Thursday, 3 November 2011


If humans came in as many sizes as dogs, we'd range from 3 to 18 feet tall.

If you are 12 years old on Earth, you'd be 6 on Mars.

Rats can't burp.

95% of the stuff in the universe is invisible. 
A star-nosed mole can locate and eat a snack in 230 miliseconds.

I got all of these facts from a book called Weird but True!(3) published by National Geographic Kids (more about those lovely folks later) Now that I've fed your brains...

For those of you who don't know, Knowlogy Day (or National Non-Fiction Day, as is its official title) is the brain-child (that's a weird word - it makes me think of the pinky monstery thing from the teenage mutant hero turtles that lives in a robot's groin) of Adam Lancaster, Federation of Children's Books Chair, school librarian and all round book dude. He is passionate about non-fiction, and all the super authors and illustrators involved, so has founded a day to celebrate it all. So let's get facty!

That's not Adam, by the way, that's the brain-child.

Find out more about the big day.

Find out about this fab magazine and how I met an owl.

My fave knowlogy authors, some of whom have impressive beards.

National Non-fiction Day

The theme this year is sharing information, as Adam says 'there's nothing better than passing on to someone a hilarious or interesting fact and putting a smile on their face.' There is going to be a book of favourite facts collected from young people and authors, as well as lots of events going on in schools, libraries and theatres across the country, which Adam says will include 'Horrible Histories-inspired videos, some shed science experiments, lots of explosions!'

For those of you on the interweb or who are slightly older than the average child (25 maybe?) and so cannot turn up to schools and take part in events without looking a bit weird, there is much to do online. Here are some blogs n' that that I've found:

Blog posts

@scholasticuk Win a signed copy of SLA Information Book Award winner 'How to Make a Universe with 92 Ingredients'. Just RT by 11.30pm tonight. #sla #nnfd

@scholasticuk Want to win a non-fiction book pack? Tell us a fact that's changed your life. Tag it #factsareawesome #nnfd Closes 10am tomorrow. UK ONLY.

@GdnChildrensBks It's national non-fiction day! What are yr favourite non-fiction reads for kids, current or past? The Usborne Spy's Guidebook for me. #nnfd

NG Kids Magazine

The other week I was lucky enough to meet a meerkat. And an owl. And a man. (The Animal Man, to be precise.) This was at an event for NG Kids Magazine at the National Geographic store in London.I had a lovely time meeting various animals and people and finding out about the magazine, which I know I would have loved as a kid. (And as an adult - I think it is perfectly normal for a grown woman to have an animal poster on her desk.) The magazine is full of weird but true facts about animals and the world in general and features on interesting things, like alligators and the antarctic (not together - they don't just make stuff up). I was very excited to read an interview with Sir David Attenborough and it set me thinking (again) about contacting him to ask if he would like to be my grandad. There are loads of chances for readers to get involved by sending in their own facts and entering competitions to win lots of super prizes. And excellent freebies (this month, glow in the dark stars). 

I also got a wonderful goody bag, including some binoculars! As I live next to a railway line, rather than a nice wildlife park or jungle, I haven't been able to use them much yet (except for spying and for looking more closely at people in my house), but hopefully it will inspire me to go into the wilderness and connect with nature. I could be one of those people who is raised by wolves or bears. Although I'd prefer smaller animals, like badgers or voles. OR OTTERS. And I'm probably too old to be 'raised'. I don't know what I'd wear either, as there wouldn't really be anywhere to buy new clothes and washing them in the stream sounds cold. I could ask all the otters to donate some fur and then weave (?) it into a fur dress...

Perhaps I should just stick to getting my nature fix from NG Kids Magazine and spying on people from my window.

Find out more here

Top 10 Non-fiction books

1. Horrible Histories by Terry Deary

I've always been ever so slightly OBSESSED with Horrible Histories. In year 4 the Vicious Vikings inspired me to write my homework entirely in runes. (Well, this was partly inspired by the book, and partly inspired by me BEING A LOSER). I was called to see the headmaster to be given a special sticker for effort and afterwards I asked my friend if everyone had said 'wow' when I left the classroom (!). She said 'no'. 

I think I was the sort of child Terry Deary would have hated... Anyway! No one needs me to tell them that Horrible Histories is great. The books tell you all the stuff you actually want to know about the past - how people died, what they ate, funny stories about historical people being nutters. I always remember the lists of gruesome punishments for crimes and weird cures for illnesses, like having a bath in urine with a goat to cure a headache (might have made that one up).

