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A great idea, but some niggles
on 12 June 2010
What a great idea for a children's book: a look at how technology mimics nature, with examples from nature and technology presented in attractive drawings, photos and short explanatory text.
The book consists of a series of double-page spreads covering themes such as "stored energy" and "floating and buoyancy". Of course, it won't appeal to all children, but the right child should find it very engrossing.
On a more critical note, while the books lives up to the title "nature got there first", it falls rather short of establishing the link in its subtitle: "inventions inspired by nature". The book provides little to no evidence that any of the inventions it describes were, in fact, inspired by nature. I for one would be extremely surprised if the invention of the heart defibrillator were inspired by the electric eel, or if a dentist's probe were inspired by a Madagascan monkey's fingers, as is suggested here!
The layout of text boxes and pictures on the page also doesn't help in establishing which invention is supposed to be compared with which natural phenomenon. Graphical features such as scraps of notebook paper and rivetted metal plates are used to frame text without any obvious pattern to the choice.
There are also various statements that are misleading or inaccurate, such as "hand-held spray cans use a similar mechanism to the bombardier beetle's" - no they don't! Also, the hairs on a Venus flytrap don't really act much like electric light switches. The frequency of reflected ultrasound doesn't automatically change as a bat nears its target. A cheetah's claws aren't always extended (although it does lack claw sheaths). I could go on. They're all minor things, really, but poor in an educational book.
The level of vocabulary and assumed knowledge of physics also seems rather varied. Although there is a helpful glossary at the back, I wonder if it wouldn't have been better to include the explanation in the body of the book. Terms such as "arrestor wire" aren't in the glossary. "Ultrasound" is defined as "high frequency sound", but any child who understands the concept of acoustic frequency is likely to have come across the term "ultrasound" already.
These minor quibbles aside, this is fun and nicely produced book, which I would recommend to any child with a curiosity about the world.
"There is for a free man no occupation more worthy and delightful than to contemplate the beauteous works of nature and honour the infinite wisdom and goodness of God." - John Ray