The Element in the Room by Mike Barfield

“Did you know that without the ‘lead’ in your pencil, there would be no life on Earth? Just about everything in the universe is made from only 92 elements – and from aluminium to zinc, many of them are hiding in your very own home!

This funny and fascinating guide is bursting with brilliant facts about the atomic ingredients that make up everything around us. Join scientific sleuth Sherlock Ohms as he investigates the elements, and help his enquiries with explosive experiments.”

Our Review

When I first saw The Element in the Room up for review, I was surprised. It looked like a book for elementary school children. I thought it might be fun to read with my younger kids.

However, after receiving a free review copy I was confused which age group it is actually intended for. The illustrations seem to suggest a younger age group. The wordy descriptions on each page looks more appropriate for upper high school but the humor seems right for junior high students. I decided to experiment and find which age group in my family found it most interesting.

My personal impression was a lack of interest due to the book layout. Most pages are crammed with information in various word bubbles without any clear clues to where to begin. The main idea is hidden too. I found the apparent main idea of one page at the very bottom of the page. If the titles and headings were clearer about the main ideas being presented it would help me take more interest in the book. My favorite pages were the ones discussing the properties of the individual elements. The point of the information on these pages is clear and somewhat interesting.

My husband also thought the pages were too busy. He found the fluorescent colors and quirky graphics distracting. He prefers the way Head Start books teach subject matter with humor but cram less info to a page and keep the purpose clear. They don’t have a chemistry book yet though.

Benjamin, my college-aged son, thought the pictures distracted too much from the text. He felt the writing style was clunky and confusing. He suggested it as a fit for preteens to early teens as it teaches some good concepts though, perhaps, not clearly enough.

James, a high school sophomore, was similarly uninterested. In his words, “The book had annoying comics with an attitude that I did not like. It suggested the historical people who’s opinions are no longer considered scientifically correct were stupid. Other parts were annoyingly cheesy in a way that makes you think of a children’s book.” He also felt the information was disorganized.

The one who was most interested was my seventh-grade son, Henry. He quickly skimmed through the book and read all the comic strips in it. He especially enjoyed the stories of Madam Curie’s dangerous work with radiation and Dimitri Mendeleev’s enlightening dream.

My fifth-grade daughter, Elise, also enjoyed the comics. She liked the funny fact breathing helium from a balloon makes your voice squeaky. Although it says to only do this with an adult around this book suggestion concerns me as it isn’t really safe. She was interested in finding more experiments which are not easy to find in this book in my opinion.

My Recommendations

I recommend using the ‘Look inside’ feature on Amazon or checking it out from a library first if you are considering getting The Element in the Room. It could be a way to introduce chemistry history and the elements to a junior high student.

Other books from series I enjoy that teach chemistry in a simplified yet engaging manner are Life of Fred: Chemistry and E-Z Chemistry (Barron’s Easy Way).

Last thought, If you have a favorite aunt or uncle who happen to be a chemist, you could buy The Element in the Room for them as a quirky Christmas gift!

I received a free advanced reader copy of this book. All opinions are completely our own.

About the Author and Illustrator

Mike Barfield is a comic writer, cartoonist, poet and performer. He has worked in TV, radio, books, newspapers and magazines – as well as schools, libraries and museums. Lauren Humphrey is a London-based illustrator. Her colourful and quirky illustrations have featured in the New York Times, the Guardian and Anorak magazine.

Book Links

I hope you enjoyed reading this! What is your take on the story?