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My oldest has always loved anything with a bang. One of his first words was " boom" for fireworks at almost 8 months of age. Even when was was fired directly at us, he actually seemed to enjoy it. ( I didn't). I can still remember spending Halloween night with a small baby wrapped in blankets outside freezing half to death so he could see all the "booms". So it came as no shock that when asked for a topic he would like to read about, bombs, fireworks and explosions were well up at the top of list. It was also no surprise to find the available reading material on such subjects limited for young children. Also, despite requests for books on bombs - I prefer him to think of explosions as fun fireworks and games with a chemistry set. I don't want to show him too much of what these things can really do. I grew up when the cold war was still really going - and they used to scare children to death with tales of nuclear destruction. A book of this nature has to carefully balance a child's curiosity with the fact that too much information might be very frightening.
'Explosions' is part of Oxford Reading Tree's Treetops range. This is stage 16. I can not find an exact age level for this but as stages 10 -16 are meant to cover ages 7 -11, I suspect this would be intended for ages 10 to 11. As such, the subject matter is a bit strong for children my son's age (7), but it is not excessive and did not upset him. I do think he might have been frightened reading this on his own though. I really prefer that with books like this we read them together, that way we can discuss any issues raised.
The most troubling part of this book is a photo of an injured man after Hiroshima, and there is a brief discussion of nuclear weapons. The book focuses more on the science than the politics of these things, which is best in my opinion. There is a short section explaining how a nuclear reaction work and only two sentences on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even at this, it did concern my son slightly and we spent ages discussing the reason for these bombs and the devastating effects of WW2, but also I told him that nuclear weapons were no longer used as people had seen they were too destructive. The book does mention that these are capable of eliminating all life on earth, and I do not think young children really need to know that. I sincerely hope I am right in my statement that these will never be used again. The whole premise of balance of power, first strike and why the world still has things was a bit difficult to explain, but I think we got there. So I would suggest reading this book when you have plenty of free time for discussion - not just before bed.
This book also has a section on Chernobyl. I was able to tell my son that we don't have any nuclear power plants, but if you have one very nearby, you might consider that this could frighten children as well. It was informative though. I did not realise Russia tried to keep the accident a secret for a few days and so poor saps in Sweden were running about like mad thinking their plant was leaking, only to discover the wind was carrying it. Exactly how much damage has been done by this blast we'll never know.
But the book isn't all doom and gloom. Aside from the nuclear section, everything else is fun stuff. We see explosions used on film sets, how to blow up buildings ( demolitions not terrorism), natural explosions ( volcanoes), and how to avoid blowing yourself up with a gas leak. There is also a really fun bit about popcorn being created my a small explosion and all the science as to how this works. There is a section explaining how explosions work - using a baby food jar in a microwave and a large section on fireworks. The fireworks bit explains how fireworks were developed, tells about celebrations across the globe that use, shows how professional displays are created and tells you the names for each type of firework effects.
My son loved this book and immediately asked if there were any more like this. I don't believe there are. I'm afraid he did want to know more about nuclear explosions, and we did look up some nuclear tests online. The mushroom cloud fascinates him, but I'm not ready to buy him a more detailed book on this just yet. We also spent ages watching buildings taken down by explosions online. It really is an art form the way they can collapse a huge sky scraper leaving those beside it untouched. He especially enjoyed the fireworks part and I'm sure this will be dragged out on Halloween every year to identify all the types we see. Both of my sons, ages 3 and 7 have pulled this book out and asked for it to be read, and the seven year old can read it himself.
I think this book is brilliant from an educational standpoint. It is great for cementing reading skills, teaches science, but also a bit of geography as well. The book is beautifully illustrated, well laid out and a pleasure to read. It does use white lettering in many parts as well light thin fonts, and include print over various coloured backgrounds. This is a drawback for children with dyslexia. I would also comment that the demonstration of an explosion using baby food jars looks very much like a how to section. My son was immediately intrigued and his eyes went wide as he asked if I would buy him baby food on our next shopping trip. When that answer was a firm no - he wondered if other jars might work - or perhaps a tin. Again I am very glad we were discussing all of this rather than natural curiosity leading to experimentation with my microwave. I hate to think what a tin could do if it did reach explosion but even a bottle could be very dangerous.
The only other fault I found in this book is it's discussion of gas leaks. The advice is technically correct. Open windows and doors, do not use any type of phone, touch electric switches or the obvious - light up a fag. Still for children I would prefer that they just get out - forget the windows - that is for grown ups to do. I told my son that while the book was correct - he was worth much much more than anything in the house, and in the event of a gas leak children are to wait out doors or run to e neighbours to ask them to call the fire department. Grown ups will take care of windows and such. The only thing a child should leave open is the door on the way out. But overall, the advice is sound, and this book is designed for an older child.
I know some might see explosives an inappropriate topic for very young children, but I see it only as an extension of all children's natural curiosity about fire. I believe all children feel drawn to some extent to earth, water and flames, and I have always allowed my children some interaction with fire in a safe manner. We have a chimera with outdoor fires, some fireworks, candles, even small explosions with chemistry sets, as long as it is all well supervised. There are very few topics I flat out refuse to discuss with my children. i see curiosity as a natural spark to be cherished. I wouldn't have chose this on my own, but as he does have an interest in this, I think the book was very good and he learned a lot from it. I feel the parts with bombs and nuclear explosions were very limited and tastefully done, and the rest of this book is just plain fun.
I think this book covers a wide age range. My 3 year old loves the fireworks part - and even the part on popcorn. I enjoyed this myself and I actually learned a few things from it as well. I think even a teenager or adult might enjoy reading this, but are more likely to only read it once. I do think age 7 is the minimum for independent reading - it does have a lot of complicated words. I would strongly recommend this book as a shared book though. I believe if I had just given this to my son and left him alone - he likely would have tried the microwave experiment. Ideally I would place this at ages 8 -12 - but with parental guidance!
I paid over £6 for this book and was happy enough considering the quality - until I saw it for sale just now at only £2.81, brand new and delivered with Amazon Marketplace.