Friday, August 28, 2009

Do Not Open: An Encyclopedia of the World's Best-Kept Secrets

By John Farndon

Dorling Kindersley, 2007

$29.99, ages 10 and up

Nothing attracts a child to reading like a book titled, "Do Not Open," or one that promises to share all the crazy, wonderful stuff adults don't want kids to know about.

That's a lot to live up to, but Farndon's compendium of the world's most peculiar and mysterious facts is every bit as fun as it sounds.

Over the course of 256 pages, the best-selling author delves into 96 mysterious topics, from the truth about hoaxes to the secrets of brainwashing and safe cracking. He also gives the lowdown on bizarre mathematical patterns in nature and loopy laws that could get you locked up and how to create your very own nation and travel through time.

Adding to aura of the information being hush-hush, the book comes in a paperboard book case that's made to look like a metal lock box with painted-on rivets and lock, a window with bars, and a magnetic door enclosure.

With so many facts to choose from, a book this big might look overwhelming, but once inside Farndon gives easy tips to navigate through. At the bottom of every feature are teasers leading to related topics and their page numbers, so there's no need to flip around looking for the next interesting thing or go back and forth to the table of contents, though readers can certainly do that if they prefer. By inviting readers to read in a circuitous fashion, reading becomes an adventure. Kids sleuth through the information, rather than conform to the usual way of looking things up.

On every page inventive graphics make the facts that much more juicy and exciting. In a spread about lost treasures, kids are told true-life stories about stolen gold and jewels then given cardinal directions to fold-out windows on the opposite page that explain (or speculate) what happened to those treasures. The windows are arranged around a map that is set up like a game board, with points of reference and a grid of spaces to move on.

In another feature about reading body language, readers browse through 32 line drawings of a boy's body signals and learn which gestures suggest he is confident, ill-at-ease or lying, while half-way into the book, they come to a section about stealth technology, where the transparent body of the Northrop B-2 Spirit aircraft is superimposed over a blue sky, with breakouts explaining its invisible coating, vapor reducers, gold cockpit and more. (It doesn't get much cooler than that.)

The diversity of graphics reminds me of walking through a modern art museum. No two spreads look alike and there's always an interactive element to peak readers' interest in the facts. This is one reference book that doesn't get lost on a shelf. In fact in our 10-year-old's bedroom, few books other than DK's Cool Stuff series have been opened as much.

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