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Monday, Jan. 6, 2003

ON THE BOOK TRAIL

"Human Body Revealed," "The DK Guide to the Human Body," "Eyewitness Pirate," " 'Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,' Said the Sloth"


"Human Body Revealed," Sue Davidson & Ben Morgan, Dorling Kindersley Limited; 2002; 38 pp.
"The DK Guide to the Human Body," Richard Walker, Dorling Kindersley Limited; 2002; 64 pp.
"Eyewitness Pirate," Richard Platt & Tina Chambers, Dorling Kindersley Limited; 2002; 72 pp.

Ever wanted to look up your nose to see what you'd find? Or strained in front of a mirror to see the back of your throat? Or wondered what your food looks like when it gets to your stomach?

A new set of encyclopedias takes you right inside an incredible machine -- your body. Don't get put off by the word "encyclopedia" -- these ones make great browsing material for the holidays.

Flipping through the pages of "Human Body Revealed" is like slipping on a pair of those X-ray glasses that spies wear in the movies. This guide has eight transparent pages layered over regular pages to help you visualize your inner body in multiple dimensions. As you turn the see-through sheets, you splice your body in cross-section, from skin to bone.

I discovered some amazing facts. Because you have two eyes and two ears, you see everything and hear everything twice. (Your brain processes the pairs of sight and sound signals so fast, they seem to be one.) Even when you're resting, your heart is working harder than your leg muscles are when you are running. You have about 100,000 km of blood vessels packed into your body. Intrigued?

You're not the only one. Human beings have been intrigued by their bodies for thousands of years. "The DK Guide to the Human Body" includes a fascinating section about all those curious people down the ages who puzzled over the working of the body and came up with answers. Your body, however, is such an engineering marvel that in spite of all the research that's been done already, no one has figured it all out yet. People with questioning minds are still needed. Any takers?

These human-body guides make learning so much fun that every classroom should have a set. But DK has also come out with others that tell you things you'll probably never learn at school -- like "Eyewitness Pirate."

This is packed with everything you ever wanted to know about these wanderers of the high seas, from the buccaneers and privateers to the Vikings and the Corsairs. The neatly labeled graphics of pirate ships are a great way to tell the galleys from the galleons, the schooners from the sloops (and to impress everyone).

Peppered with anecdotes about history's most notorious pirates, this is a lively read on how pirates fought wars, navigated ocean routes and tortured their victims. My favorite was the story of Blackbeard: He stuck smoldering fuses under his hat when he went into battle so that he appeared in a thick black cloud of smoke, terrifying his enemies.

Best of all, this isn't just for boys. There were women pirates, too, who dressed, fought, drank and even cursed like men. Those that we know about were the ones whose identities were ultimately exposed, such as English pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny, the Viking pirate captain Alvilda and Chinese pirate queen Ching Shih. Though Bonny and Read were captured, they escaped execution because they were both pregnant; Ching Shih controlled a vast fleet of 1,800 ships "manned" by 80,000 pirates.

Historians speculate that some female pirates passed off as men so convincingly that they hid their true identities all their lives -- but because they went undiscovered, their stories died with them.

"Human Body Revealed" and "Eyewitness Pirate" (U.S. editions) are available at Tower Records Shibuya, tel. (03) 3496-3661.

" 'Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,' Said the Sloth," Eric Carle, Puffin Books; 2002; 24 pp.

Have you ever been called a sloth for being lazy? The real sloth is far from lazy -- he's misunderstood.

This vibrant picture book defends the sloth's laid-back lifestyle. In a foreword, noted zoologist Jane Goodall tells us about the strange ways of the sloth: they spend most of their lives hanging upside-down from trees; sleep 15 to 19 hours a day; and climb down once a week, looking fat, to defecate and urinate, before climbing up again, looking slim. (Did you know that sloths smile when they defecate?)

The truth is, these gentle natives of the Amazon rain forest just like to take life slow.

"Slowly, slowly, slowly," begins each sentence describing the sloth's daily activities. The sloth's life might be slow, but his world is never boring. The repetition is almost hypnotic, forcing the reader to slow down and take in not only the words on the page but also the riot of color with which the rain forest has been depicted. Here, blood-red flowers bloom, there a pair of postman butterflies glitter like jewels in the forest, or a vibrant quetzal takes off in flight.

The inhabitants of the Amazon -- a spiky porcupine, a train of bright-red leaf-cutting ants, a dazzling macaw, a restless jaguar -- question the sloth's way of life, but he hangs from the tree, motionless. He only stirs to answer when the jaguar asks him why he is lazy. The sloth's reply is instructive -- it reminds us to slow down. We're so used to doing things that we forget to appreciate the world around us. The sloth's gentle life affirms the value of stillness and silence.

Carle's deft collage work makes this book a real treasure, even for older children. He paints plain tissue papers in bold colors, using acrylic paints, then he cuts them into the required shapes and pastes them onto an illustration board.

In this way, he brings to life the rich diversity of the sloth's habitat -- in danger today, as forests are cleared for wood, or to make space for grazing.

If sloths lose the only home they know, where will they go? This book gets you thinking right away -- if you wait until you're older, there might be no sloths left to save.

The U.S. edition (Philomel Publishers) is available at Kinokuniya, Shinjuku, tel. (03) 3354-0131. Also at Tower Records Shibuya, tel. (03) 3496-3661.

E-mail Payal Kapadia about this fortnightly column or about the Education page in general at payal@japantimes.co.jp


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