I’m no Trivial Pursuit expert, but I do have a decent store of information in my head, on a broad range of subjects. Surprisingly, most of what I know comes from a single source, and it’s not Wikipedia. My wife will attest: my answer to the question “How did you know that?” is most often, simply, “Childcraft.”
My family owned a set of Childcraft books when I was growing up, and I read most of them from cover to cover (except, I admit, the People and Places volume, and through high school Social Studies was always my weakest subject). I can still picture in my mind the outlet-faced characters from How Things Work and the identify-the-plant maze in The Green Kingdom. We also had a few supplemental volumes, including one about aquatic life and the one with dinosaurs. (I haven’t seen the illustration of the triceratops ramming its horns into the thigh of a T. Rex for at least a decade but the memory hasn’t faded a bit.) It’s pretty amazing how much of my knowledge is tied to this set of books.
Static electricity? That was the page with the fuzzy colored balls (with arms and legs) representing electrons. Slime mold? Grainy black-and-white photographs showing how it’s sometimes like an animal and sometimes like a plant. The origin of the phrase “mind your P’s and Q’s”? That’d be from the Look and Learn volume.
My sister and I argued over who would get to keep the books when we had kids ourselves. I said that I’d read them more, so they should be mine, but she responded that she needed them more than I did. In the end, I found a set in a used bookstore and immediately snapped them up. They’re not the same publication date so they’re not exactly the same, but they were a bargain.
Now, I have a five-year-old who just thinks I’m the smartest person in the world (how long will that last, you think?), and when she asks me how I know so much, I point to these books on the shelf. “Read those,” I tell her, “and you’ll know pretty much everything I do.” Just the other day she asked what “horsepower” meant, and my wife punted to me. I pulled out How Things Work, and sure enough, there was the page about horsepower, and my daughter got a glimpse of the magic.
Of course, now there’s the Internet and Wikipedia, and all these wonderful websites that are much more current than my set of 30-year-old books. I don’t know if I’ll always be able to answer my daughter’s questions by referring her to Childcraft. But it makes me happy to see these books sitting on my shelf after all these years, knowing that they contributed so much to my self-education.
Just out of curiosity, I Googled “Childcraft” and found it: the Childcraft How & Why Library. It looks a little different and some of the titles have changed, but World Book is still publishing them. At $350 for the set, it’s a bit steep, but you can get a lot more hours out of it than seven Wii games. And who knows? Maybe your child will have such fond memories someday.