MYSTERIES OF SCIENCE SERIES

MYSTERIES OF SCIENCE SERIES

Surprises. Enigmas. Mysteries. Marvels. The world is crammed with them and they never fail to pique our curiosity. More to the point, they invariably prompt curious kids – and which kid isn’t curious? – to ambush you, if you are a teacher, parent, or the only approachable adult within shouting distance, with a barrage of questions. Questions for which you don’t always have the answers, never mind that you were once the class nerd.

The Mysteries Series, a new offering from Red Turtle, addresses such pressing whys, whats, whens, wheres, and hows by providing lucid, easily digestible explanations and facts from “the worlds of nature, science and history”. As you will notice from the titles here, each book in this series delves into a specific number of “mysteries” in a particular field. These are randomly selected, and explored in the chatty question-and-answer format hugely popular with young readers. What is particularly interesting is that the topics are approached from various angles. Scientific facts and theories, educated guesses, old wives’ tales, legends, myths, superstitions, and occasionally, even the etymology of words – we have it all. The explanations are short but informative, and those who are hungry for more can always turn to the slew of fact boxes that flesh out the answers.

In Do Tigers Drink Blood? Reza and Arefa Tehsin set the stage for a lively and instructive foray into the wild. And, what’s more, the Tehsins come with awesome credentials for the task. The author profiles mention that Reza Tehsin “has spent seventy years in and out of jungles” and helped set up three wildlife sanctuaries, while Arefa Tehsin grew up “with jungles and animals around her” thanks to her naturalist father. They are both passionate about wildlife and its conservation, and this energizes their writing and makes the book a must-read for all. That, of course, includes adults, for many of us are woefully ignorant of the goings-on in the world of nature. Did you know, for instance, that king cobras build nests, crocodiles mosey around with stones in their stomach for grinding food, rhinos sport fake horns which, believe it or not, are just hair, and civet poo plays a crucial role in the production the world’s most expensive coffee? The Tehsins unravel all of this and more. We learn about various species, from fireflies (What makes them glow? A chemical reaction in their abdomen) to the big cats (Do tigers drink blood? No, they don’t, because they are unable to suck blood from their prey), as well as lesser known creatures such as the butcher bird (Why this strange name? Because of its gruesome habit of impaling its prey on the thorns of trees to snack on whenever it feels peckish).

The authors’ insights into animal behaviour are the outcome of years of observation and research, which makes their findings all the more significant. Another big plus – these are presented in a readable, age-appropriate style. The humour though seems a bit contrived and doesn’t always work. For example, the authors mention that saltwater crocodiles are a danger to humans, and go on to add that anyone “with uneven teeth, and without braces … would be”. Then again, after explaining that hares eat their own poo for the nutrients it contains, kids are exhorted not to try this even if they’ve gorged on ice cream and chocolates the previous night. Seriously!

Anu Kumar’s How Did the Harappans Say Hello? does not, of course, claim to be an alternative to the dry history textbooks that students moan about. But it should spread some good cheer among them and, hopefully, awaken their interest in the subject. For she shows kids a painless way to acquire some gyan about the past, which they might be able to use in their class projects. It’s history (or at least selective snippets of it) minus the boring bits. And it’s all pumped up with some giant mysteries.

Most of the topics featured in the book go way back in time. As one might expect, whatever information is available about them is sketchy and often contradictory. So there are no clear-cut answers to many of the questions posed by the author and others before her, who have tried to investigate ancient secrets such as these: why did cities like Mohenjo-daro, Harappa, Dwaraka and Kaveripattinam, which flourished long, long ago, disappear mysteriously? Which of the several kings called Vikramaditya – we’re told that there were at least fourteen of them – was the real deal, the wise one best known for his talking, gem-studded, magic throne and his battle of wits with the vetaal? Who killed Queen Razia Sultan of the Slave Dynasty, and why does she have multiple graves? How and why did Nana Sahib (one of the leaders of the First War of Independence against the British) vanish? Was Chanakya the true author of Arthasastra, the celebrated treatise on statecraft? Is the touching love story of Jahangir and the beautiful dancer Anarkali, who is said to have been bricked up alive in a tomb by his disapproving father, Emperor Akbar, merely a piece of fiction?

Very little hard evidence is available on matters such as these, and what we are left with are popular theories and interesting premises, conjecture and speculation…. The author offers her comments based on her research, and then leaves it to the readers to reach their own conclusions, piecing together whatever clues are at hand. A good thing really, because everyone is forced to wake up and do some thinking.

The same fate awaits those who delve into What if the Earth Stopped Spinning? Whether Roopa Pai is telling a story or conveying a load of information, she knows exactly what it takes to enthuse young readers and help them rekindle their spirit of inquiry. This she does quite effortlessly in What if the Earth Stopped Spinning? with her breezy, upbeat style and easy humour, using the bizarre and the catastrophic to sneak in loads of scientific information. She begins by recounting ten nightmare scenarios (for instance, what if the sun vanished, or the earth stopped spinning, or dinosaurs came back, or robots took over the world), and then rustles up scientific explanations to point out why we needn’t lose sleep over the prospect of any of these calamities, for even if some of them do happen eventually, it will be after billions of years. The book is packed with fascinating information on topics ranging from the apocalyptic (What if the moon flew off its orbit and crashed into the earth?) and the shocking (Did you know our kitchen counters, chopping boards, and dishcloths buzz with LOTS more bacteria than our toilet seats?) to some of life’s everyday puzzles (What happens when you lose weight? Where does the lost weight go? Nowhere! It is converted into energy that your body uses). The explanations are presented in such a way that young readers and those with a limited scientific background can understand better some of the basics of science dealt with in the book.

In fact, all three books reviewed here follow the same reader-friendly format and will make an excellent addition to home and school libraries. They tease, they tantalize, they teach, and better still, they stretch the imagination. Whether you wish to browse or go from cover to cover, the light-hearted style of all three books makes for easy reading. And the black-and-white illustrations, some of which are quite striking, perfectly complement the text.

By Veena Seshadri

DO TIGERS DRINK BLOOD? AND 13 OTHER MYSTERIES OF NATURE

Authors: Arefa Tehsin, Raza H. Tehsin
Illustrator: Kavita Singh Kale
112 pages
English
Rs 150.00
ISBN: 978-81-291-3123-2
Rupa Publications, 2014
Subject category: Contemporary/Non-Fiction/Series
Age-group: 10+

HOW DID THE HARAPPANS SAY HELLO? AND 16 OTHER MYSTERIES OF HISTORY
Author: Anu Kumar
Illustrator: Kavita Singh Kale
126 pages
English
Rs 150.00
ISBN: 978-81-291-3131-7
Rupa Publications, 2014
Subject Category: Contemporary/Non-Fiction/Series
Age group: 10+

WHAT IF THE EARTH STOPPED SPINNING? AND 24 OTHER MYSTERIES OF SCIENCE
Author: Roopa Pai
Illustrator: Kavita Singh Kale
146 pages
English
Rs 150.00
ISBN: 978-81-291-3122-5
Rupa Publication, 2014
Subject Category: Contemporary/Non-Fiction/Series
Age-group: 10+

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