What Goes On in My Head? by Robert Winston is a tremendously entertaining children’s book about neuroscience and psychology and is the final book shortlisted for the Royal Society’s Young People’s Book Prize.
Read this book and you’ll find answers to questions such as “Are brains actually necessary?”, “Why do we rub sore bits of our body better?”, “What is more dangerous – sleep deprivation or food deprivation?” and “Is it always better to concentrate when you’ve got to make an important decision?”.
You’ll also learn about the chicken called Mike who lived for 18 months after having his head amputated, why it’s better to star gaze using your peripheral vision and why smells can powerfully evoke past memories.
If that’s not enough, whilst reading this book it will seem like you have your own magician in the room; What Goes On in My Head? is packed with activities that explore different aspects of brain behaviour and many of them had us gasping with amazement or trying them again because the illusion or effect was so powerful. For example you can learn how to see inside your own eyes, how to make someone’s arm spontaneously levitate (the myth of telekinesis is debunked, by the way), and why it’s so difficult to draw even a simple image when you look in a mirror.
What Goes On in My Head? is a fascinating, exciting read, packed with curious facts. And as you’d expect with a Dorling Kindersley book, it’s a lovingly produced physical object, rich in images.
If I were to find fault with this beautifully produced book it would the use of Robert Winston as the “celebrity” author. Yes, he’s a household name (at least here in the UK), but he’s not a neuroscientist nor a psychologist (human fertility is is area of expertise). It seems a shame that if you’re going to use a scientist presumably with the idea of giving weight to the content of a book, why not use a scientist who is an expert in the field. Of course the book was written in consultation with a neuroscientist, Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, and this leaves me wondering what Robert Winston actually wrote for the book. Additionally, Robert Winston was used as a figure head to promote the sale of a health supplement, the adverts for which were subsequently banned for breaching the ASA guidelines on “substantiation and truthfulness”, so for me personally, the use of his name to add “credibility” to this book backfires a little.
A couple of unfortunate comments about Freud and mental illness aside (eg “A touch of mental illness can be a good thing” p.85), and celebrity author notwithstanding, What Goes On in My Head? is hugely enjoyable, fascinating and inspiring book, not only perfect for the curious but also ideal for hooking those kids who may need a little encouragement to see how amazing science can be.
Having had some fairly epic book-inspired play in the last few days we opted for something really simple to do to complement our reading of What Goes On in My Head? – we had a quiet afternoon playing a memory game. The girls and I took it in turns to place 20 objects on a tray. Whoever hadn’t chosen the objects then had 1 minute to look at the objects before they were covered. Once hidden from view, the memorizer had one minute to write down as many items as they could remember. The winner of each round didn’t go home with all the items they remembered, but did get a bourbon biscuit!
Songs we listened to whilst playing our memory game included:
Other activities which would be fun to try having read What Goes On in My Head? include:
So now I’ve reviewed all six books on the shortlist for the for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2011, an award that celebrates the best recent books that communicate science to young people. The winner will be announced tomorrow.
Which book do you think should win? The one I’ve reviewed today, What Mr Darwin Saw?, How the World Works, The Icky Sticky Snot and Blood Book, The Story of Astronomy and Space, or What’s the Point of Being Green? And which book do you think I would like to see win?
Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review, however, reflect my own and honest opinion.