more challenge and struggle in Albie’s journey toward healing, and a little more zany danger in his romp through the unknown universe.  It is certainly an ambitious undertaking to attempt to blend high level scientific concepts with the enormity of a child’s grief, but for me it didn’t quite hit the mark.  I certainly enjoyed it while I was reading, but I don’t think it will be one of those books that makes it into the regular rotation of books I recommend to others.

Unless they’re looking for a middle grade read featuring cats that are simultaneously dead and alive.

Until next time,

Bruce