The Kingfisher Encyclopedia of Life, edited by Graham Banes. MacMillan, 2012.
A little kid who likes nonfiction—-and I’m assuming it’s not just my weirdo kids who do, although I guess that’s a possibility—-is of course very precocious and all that, but it can also be…….how can I put this delicately………soul-suckingly tedious to be the person whose job it is to read things aloud to said kid. We all love when the bespectacled mop-top says “the human head weighs 8 pounds” to Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, but does anybody spare a thought for poor Renee Zellweger, who probably had to read him all the dull-ass captions in whatever dusty 1987 children’s reference material he plopped in her lap at the library? I do, Renee. I get you.
If you’re somebody whose kids are always harassing you with, like, the pursuit of knowledge or whatever when all you want to do is read about some stinkin’ fairies or some shit, you may really appreciate The Kingfisher Encyclopedia of Life.
Kingfisher is an imprint of publisher MacMillan devoted specifically to illustrated nonfiction for kids. It’s all they do, and they do it well, particularly their releases that focus on animals.
The Encyclopedia of Life, however, is especially great, because it’s organizing principle is legitimately fascinating: how long does life—-whether animal, vegetable and/or mineral, the text treats them equally—-last on Earth? It offers a way to understand the elements of nature in relationship to one another, and puts the life span of, say, Humans (pg. 116, in the “50-75 Years” section) in perspective when we see it on a timeline with Bristlecone Pines (pg. 146, in the far more impressive “1,000-5,000 Years” section).
With lots of pictures, and enough information contained in the captions to feel worthwhile but not so much that it’s taxing to read, Encyclopedia of Life works well for an older child to peruse on their own or as a read-aloud for the little ones—-and if you can get an older one to read it to a younger one, highest of fives to you, you evil genius of a caregiver you.