Unglamorous, but loved by some, I am writing in praise of geeky fact books.
I had lots of these as a boy. My favourite was the Guinness Book of Answers 1978. I got it when I was poorly with the mumps – I read it and reread it on the sofa in my pyjamas from cover to cover. I returned to it many times.
Some kids just love these books. 1000 facts about sharks, dinosaurs, hamsters, space, trucks, fairies and StarWars. They are all great because they do one thing very well – they build foundations for learning.
Here is a fact: like poles repel, unlike poles attract. On its own, useless. In 1978, I didn’t know what a pole was (I had a magnet, but it didn’t look like the one in the diagram). I probably knew what attract and repel meant, but maybe not. I learnt it in the way children learn the spells in Harry Potter – “Wingardium Laviosa.”
My brain is littered with facts never used: little foundations never built upon, but the magnet fact gave me a head start later in school. Learners can keep two or three new facts in mind when learning something new. Poles attracting and repelling was not a new fact for me – I had spare capacity. Magnets made sense to me.
The 1000 facts gave me 1000 tiny head starts.
Fiction is great, but don’t forget the fact books.