The Encyclopedia of Weird
by Sheila De La Rosa
New York : Tor Kids!, 1998
by Colleen R. Cahill
You may have a young person in your life, son or daughter, niece or nephew, or even a friend’s offspring, that you want to share you love of science fiction with, but whenever you offer a title they say they only like books about REAL things. Don’t despair, because you can give them a volume that is totally real, in fact, it isn’t even fiction, but has that touch of wonder and science that you find thrilling. In Sheila De La Rosa’s The Encyclopedia of Weird both of you can enjoy a fun work about life’s oddities.
The first question that popped into my mind was “define weird”. In the book’s introduction, De La Rosa makes it clear that this is her definition of the word, based on what is unusual for American tastes. From here, she divides weird into four categories: animals, places, people and lifestyles. Some these items might not be news to you, such as army ants or geckos (who are weird because they can lose and regrow their tails) but there are other curiosities, such as the vampire moth or the Norwegian puffin dog which might be fresh information finds. Interspersed among the one page articles are drawings, photographs, jokes and short clips of fascinating facts, such as a plaster model of the world’s largest hailstone that is in a museum in Kansas. Some other highlights for me in the Encyclopedia were the sections on the home of white squirrels (there are three locations fighting over this honor); Ekins, super-loyal workers at Nike shoes who are so fanatic they tattoo the company logo on their leg; and ex-park ranger Roy C. Sullivan who has been struck by lightening seven times! The author also throws in unique museums, such as the U.S. National Tick Collection and the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum, plus interviews with some unusual people, such as airsickness bag-collector Ben Guttery, who has over 1000 barf bags.
Don’t let the word “encyclopedia”, mislead you: this is not an unwieldy tome that would take two men and a dog to lift. The book is a friendly size, just right to carry about and consult as needed and should not frighten any who are shy of weighty books. The compact 112 pages includes a glossary of terms that a might be new to your young reader and is written in a style to inform and perhaps excite one to look up more on these topics.
Those who read Disney Adventures magazine might had seen some of De La Rosa’s “Weird Yet True” columns. The “About the Author” section in the book has contact information so anyone with a weird fact or other tidbit can send it to De La Rosa. Since your ultimate goal might still be to get a certain party interested in science fiction, this could be another way to lead them to those wonderful stories.
So go ahead and pick up a copy of The Encyclopedia of Weird for that special youngster. I won’t tell if you read it yourself first.