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Horrible Geography: Earth Shattering Earthquakes - Anita Ganeri

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Genre: Junior Book / Author: Anita Ganeri / Paperback / 1st Edition / Publication Date: 2000

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      16.01.2013 11:32
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      If you thought you didn't like geography, think again

      If you thought that geography was dull, think again. Following the same format as the Horrible History and Horrible Science books, Anita Ganeri promises "Geography with the gritty bits left in" and you couldn't get a grittier subject than Earth-shattering Earthquakes.

      This is a dramatic and rather disturbing subject, which could be quite frightening to younger readers, but Anita Ganeri gets the tone just right. The unpredictable and deadly nature of earthquakes is part of their fascinating, but the author is careful to put the risk of earthquakes into perspective to reassure readers. Although we are told about the most deadly earthquakes on record, we are also told that out of the one million earth tremors each year most aren't strong enough to make a tea cup rattle. It's also some comfort to be told that scientists are learning more and more about earthquakes all the time. "So, even if we can't beat them just yet, we can learn to live with them," says Anita Ganeri, encouragingly. "Psst! You can come out from under the table now!"

      The witty, chatty, style and plentiful comic-book style illustrations make this as far removed from a dusty school textbook as you could imagine, yet you can learn a surprising amount from it. In the expert hands of Sid, the seismologist you can learn about some of the world's most powerful earthquakes and take a quiz to find out if you too have what it takes to be an earthquake expert. You can learn to spot the shocking warning signs and the dos and don'ts of surviving an earthquake.

      Imagination and role play is used to good effect as children are encouraged to put themselves in the position of a scientist trying to discover what makes earthquakes tick. They can also read about the achievements of some of the most esteemed earthquake experts in history and find out about each one's claim to fame.

      In keeping with the other books in this genre, the information is presented in a variety of different ways with a good balance between text and illustrations. The book begins with the compelling true story about the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. It is a dramatic and quite eerie description, rich in imagery, which paints a clear and shocking picture of a city being plunged into chaos. (The reference to all the church bells in the city starting to ring at once was a particularly haunting detail.)

      Throughout the book there are Earth Shattering Fact Files which provide information about particular earthquakes. This is an interesting and useful way for children to compare data. For instance they can read the fact file for the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and compare it to the earthquake that hit the same city in 1989. How do the earthquakes compare in terms of magnitude? Which caused more deaths? It can lead to an interesting discussion about how the world had changed between 1906 and 1989 and how the understanding of earthquakes and the training and preparation of emergency staff in such situations may have improved.

      What makes this book particularly intriguing is that in addition to explaining the scientific details about how and why earthquakes happen (which are fascinating in themselves) it focusses on the human element, looking at the people who are affected. For example, you can read a diary extract from a little boy called Yoshi, who lives in Kobe, Japan, and describes the fateful day in 1995 when an earthquake struck. The book also makes reference to the new-born babies that were pulled alive from the ruins of a maternity hospital after the Mexico City earthquake of 1985. I can remember being moved by this story when I watched the news at the time and my daughter was moved by the description in this book. It is told in the form of a newspaper article with eyewitness accounts, which makes the information accessible to younger readers and presents it in a dramatic, memorable way.

      This can be a rather complicated subject to grapple with and I am impressed by the author's ability to explain things in a child-friendly way, using simple and clear diagrams and meaningful comparisons. For instance, when describing how the earth's crust is cracked into pieces (plates) the author compares this to a hard-boiled egg that you've bashed with a spoon. She also explains how the earth's drifting plates sometimes get in each other's way, which is "a bit like being on the dodgems at the fair." There is also a suggested experiment to help you to understand faults. It has to be the most child-friendly experiment ever because all you need is a jam and cream cake and a knife. Now, that's my kind of geography lesson!

      In a book dealing with such a scary and serious subject, I was impressed that the author was able to bring humour into it without it crossing the border into bad taste. The section dealing with early crackpot theories of why earthquakes happened makes amusing reading. My daughter's favourite was unsurprisingly Aristotle's theory that earthquakes were caused by hot air being blasted out from caves deep in the earth - "a bit like a gigantic, deafening fart." Another of her favourite parts of the book deals with how it is believed that animals start behaving strangely before earthquakes and what to watch out for. Do goldfish really leap out of their bowls? Do honey bees abandon their hives? Take the true/false quiz and find out.

      My daughter has never been particularly inspired by geography compared to history, but she enjoyed this book. It stimulated her imagination more than a standard textbook would have done. As usual, there is plenty for an adult to learn as well as a child. Geography was never my favourite subject, but this book held my interest too. They are great books for parents who want a quick, basic introduction to a subject so that they will be able to answer any questions posed by a curious child, although I would also recommend them to adults who just want to expand their general knowledge for the hell of it without having to read anything too heavy and technical.

      If you don't know your Modified Mercalli Scale from your Richter Scale, Sid the Seismologist will make it all clear - with a little bit of help from a very loud rock band called The Quakes. Readers are encouraged to form their own opinions, weighing up the arguments put forward by different experts. I am impressed by the way this book encourages children to think for themselves and reflect on and question information, rather than just spoon feeding them with facts.

      We discovered some astonishing bits of geography trivia as a result of reading this book. For example, we learned how an earthquake caused the Mississippi River to start flowing backwards and about a hamster that fell out of its cage during an earthquake in Shropshire. There was also an astonishing (and rather sad) tale of what happened to a cow that crossed a road during the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

      I would certainly recommend this book as a light introduction to what is a vast subject, whatever your age. For a relatively slim volume of just 127 pages, there is a wealth of information here. The only slight criticism I would make is that it doesn't suggest as many practical activities and experiments as some of the other books in this series, so the approach is less hands-on, but it is still extremely readable. The author has also provided a useful list of websites to visit if you want to learn more about the subject.

      Horrible Geography: Earth Shattering Earthquakes is currently available new from Amazon sellers for £0.01.

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