IF ... A MIND-BENDING NEW WAY OF LOOKING AT BIG IDEAS AND NUMBERS
by David J Smith, illustrated by Steve Adams - Kids Can Press and New Frontier Publishing, 2014
ages 4 years to grownup / coffee table, s.t.e.m.
This is a brilliantly informative and fun book. We've had it sitting on our table for a week or so now and it has captivated everyone who picked it up.
It’s all about scale. Scale is tricky to understand for young children, but numbers can get so big that it becomes almost impossible to get a sense of scale even for older children, teens and adults.
Things like the size of the universe, all the wealth in the world, or all the food in world are just such huge quantities that one large number blurs into another. That's where this book comes in.
By reducing all the wealth in the world to a pile of 100 coins, it’s so much easier to visualise where all that money is held. 100 lightbulbs make it far easier to understand where all the world’s energy is coming from. 3000 years of history condensed into 31 days on a calendar page becomes much easier to visualise. And so on.
The food production page was fascinating to me. “iF…” reduces all the food produced in the world to a loaf of bread with 25 slices, then shows how much of that loaf each region in the world produces and how much they eat of the loaf. Lots of ‘food for thought’. :) But also a really impactful talking point – even more so if there’s a loaf of bread handy to divide up.
This is not an alarmist book by any means, but it does give one pause. There's a lot to think about, from water conservation to species extinction to our place in the universe and more.
Each page is full of energy, the illustrations are quirky and fun. And there's just the right amount of information—enough to provide new information and enough left to research independently, making this an ideal book if you have a child who is struggling to find the motivation to read and research. Even the trivia/science/numbers buff in our family found it fun and interesting to read.
It’s also a great book to start talking about environmental issues, income gap issues, and social issues like poverty and life expectancy—conversations that need to be had regularly but are sometimes forgotten in the midst of business.