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I am a book. I am a Portal to the Universe - Stefanie Posavec and Miriam Quick ***

Although not providing a direct parallel, there's something reminiscent here of Jan Pienkowski's wonderful adult pop-up books, which used a style that was more familiar in a children's book than something we would expect to find in a title for more mature readers. Similarly, I am a Book looks like a children's book (handling it, it feels strangely like a board book, though it proudly announces on the back that it has 112 pages) and in the mildly outrageous claim to be a 'portal to the universe'.

What we get is a series of very colourful and dramatically, if sometimes minimalistically, illustrated pages with small amounts of text, making observations about everything from biology to cosmology.

Sometimes the approach can be very effective. So we have a whole page dedicated to the words 'Touch this dot' alongside… a dot. But the facing page tells us 'You just left behind 100,000 bacteria,' which is neat. There are quite a few pages dedicated to demonstrating the size of various things using different graphic approaches. This may be more in Rutherford's stamp collecting approach to science than anything particularly deep, but it's fun, engaging and quick to absorb.

I am not convinced, however, that this approach gives us too much of an insight into what science is about. Apart from anything else, the very knowing, first person approach used, as if the book is talking to the reader, is both irritating and hugely wasteful of space. We get, for example, a whole page dedicated to saying 'With my four inks I can unleash an avalanche of colour'. So? Do I really need a book to tell me that colour printed books can show colour?

Sometimes the content is, frankly, uninspiring. At one point we get a whole two-page spread to tell us 'Everything is changing - sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly. Things are beginning and ending, all the time.' No, really? I'm amazed. (Sarcasm.)

I so wanted this book to be brilliant and challenging and different. It is different, and sometimes inspiring, but I think it could have gone much further and contained a lot more. (There is a short explanatory section at the back for each of the points made, but this kind of appendix rarely gets read.) Without doubt, it is absolutely great that the authors have tried something different. But I am not sure that I am a Book achieves what it sets out to do.


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Review by Brian Clegg

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