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What Makes Me Me? - Robert Winston

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Author: Robert Winston / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 01 July 2010 / Genre: Education & Study Guides / Subcategory: Home Learning & Study Guides / Category: Children's Educational Material / Category: Sciences, General Science / Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd / Title: What Makes Me Me? / ISBN 13: 9781405358033 / ISBN 10: 1405358033

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      21.04.2012 21:45
      Very helpful



      Excellent book - but maybe a bit heavy on the quizzes.

      You won't find any snips and snails and puppy dog tails in this book - or sugar and spice either. Instead there is a pretty detailed recipe for boys and girls, which is surprisingly like that of a dog in another DK book. The ingredients are all the same : oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, phosphorous and a few more elements. The measurements are pretty close to the same as well. The "recipe" for a child gives us a list of the elements that make up a human, but of course that is only a very small part of the story, and in this case, covers two pages of this unique book.

      'What Makes Me Me?' is another exceptional science book by Robert Winston. I have always found DK books to be very well written, easy to understand and rich in high quality photographs. Because of the very high cost of actual textbooks, we have turned to DK to supply most of our science curriculum, and I not only feel that my son has learned more from these books than the average science text book - I think they are more fun as well.

      DK has produced a whole series of books primarily on science, but also including subjects like maths, social studies and so on, and Robert Winston has written a number of the science books. To date we only have 3 of these, with the book on government on it's way, but there is certainly some overlap, and I expect as we collect more books, we will find further overlap. I do not mind this at all. If anything, I think a bit of repetition helps children learn.

      This specific book focuses on the human body and brain. It begins with the basic elements that make up a human, and then moves on to the teach children about these elements are put together. First come cells and there are some wonderful photographs showing us what various cells look like. These include blood cells, skin cells, eye cells and sperm cells. In all honesty I was bit nervous about the latter, afraid it might lead to awkward questions, but thankfully this did not come up.

      Next we get body parts, but this uses artificial parts or subsitutes other items to represent the parts - so no actual brains or guts. It uses a stack of what look like tea towels in place of skin though, which my son and I both found odd. The eyes ears and nose look like they came from Mr Potato Head. After this we get very detailed and well photographed section for each system in the body. There is a brief bit on the 5 senses as well.

      So far everything in this book is pretty generic, and applies to almost all humans, but what makes us different? What is unique about each human? The next section covers things such as fingerprints, voice prints, the iris, our signature, our immune system and of course DNA. The last of these topics, DNA is especially well covered and there are several pages explaining how DNA, genes and inheritance work.

      Where do babies come from?
      I happen to be incredibly squeamish on this subject, and this book does show the development of a human in vivid colour photographs from the moment of fertilisation right up to adulthood. Again I was a bit worried this might lead to awkward questions, but the book says absolutely nothing about how the sperm and egg get together, and thankfully my son did not ask. He did find it fascinating though to see the human embryo go from two cells to a cluster of cells to something recognisably human and then more and more human looking. There is also a section on certain milestones the child usually accomplishes by certain ages.

      What really makes us who we are though?
      I think most of us will agree, it is our brain that makes us the person we are. Our fingerprints, DNA and voices may all be unique, no part of the human body is quite so unique as the human brain. Even identical twins will think differently, and every thought, every memory, every revelation becomes a part of who we are. Not surprisingly then, the brain, thought processes and personality take up a full 50% of this book. This covers everything from a physical " map" of the brain, to discussions on the conscious and subconscious, learning and changing the brain, dreams, fears, personality and more.

      The section on the brain discusses genius, and has simple quizzes to determine in which area you are strongest. It lists spatial, verbal, numerical, lateral and emotional intelligence. This can be fun, but I wouldn't take it too seriously, especially not with a child. True geniuses, such as Einstein usually only score high in one area, and it is that obsession in one area that can lead to great discoveries - but for a child the world is full of endless possibility. I wouldn't want to pigeonhole them too soon. Along the same lines there are also "tests" for personality, these can be fun as well, but should be taken as a bit of fun - and I would avoiding labeling a child as any personality type at all costs.

      Among the various sections in one entitled 'What Sex is My Brain'. This is my least favourite part of the book as I feel this could be a bit confusing for young children, especially those who do not fall into the traditional "girly girl" or " all boy" types. I do like that it mentions that most people have some aspects of both sex types - but I do not really like labelling caring and people skills as feminine and aggression as male -even if we all know that men are violent *&^%$£'s and women genteel saints ;) I really dislike skill in reading being placed on the feminine side as I could see this leading some boys to feel reading is for girls. Still this is a very difficult topic, and they haven't really done too badly. I do honestly believe there are differences in the male and female brain as well, but all the same - I'd have skipped this part. For all my concerns though, my son wasn't bothered by this in the least. I think it could be more difficult though for an older child who is really questioning who they are.

      I did really like the section on emotions. I think this is wonderful to help children understand emotions, and to understand that the full range of emotions are natural and to be expected at times. I think this could be especially helpful to discuss feelings with a child who has difficulty expressing feelings, and even more helpful with children with some degree of autism/ aspergers who often have difficulty understanding the emotions of others. The sections on reading body language and facial expression could also be very helpful, as children who are less adept at these skills often have trouble fitting in.

      I liked the section on fear as well. I think understanding what is happening - why your stomach feels funny and your heart speeds up makes these things easier to deal with, and I think it is good for children to understand that fear is a perfectly natural response as well. My son enjoyed the section on phobias, and found some of them quite amusing.

      Overall, I found a few faults in the book, but I am happy to have bought it. I think my son has learned a lot from this book, and will continue to learn more over the years. At age 7, I do feel that he will get more from this book in another year or two, but that doesn't stop him from enjoying it now, and from learning quite a bit now. I never mind having a book they can grow into. We've got quite a lot of use out of this book this year and I'm pleased that I'll be getting even more from it in the years to come. Ideally I would recommend this book for ages 8 -14, but I think a younger child can learn a lot from it, and even my 3 year old enjoyed the pictures. I think there are a few things adults can pick up as well, but would really caution people not to take any quizzes too seriously.

      Although I found the second half of the book the most entertaining, my son preferred the first section. He really likes to know how everything is put together and how everything works. He is very interested in the human body - but seems to see it as a machine - like an airplane or a car and wants to know how all the parts function. His favourite parts were the microscopic pictures of cells, the bits on DNA and the recipe for a human. He was rather skeptical of the recipe for a dog, but has finally accepted that we are made of these elements, with a wee added spark that science can not define. I call that spark a soul, but it is in essence life. We can mix all the elements we like, but life can only be created from life.

      I did buy this book primarily for home education, but I do think this book is interesting enough that it is worth buying for an ordinary family library as well. I think all children have a natural sense of curiousity about how their bodies work and what everything is made of. This book makes learning about science fun. But I would suggest that parents read this with their children, or in the case of an older child, at least read it on their own as well, and discuss the quizzes with the child. I think it should be made clear that these may give us a general idea of our own areas of interest but the results are not foolproof or set in stone, and it really should be looked at as all in fun.

      I am giving this book 5 stars. The pictures are wonderful, my son really enjoyed it and has learned a lot from it. Paperback copies sell for £6.02 new, but I was able to pick up a hardback copy at only £2.81 and it does look new. For this price, I think this book is a real bargain in terms of the amount of information it contains.


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