Presents you may want to read as well

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Usborne Guide to e-mail

Usborne: 2000. £6.99

How to Build a Robot

Oxford University Press: 2000. £3.99

Crashing Computers

Scholastic: 1999. £3.99

How the Future Began

Kingfisher: 2000. £9.99, $15.95

Terminal Chic

Bodley Head: 2000. £10.99

Years ago my father bought me a train set for Christmas, which he then monopolized. It was ostensibly bought for me, but in reality for himself. I thought of this when reading the Usborne Guide to e-mail, which is a clear, well-writtenaccount of how to use Outlook Express and six other e-mail packages. My co-reviewers Chris and Juliette (both aged 11) read this with interest, Chris saying that it was good and that he had learnt “one or two new things, although most of the stuff we have done in school”. And there is the point: it contains little that most British children will not meet at school — but a lot that their less computer-literate parents will not know. Conclusion: pretend to buy this for your children — but read it yourself. (age 10+)

There is a brand of paint in Britain that sells itself on the slogan “Does exactly what it says on the tin”. I wish this were true of How to Build a Robot. Chris and Juliette both picked this up, intrigued by the promise on the cover that it is a “DIY guide to building a walking, talking, thinking, robot”. After a few seconds browsing they discarded it. Not really surprising, as the book is a set of recycled 'home experiments' which does not begin to do what it says on the cover. Conclusion: not what it says on the tin. (age 9+)

In contrast, Crashing Computers was a great hit with both children. They have a collection of the same publisher's 'Horrible Histories' and 'HorribleScience', which they love, so they fought over who should read it first — Juliette won and hid it in her bedroom. I was forced to go to a local bookshop to buy another copy. Sitting there among the publisher's myriad other volumes, it was as easy to spot as a clone in the Borg Collective. It is worth the effort to dig it out — but be prepared to be assimilated to the series! , Crashing Computers uses an engaging combination of fact and humour to tell the story of computers pastpresentand future — how they work, and what they can do and the (often hilarious) ways humans have interacted with them. Conclusion: entertaining, exciting, and informative.Find it and buy it. (age 9+)

None of the three books mentioned so far looks like a Christmas present. They are not big or glossy and would not therefore immediately appeal to a prospective buyer. Two books that do meet these criteria are How the Future Began and Terminal Chic. They both deal with the future, but in very different ways.

How the Future Began is glossy, packed with pictures and might appeal to aunts or uncles looking for something for their nephew or niece. But would they read it? Both Chris and Juliette glanced at it, but it failed to capture their attention. I think this is because it talks at children rather than to them. This book is the antithesis of Crashing Computers — it is more likely to be bought but less likely to be read and enjoyed. Conclusion: would adorn a bookshelf. (age 8+)

Terminal Chic is a science-fiction book for teenage girls telling the story of an 18-year-old transported into the year 3001. It imaginatively contrasts life now in the year 3001, engaging the reader's imagination in a way that How the Future Began never does.

Conclusion: excellent, a teenage Bridget Jones transported into the far future. (age 12+)

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