CM . . .
. Volume XV Number 20 . . . . May 29, 2009
Special Effects is another succinct, nicely designed, kid-friendly nonfiction book in Crabtree’s “Contact” series. As with the others, this is at an easy reading level yet is presented in such a way as to entice older children or those who may have reading problems. Important words that are explained in the glossary are highlighted. Catchy chapter headings include: Making It Real, Crazy Creatures, Strange Changes, Burning Buildings, Stormy Weather, Setting the Scene and Timeline. Most chapters are from 4 to 6 pages in length. There is a good ratio between text and pictures. The text is succinct. For example, in chapter 1 the text states:
The double spread page arrangement is topped by a large photograph labeled “Tornadoes rip through Los Angeles, California, in the movie The Day After Tomorrow.” In addition, the text is printed in white on the black background of a replica of a length of film. This use of “film” is carried throughout the book periodically, thereby emphasizing the cinematic theme. Other pictures are simply and clearly labeled. Many of these pictures are from movies children will be quite aware of such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, Enchanted, and Titanic.
Although at times the text seems somewhat terse, given the target audience this is not necessarily seen as a major flaw. In addition, although the interest level specifies grade 6 to 9, I wonder if the large print and text layout would interest children at the upper end of this range. However, despite these two limitations, overall the book is very appealing.
Such special effects techniques as the use of contact lenses, make-up, false teeth, wigs and beards and foam latex masks are detailed in Chapter 3: Strange Changes. In Chapter 4: Burning Buildings, the use of smoke machines, flame bars and models are examined. Other chapters include how tidal waves are “manufactured” and how cars are made to seem to be flying through the air through the use of two films. Newer techniques using computers to generate characters and backgrounds are explained briefly.
Sharp-eyed children may notice the evolution of special effects over the years. On the title page containing the picture of King Kong from the 1933 version, it is obvious that a doll is used to depict Fay Wray being held by the giant ape. On the other end of the spectrum is the very ‘realistic’ space ship model used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
The book also includes such necessary nonfiction features as a Table of Contents, Need-To-Know Words, Special Effects Firsts and Special Effects Online, as well as an Index. I found it interesting, and particularly useful that, at the end of the latter section, the publisher has added the following note to educators and parents: “Our editors have carefully reviewed these websites to ensure that they are suitable for children. Many websites change frequently, however, and we cannot guarantee that a site’s future contents will continue to meet our high standards of quality and educational value. Be advised that children should be closely supervised whenever they access the Internet.” This is indeed an appropriate caution.
Special Effects is an attractive addition to a worthwhile series aimed at a particular audience. As such, it is a very useful introduction to an interesting topic and will likely entice children to search for more in-depth information.
Another book in the same series by the same author is Lost at Sea.
Marilynne V. Black is a former B.C. elementary teacher-librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children’s Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005. She is now working as an independent children's literature consultant with a web site at: www.heartofthestory.ca.
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