Kicking off a series, this spotty tour of the biosphere demonstrates both the possibilities and the pitfalls of infographics.
Made up of realistically shaped silhouettes in a range of dizzyingly intense colors, the pictorial graphs packed into each single-topic spread are intended to highlight sequential or comparative relationships. Thematic groupings include the development of life on Earth, types of cells, the range of animal sizes and population trends in selected endangered species. At their best, as in a historical chart of mass extinctions or a silhouette of a sequoia next to a stack of 29 elephants, the visuals are both vivid and revelatory. More often, though, the graphics are poorly scaled (are chicken and turtle eggs really the same size, and what kind of turtle are we talking about?) or are really just stylized illustrations—a strand of DNA, an isolated slice of bread, a diagram of cell division. The accompanying captions and comments aren’t always enlightening either: Ostrich eggs “weigh about 3.5 lb. (1.5 kg)—nearly two bags of sugar.”
A trendy instructional tool, applied with mixed success both here and in the co-published Planet Earth, which gives our geology and atmosphere the same quick once-over. (Nonfiction. 8-10)