This is a great book to give as a gift to a kid aged 7-9 if you want to flatter his or her parents by suggesting that you think their kid is bright. Whether the kid will like it or not is open to little bit of debate.
First off, I think the design is meant to appeal to parents in their forties rather than kids. It has a very retro look - a lot of the books that I had as a kid had been printed in the 60s and early 70s and looked like this. I'm not sure it will appeal to today's CGI-reared generation. The cover has a distressed look as if the book is old and well loved. I suspect that some kids will think they've been given a second hand book when they see it. Also, some of the text is printed in black against a very dark colour - you need to read this in a well lit room. The star I've knocked off is for the design that, in my limited sample size, didn't really appeal to its target market.
So, what of the content? The book is designed to get kids thinking for themselves so it often answers questions with another question. Generally speaking this works well as it encourages children to think critically and develop their powers of deduction and reasoning. At times I found its tendency to be non-judgemental annoying - but them I'm a grumpy 43 year old who made his mind up a long time ago on things like astrology and intelligent design. In many cases my instinct would be to say "No of course not" - but then that wouldn't be as powerful as nudging the child in the right direction and allowing them to make up their own mind. As an aside, this book has been great in reminding me to frame answers to my daughter's questions in a more open way where appropriate.
The topics covered are broken up into four sections:
* The Great Big Universe Puzzle (physical sciences - although nothing on where babies come from);
* Mysterious Minds and Robots that Think (from consciousness to spoon bending);
* The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (ethics); and
* Seeing and Believing (critical thinking, the difference between theory and belief).
The answers are generally very good, fair and open and should help your child (a) decide what they think is right for themselves on those points where there isn't a 100% true and right answer and (b) help them develop the sort of skills that they will need in order to form intelligent and well thought out opinions on anything not in the book. It might be a bit frustrating for anyone who "just wants to know the answer".