Review – Why Do Tigers Have Whiskers? (The Conversation)

Keywords: picture book, non-fiction, research, ages 8+, science, biology, animals, fun facts, quirky, The Conversation.

The front cover

You are witnessing a historic moment: the very first time I have ever reviewed a picture book! I’ve thought of reviewing picture books before, of course, but none of them really interested me enough to write about them. So, you may ask, “Why are you suddenly reviewing a picture book, then? What’s so good about this one that you just had to write about it?”

Well, the first thing that caught my attention was that the picture book – Do Tigers Have Whiskers? – has an eye-catching title. Have you ever wondered about tigers’ whiskers before? Never have I! Looking into the book further, I realized that it’s actually a collection of one of my favourite series of articles – “Curious Kids” from a news outlet called The Conversation.

“Curious Kids” articles answer quirky questions that kids ask about nature, science, and just about anything they can think of! What’s so great about this series is that experts actually take the questions seriously and write their answers in a fun and interesting way. People of all ages can enjoy these articles. (I certainly do!)

A ferocious little kitty!

Do Tigers Have Whiskers is a collection of some of the best “Curious Kids” articles that have to do with animals. Every question is answered by a different expert. For example, Alexander Braczkowski – the person who answers the tiger whisker question – is a big-cat biologist from the University of Queensland (fun fact: he also works as a photographer for National Geographic!) I found out about him from the book, because there’s a section where it describes the experts and what they’ve studied! All the experts’ answers have been edited and made into this book by editor Sunanda Creagh, who is also the editor for the ‘Curious Kids’ articles on The Conversation.

“Why do tigers have whiskers” is just one of the questions experts like Alexander answer. I don’t want to spoil the book too much, but I just have to tell you a couple of the other questions:

  • Do sharks sneeze?
  • Do butterflies remember being caterpillars?
  • And my personal favourite: Why don’t cats wear shoes?
My drawing of a sneezing shark!

Honestly, I have no idea how people come up with questions as creative as these. Just reading the questions makes me want to read the answers immediately! Having said that, you could have a lot of fun trying to figure out the answer for yourself. Here’s a challenge for you: what would you search (on Google or in encyclopedias) to figure out the answer for, say, “do sharks sneeze”? And here’s the challenging part: you’re not allowed to just repeat the question. I reckon you’d first need to figure out the body parts needed for humans to sneeze, then see if sharks have them. The rest is up to you! Can you figure it out?

Once you’ve done your research and figured out your answer, go ahead and read the answer in the book! How close were you? It doesn’t matter too much if your answer was wrong. The important thing is practicing your research skills so that one day, you could answer other people’s creative questions, or perhaps write a book just like Do Tigers Have Whiskers? (If you do, please let me know, because I’d love to read it!!)

Do butterflies remember being caterpillars?

Another great thing about this book is its glossary. To remind you, a glossary is the part of a book (a text feature of non-fiction texts) where it tells you what some words mean (their definitions). Why do you think you’d need a glossary? Well, it’s so readers completely understand the book and the words its using. You wouldn’t learn very much if you didn’t understand the words, after all!

Some of my favourite words in this book’s glossary are:

  • Burrow
  • Chrysalis
  • Metamorphosis
  • Proprioceptor

No, I won’t tell you what those words mean! You’ll need to look them up for yourself! What I can tell you is that each of those words (and every other word in the glossary) talks about something really interesting. (Especially ‘metamorphosis’!) Plus, if you can say those words, define them, and spell them correctly, imagine how impressed your teachers and friends would be!

Learn more about animals like this little fella!

To summarise my thoughts on Do Tigers Have Whiskers?, it’s the perfect introduction to becoming an expert on animals. It gives its readers the opportunity to read some great, reliable research and to practice their own researching skills. I tried to figure out if there was anything I’d change about this book. The only thing I could think of was that it’s not long enough! I need more information, more questions and answers! I want to know absolutely everything there is to know about sneezing sharks, shoeless cats, and tigers’ whiskers!

If you’ve read this far into the review, congratulations! You have unlocked a sneak peek into the book. This will give you a taste of what to expect, and to see if the language is a bit too challenging (which is absolutely fine!). So, tell us, why do tigers have whiskers? Here’s the first sentence:

“Just as the hairs on your arm help you feel a soft breeze, or a spider crawling on you, a tiger’s whiskers give it information about its environment.”

(Page 4, Alexander Braczkowski)

It goes without saying that Sakura, our research-loving cat, enthusiastically recommends this book to pretty much everyone. Those who find the language in the book a bit challenging could try having someone else read it to them and explain what it means. Also, the book is very scientific, because it talks about biology and shows what proper scientific research looks like. So, Louise the scientist cat has a hard copy that she reads very often!

Review – Quirkology (Richard Wiseman)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: non-fiction, science, quirky, light-hearted, research, funny, reasonably strong vocabulary, scientific terms, stand-alone book.

The front cover

This is quite possibly one of the most interesting books I’ve reviewed on this blog. You see, I’m not usually one for non-fiction – especially ‘sciency’ stuff. It generally comes across as needlessly complex and dull to me. Richard Wiseman’s Quirkology, though, completely destroys the ‘science is boring’ stereotype! It’s genuinely fun and interesting to read. However, the most important thing is how it speaks to the reader. Unlike most scientific texts, it doesn’t talk to the reader like they’re dumb and the author is oh so smart. Do you know what I mean? Like, when you can just tell that the writer is only using fancy words to say, “Oh, look to me, I am so intelligent! My writing is only for people who are at my level of fanciness!” Blergh.

