David J Smith, If ... A Mind-Bending Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers, illustrator Steve Adams

Wayland, 2016, ISBN 978-0-7502-9384-6

This is a fascinating information picture book, which really is, as the sub-title suggests, a mind-bending way to explore concepts. The precept of the book is to make things that are hard to grasp more accessible by reducing them to a scale that readers can relate to. By means of relatively spare, carefully written text and illuminating and entertaining illustrations and infographics Smith and Adams make complex facts to do with time, history, space and life itself comprehensible. The first picture, for example, is of a plate with an unseen person holding a knife and fork. We are told that if the Milky Way galaxy were shrunk to the size of a dinner plate, the whole of our solar system would be smaller than a speck of dust on it, too small to see. We learn that if each of the galaxies in the whole universe were the size of a dinner plate the stack would be about 6,720,000 kilometres high, seventeen times the distance from Earth to the moon. There's a picture of a boy gazing up at an endless pile of plates reaching beyond the moon. We discover that if life on Earth was reduced to one hour, modern humans would show up at 59 minutes, 59.8 seconds. If all the wealth of the world was represented by a hundred coins, the poorest 50% of the world's population would share just one.

A section for parents and teachers at the end contains interesting activities to extend children's curiosity and understanding and a useful list of books and websites. Many teachers and librarians will be familiar with If the World Were a Village, which Smith wrote some years ago. The concept of If ... is similar, but it is both more up-to-date and more attractive. Thoroughly recommended for classrooms and libraries (though do check that it is not already there in its original hardback form). Children - and adults - will pore over it.