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Big Questions from Little People – book review

So your child asks, ‘Are we all related?’ What do you say?

I’m already thinking about the difficult and awkward questions that Nicholas undoubtedly will ask in the not too distant future, and wondering what I’ll do. Will I pretend to be an expert on all matters? Will I pass the job over to hubby, who always gets more questions right when we watch University Challenge? Will I concede that I don’t know everything and teach Nicholas how to use Wikipedia?

Imagine if you could ask Dr Richard Dawkins to help you out (“Let’s give Uncle Dick a call. He’ll know!”).  But then if I think about how many ‘why…?’ questions I’ve heard from nieces and nephews over the years, and think of all the different subjects they’ve asked about, I’d need a huge array of expert ‘phone a friend’ lifelines!

Fear not, Gemma Elwin Harris has come to our aid. Inspired by her own son’s and nieces’ questions, Gemma came up with the brilliant idea to get the best possible answers from the UK’s most knowledgeable experts to more than 100 real questions from primary school children, aged from 4 to 12. So Sir David Attenborough answers ‘Are there any undiscovered animals?’, Heston Blumenthal answers ‘Why do we cook food?’, and Professors Chris Stringer, Gary Marcus and Michael Rosen all answer the extremely tricky ‘What makes me me?’.

‘Big Questions from Little People… Answered by Some Very Big People’ covers a vast range of subjects, from bodily functions to space, from food to sport, from animals to history, from music to philosophy. The brilliant experts include Noam Chomsky, Sister Wendy, Tracey Emin, David Crystal, Jessica Ennis, Philip Pullman, Annabel Karmel, Derren Brown and Bear Grylls.

It seems as if all the experts have tried to write their answers using language a child could understand, but of course some subjects are easier to understand than others. Quite a few, but not all, of the experts clearly answer the question in the first sentence or first paragraph and then go on to further explain it. It perhaps would have been good for them all to answer in this way, even having the concise answer clearly separated from the rest of the text, so even young children get a clear answer while older children can read more about the topic.

The font is a good size for children and there are some black and white illustrations throughout, breaking up the text. The book has a thorough index at the back, making it easy to find the answers you need, all the questions are listed in the contents with the corresponding expert, and you can also read more about each expert.

I love the fact that the questions are unedited (there’s the very cute ‘Why is space so sparkly?’ to the very bizarre ‘Did Alexander the Great like frogs?’). There are also some hilarious joke answers to the book’s questions at the end by comedians including Stephen Fry, Sandi Toksvig and Clive Anderson (Why are the grown-ups in charge? Because they got here first!).

But probably the best thing about ‘Big Questions…’ is that it’s in aid of the NSPCC, raising vital funds to help vulnerable children and young people across the UK and the Channel Islands. Over half of the advance and royalties from the book are going to the charity.

This is a brilliant book to buy for your children, a wonderfully different present for new parents or buy it just to support a great charity. I’m going to start seriously studying now, with the hope that by the time Nicholas starts asking me these types of questions I’ve memorised the answers and I’ll be Super Intelligent Mummy!

Published by Faber, ‘Big Questions from Little People’, is available from today from all good bookshops and selected supermarkets, and online from Waterstones and Amazon.

And by the way, the answer to the first question is yes, we’re all related.


Created by Faber and Faber for the book Big Questions From Little People. INFOGRAPHIC: What Big Questions are on Your Child’s Mind?

Disclosure: I was given a free copy to review; my opinions are my own. I made a donation to the NSPCC.

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