Richard Wiseman is nothing like that. On the contrary, he is a scientist for everyone – particularly those who like the quirkier side of life. He writes scientifically, yes, but never in a patronizing way. His stories are engaging as well as educational. Honestly, just the summaries of each experiment are interesting enough on their own! For example, one of Wiseman’s experiments tries to figure out – once and for all – what is the world’s funniest joke? Wiseman’s experiment was this huge worldwide thing that involved online surveys, polls, and chicken costumes. No, I will not elaborate further. Go read it for yourself! 🙂

Professor Wiseman

Every chapter is categorized by a quirky aspect of human nature. One section is all about superstitions and how they develop. Another is all about horoscopes and personality tests. The best thing about this book is that you don’t need to read the chapters in order; just look at the sections and see which ones interest you most! My personal favourite section is the one about personality tests and their viability. It’s amazing what people will choose to believe about themselves (and how those beliefs actually change who they are!).

Profesor Wiseman and an esteemed colleague

This is a great book to study or to simply enjoy. I have used this book as study material for my private English students and they generally like it! Finding books that are both educational but in a quirky and non-patronizing way is surprisingly uncommon. I’m glad people like Richard Wiseman exist. The world would be much more duller without them!

Quirkology is filled to the brim with research. Naturally, Sakura the research-loving cat adores this book beyond words. Scientific Louise also loves this book and recommends it heartily!

Psst! Fun fact: Richard Wiseman has his own YouTube channel named Quirkology! You might have even seem some of his videos (he has been popular on YouTube for a decade now). Definitely check out his videos! This is one of my favourites.

Review – Ella Minnow Pea (Mark Dunn)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: fiction, formal vocabulary, advanced reading, Year 8+, quirky, stand-alone book.

The front cover (do you get the joke the pictures are telling?)

Okay, before we start, I need to let you know that this book uses a lot of fancy words. Like, a lot. Definitely read this book along with a dictionary!

If you need to expand your vocabulary, this is absolutely the right book for you. Also, if you are a huge English nerd (no judgment, I’m one too!), this will probably be one of the most clever books you have ever read.

Ella Minnow Pea tells the story of Ella, a girl who lives on the (sadly fictional) Nollop Island. On this island, they praise Nevin Nollop, the man who wrote the famous sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” It’s famous because it uses every letter of the alphabet. Go over the sentence and you’ll see!

Since the island’s hero is a person who contributed to the English language, it’s no surprise that every islander is obsessed with English. They’re all incredibly educated writers whose vocabularies are unimaginiably huge! You get to see how great their writing skills are in this book. Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel, meaning that it’s a book made up of letters. (‘Letters’ as in the things you write to others, like emails.)

It gets even more interesting. There’s a statue of Nevin Nollop on the island with his famous sentence displayed with metal letters. One day, the letters start falling off! The island’s government decide that Nevin Nollop is sending them all a message: to stop using whatever letter falls off the statue. Soon, it becomes illegal to write or even speak certain letters, like L or T. As the book continues, Ella’s letter-writing skills become simpler and more mispelled. She can’t use certain letters of the alphabet, so it would be difficult to write properly! Imagine trying to write something without the letter ‘a’ or ‘t’.

So, it goes from this:

“How different the world would be today if not for the sentence which the lexically gifted Mr. Nollop issued forth!” (pg. 5)

To losing a few letters:

“Insane woman name Ella: Retreat is what we want. Go away. Let we alone. Anonymess.” (pg. 158)

To eventually only having “LMNOP” to use, like this:

“No mo Nollop pomp! No mo 4 pop/1 moll Nollop looloo poop! No no no mo plop, plop, plop, plomp!” (pg. 197)

The book itself is good! I found it a bit difficult to be hooked by its first chapter. However, the plot quickly becomes interesting after the first couple of chapters, so don’t give up!

It’s a book that’ll need concentration and careful reading. So, both Louise and Gus heartily recommend Ella Minnow Pea!

Review – Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)

Read the review along with this narration!

Keywords: Action, fantasy(ish), explosions, male protagonist, female protagonist, crime, magic, villainy, anti-hero, strategy, 8-book series, first book.

The first book’s cover.

Ah, Artemis Fowl. He’s technically a villain, but you can’t help but admire him. After all, he’s clever, quick-witted, and he has a large vocabulary! What’s not to love?

Well, he did kidnap a fairy to collect a ransom, so…let’s just say that he’s a complicated protagonist!

This book is the first of an 8-book series about Artemis Fowl II and his somewhat evil adventures in the world of magic. What’s so interesting is that the main character is a villain. You don’t see that very often in books, especially middle-school books. This kind of character is called an ‘anti-hero‘. It can seem a bit strange at first to root for a villain, but as soon as you know that this character shouldn’t be a role model, it can be very enjoyable! We all have a villain inside of us, after all.

Holly Short (AKA the best fairy captain EVER)

This book is about Artemis’s plan to kidnap a fairy and collect the ransom. The magic world lives underground, hiding from humans. Nobody knows about them; nobody but Artemis. Armed with a secret magic book, he’s able to exploit the fairy rules for his own gain. The fairy he kidnaps, though, is much stronger than he expects. Holly Short, the first female captain in the magic police force, does everything she can to fight back. What follows is an epic battle between fairies and Artemis Fowl which takes place at Fowl’s mansion in Ireland. There are explosions, trolls, and farting dwarves – everything an amazing battle needs!

This book is a thinker. It’s the type that will need concentration, as the strategies of Fowl and the fairies can be quite intricate. There’s backstabbing and double-bluffing galore! If you’re into strategic thinking and outsmarting people, this is definitely the book for you!

As this is a fantasy/action book with plenty of thought-provoking scenes, both fantasy-loving Felipe and big thinker Louise recommend Artemis Fowl.