Not just anyone can write a good, educational book for children: expert knowledge of the subject is extremely important, as is accurate presentation of the facts. The book should have an attractive appearance. The words and the pictures should complement each other. The style of the writing should be accessible, but not too didactic or too babyish. And the enthusiasm of the writer must be so infectious that the book fills the reader with curiosity and amazement. Botjes, the fourth collaborative non-fiction project by biologist Midas Dekkers and illustrator Angela de Vrede, is the ultimate example of a book that satisfies all of these criteria.
Bit by bit and piece by piece, both literally and figuratively, the book tells us all kinds of things about the various bones that make up our skeleton: the flexible backbone that keeps us balanced; the shoulder, the most ‘mobile’ of the bones; and the skull or ‘tool box’, where we store our most useful equipment.
Dekkers displays a very natural ease and wit in his presentation of the information. His style of writing, combined with his inventiveness, his open mind and his erudition, makes him the ideal candidate for explaining biology to children. One particularly original and illuminating feature of the book is Dekkers’ image of the skeleton as a ‘construction kit’, the most wonderful one there is – it doesn’t cost a cent, and it’s so cleverly designed that ‘putting yourself together is really no big deal’.
Anyone can manage to do it if they follow Dekkers’ instructions. ‘First count the pieces to see that you’ve got them all,’ he explains. ‘There should be 206. Each one has its own place. If you put them together incorrectly, then your skeleton won’t work. If your legs are on your shoulders, you’ll trip up over your own ribs.’ De Vrede draws as skilfully as Dekkers writes. Her many humorous illustrations liven up the facts superbly – without losing any of the meaning.
Quite the contrary, in fact. For example, when Dekkers explains to his readers that bats actually use their hands to fly, De Vrede’s comic pen-and-ink drawings of a bat skeleton alongside a human with giant hands are an essential complement to the text. Facts, pictures and imagination combine so smoothly in Botjes that the invisible effortlessly becomes visible.
By Mirjam Noordduijn