Is your copy of The Guinness Book of World Records falling apart from overuse? Does the photograph of the Largest Forehead Inflation (wha?) fail to impress you because you’ve seen it so many times? Have you read Ripley’s Believe It or Not so much, it has become all too easy to believe? If so, here are some other middle-school friendly books that don’t need to be read cover-to-cover to be relished and enjoyed.
Pick Me Up by DK Publishing. This one is new to our library, so I have only had a chance to peruse it lightly, but from what I can see, it is chock full of facts about just about everything, presented with loads of fun illustrations and engaging bits of text. Entries include cross-referential links to other articles in the text, and part of the fun of reading this book is jumping from one place to another via these links. (To write this blurb, I started reading through the book again, and I swear, I could spend all day with it and not get bored! I did not know that there are 99 million sheep in Australia! Or that the average American eats 230 sandwiches a year! Or that Albert Einstein’s brain was 15% wider than the average human’s!)
Show Off: How to Do Absolutely Everything. One Step at a Time by Sarah Hines Stephens and Bethany Mann. I would love to go back in time to when I was 10 and get this book for my birthday. Instead, I’m going to have to buy it for my kid and get her to do the activities with me, which I suspect will be met with plenty of enthusiasm. Show Off is full of step-by-step instructions for doing a wide variety of random things, such as: mess with a computer (e.g., put opaque tape on the mouse censor); read palms; blow a nose bubble; fake a cheek piercing; make an exploding volcano; weave a friendship bracelet; make friends with a cat or dog; make fortune cookies; tailwhip a scooter; moonwalk; and tons of other fun stuff.
Do Not Open by John Farndon. Full of mysteries, codes, illusions, interesting stories and anecdotes (some on the macabre side), all conveyed with a lively combination of text, charts, and a variety of colorful illustrations, this is just the sort of book to dive into on a rainy Saturday. Like in Pick Me Up, many entries include “links” to other, related parts of the text. Students in my library have really enjoyed this one.
Other browsable titles to look for . . .
The Wicked History of the World by Terry Deary and Martin Brown and The Stunning Science of Everything: Science with the Squishy Bits Left In! by Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles. Our library copies of both of these titles are well worn. Both are full of cartoon illustrations and all the gross facts and details behind the stories or facts. Note: These titles are not for the faint of heart; the descriptions of torture techniques in Wicked History truly made my stomach turn. (Also note: I think the Wicked History one has been republished as Horrible History, but it appears to be the same book.)
For Girls Only: Everything Great about Being a Girl by Laura Dower and For Boys Only: The Biggest, Baddest Book Ever by Marc Aronson. I will confess that I am not always keen on books that label themselves as for girls or for boys. Why reinforce gender stereotypes like that? But the truth is, many kids love these books (including my own, who recently spent an entire weekend immersed in For Girls Only), and these two are pretty good examples. Both are full of trivia, advice, puzzles, facts, activities, etc., all conveyed with humor and wit.