And the TV series is most hilarious.    


2. The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins' recently published book for young readers really emphasises what he is good at: explaining stuff. It is structured into questions, like 'who was the first person really?' and 'what is the sun?' and all those sorts of things that you can freak yourself out by thinking about for too long, like HOW DOES IT WORK WHEN I TYPE STUFF AND IT APPEARS? and WHAT IS EVERYTHING?

As in his adult books, Dawkins uses really good analogies and examples (like in the 'who was the first person?' section he asks you to imagine a line of photographs of your grandfather, great-grandfather, etc etc stretching back like dominoes. If you go back along the line, you'll find a monkey and, further back, a fish, neither of whom look much like you, but who look like the photos either side of them.)

The book is illustrated by Dave McKean, which is always a good thing, and you can read an extract here on the Guardian site.

3. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

This book will leave you feeling a bit more clever, and smugger, than when you started. It takes you through the history of science, explaining the science and telling about the (mostly odd) people involved. It is funny and brilliant and if you read it you can tell people you know a little bit of everything. Bill Bryson has also written a version for younger readers, A Really Short History of Nearly Everything

4. The Ologies, published by Templar

I know dragons aren't real! (Although sometimes I get confused, like with unicorns and Sherlock Holmes). So the Ologies aren't really non-fiction, but they are great, and set out in a factish way, so I am including them. Dragonology by Dugald A. Steer is my favourite - it set out like the scrapbook of Victorian dragonologist Dr Ernest Drake, with sketches, samples of dragon skin and even a library card. My brother was recently working at a primary school and told me that a boy brought in Dragonology for free reading time and lots of other children were crowding round to read it - so it's not just me that likes a bit of Ology!
5. The What on Earth Wallbook of Natural History by Christopher Lloyd

As it says on the Natural History Museum website, this is the 'first ever attempt to illustrate the entire history of nature and natural science on a single piece of paper'. The book unfolds into a 2.3 metre double-sided wallchart, with an illustrated guide to the whole of natural history on one side and information about history of science on the other. It would be good to put in on the wall of your bathroom (as long as you don't splash too much) so that you can absorb natural history facts in a relaxed manner. 

6. How Language Works and Stories of English by David Crystal
Great reads for a word geek (and I think fellow word geeks will agree that David Crystal is our King). How Language Works explains the nuts and bolts of language, how we use it, how it changes and covering lots of fascinating examples, such as how politeness travels over language barriers. The Stories of English traces the development of 'standard English' alongside variant forms of the language, such as slangs and dialects, which he sees as unfairly sidelined. 

And doesn't he have a good beard?

7. Ask Dr K Fisher about Dinosaurs by Claire Llewellyn ans Kate Shepherd

The Ask Dr K Fisher series sees agony uncle (and bird) Dr K Fisher responding to the problems of the animal kingdom. The books are funny, with lively illustrations and a collage-y look - I think it is always good when there is lots of stuff to find on the page. My favourite is where he goes back in time to help the dinosaurs, partly because dinosaurs are great and partly because one of Dr K Fisher's replies starts 'Dear Toothless Killer...'

8. Philip Ardagh's Books of Kings, Queens, Emperors and Warty-nosed Commoners

Philip Ardagh's historical trivia book collects facts and anecdotes from across the whole of history with, as you might expect, a great deal of humour. There's a particularly good story about Queen Elizabeth I and a fart that for some reason is in a massive font on the amazon page for this book, which can be embarassing if you open it while pretending to be doing proper serious work. 

And doesn't he have a good beard?

9. Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams

As you have probably worked out, I like books by funny people. And you don't get much funnier than Douglas Adams. This is the story of his trip, along with Mark Cawardine, to try and find animals on the brink of extinction. It is laugh-out-loud funny and will change the way you think about the environment. And it's also 20 years old, so it is interesting (and a bit sad) to look up which of the animals are still around. Alongside that the book makes me sad that Douglas Adams isn't around anymore, because reading it is like getting to know him and you realise he was pretty damn great!
10. Poo: A Natural History of the Unmentionable by Nicola Davies

Zoologist and former Really Wild Show presenter Nicola Davies has written some brilliant books about animals. I used this one to illustrate my point (and because the word 'poo' is funny). Her new book is Talk Talk Squawk, which is all about animal communication. There is also Just the Right Size: Why Big Animals are Big and Little Animals are Little and all three are humorously illustrated by Neal Layton.  

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