We are pretty keen on young children here and also on gardening so we really wanted to be positive about this book. But we can’t be. It is frenetically busy, hyped, packed with a gazillion ideas, jokes, puzzles, talking worms and snails and a whole lot more. The bottom line is that the technical information is patchy and the activities and experiments are often too superficial and lack detail so are destined to fail. By way of examples: “Put a plant into a glass jar of coloured water. Watch the leaves change colour.” I think what is meant is that you can change the colour of a white flower such as a camellia or a carnation or a variegated leaf with white patches by putting it in a jar of water with food colouring or ink added but children (or facilitating adult) need an idea of quantity of colouring to liquid. And they are not putting a plant in the water; they are putting a flower or suitable leaf into the water. We used to grow pineapple tops but when did you last see a pineapple in the supermarket with an intact rosette of leaves at the top? They are generally all cut off now. A pine cone is not a seed. Nor is pine seed dispersed by the cone rolling down hills. Get the picture? Too busy, too much content with insufficient critical thought and rigour in the underpinning information.
This is also a book which purports to be for children but it is actually a handbook of ideas and information for a sympathetic adult to use with children in shared activities. It may appeal to hands-on, dedicated parents such as home schoolers or Playcentre parents but despite the prevailing busy-ness and jokey-ness it is unlikely to keep any child busy and motivated on their own. Give it as a gift to parents, not to children.Harper Collins ISBN 978 1 86950 7947