Factbooks have been the bread butter of non-fiction publishing for a very long time (well, at least during the 40+ years I’ve been able to enjoy them). It’s always interesting what new spin can be put on them, as publishers try to lure the next generation of general knowledge geeks into their sticky word-covered clutches. Who better to do this than Britannica Books, a publisher founded in the shadow of the granddaddy of fact books, the Encyclopedia Britannica? Whilst classic multi-volume encyclopedias might have lost out to their digital counterparts, books like the excellent Factopia by Kate Hale proves the printed word can still bring its A-game to the table.
What Is Factopia by Kate Hale?
Factopia is subtitled “Follow the Trail of 400 Facts,” and that is exactly what it offers. A string of interconnected facts that traverses the book’s 200 pages. Starting with newborn babies, and the number of bones they have, you follow the dotted line to discover that more than half an adult’s bones are in their hands and feet and that every 10 years we have an entirely new skeleton. From there, the dotted line goes through 400 more bits of information, before we learn that the piece of metal that holds the eraser onto the end of a pencil is called the ferrule and that the book Wonder Crystal has the largest number of endings, a whopping 1250!
Obviously, you don’t have to read this book from start to finish. You don’t have to follow the trail. Factopia is great to open up at any point and jump straight in. For example, the page I’ve just randomly opened the book up to describes the serendipitous invention of the ice lolly, the fact that Play-Doh was originally invented to clean wallpaper, and the idea for the microwave oven was conceived after a radar scientist melted a bar of chocolate that was in his pocket. Each double-spread page has a broad subject heading. You won’t be surprised to learn that this particular page was called “Accidental Inventions.” Other headings include Really Big Things, Weird Laws, Robots, and Fireworks.
It’s also worth pointing out that whilst each fact is related to the next one in the book, Factopia is also full of shortcuts. Some facts have dotted lines that branch off the main thread that take you to another related snippet of information located elsewhere within the book. For example, from “Some spider colonies can be home to over 50,000 species,” on page 120, we can follow on to the next fact “A group of owls is called a parliament,” or we could take the “tangled webs” shortcut all the way back to page 14 to discover that “Some spiders make multiple types of silk. Some silks are flexible whilst others are sticky or strong.” Such is the compelling nature of Factopia; readers may find themselves falling foul of Frodo’s adage from the Lord of the Rings that “Short cuts make long delays.”
The book does have a contents page, should you want to jump straight to facts on a particular subject, though the page headings are somewhat abstract. “Fastest,” “Color,” and “Eggs,” for example. At the back of the book, you’ll find a short index and a list of sources and picture credits.
Why Read Factopia?
Never underestimate the power of a fact book to inspire. Much of this stuff is inherently interesting, particularly to children. There’s a great balance of subject matter, combined with the slightly gross, creepy-crawly type information that children love so much. What sets the book apart from others, and I think makes it even more engaging, is its layout. The trail of interconnected facts is a small piece of genius. Combine this with excellent page layout design and entertaining cartoon-style drawings from illustrator Andy Smith and you have a package that will draw young readers in and hopefully keep them quiet for a long period of time.
Each dip into Factopia is the start of a journey along a pathway of knowledge. Knowledge that children and parents alike didn’t realize they didn’t know. The bitesize delivery treats us to a more-ish information smorgasbord that readers won’t be able to stop consuming. It’s quite the feat.
Obviously, 400 facts is just the tip of the general knowledge iceberg. I hope that author Kate Hale keeps chipping away at it to bring us more and more books like Factopia. The encyclopedia may be dead, but we can all still live in a Factopia.
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Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the Factopia in order to write this review.