A Challenge of Common Knowledge
Do you know your Roman numerals, or the number of legs an insect has versus an arachnid? What about freezing and boiling points in Celsius AND Fahrenheit? Or which state borders four of the five Great Lakes?
A worthwhile trivia book—particularly an age-specific trivia book—is much harder to compile than you might think. It must be targeted enough to avoid feeling like a mishmash of topics, eclectic enough to maintain interest, accessible enough not to discourage your audience, and challenging enough to be worth their time. That’s quite the needle to thread.
A Challenge of Common Knowledge comes closer to that lofty ideal than most, particularly for a book aimed at fourth grade through sixth grade. Encompassing history, math, language, animals, geography, science, weights and measures, vocabulary, and more, this collection of four hundred and one questions represents a benchmark all students at this age level should be able to pass.
That being said, I was a little surprised by a wider range of difficulty than strictly necessary; questions ricochet all over the spectrum from “things every child should know” (what sport is played at the Super Bowl?) to “Wow, I couldn’t answer that question” (who invented the gas mask?). Some of the questions also seemed out of place. There were ones about SpongeBob SquarePants and Snoopy, but none about literature or readings I would expect that age group to be familiar with. And overall, I do wonder about the order in which the questions are presented. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest they be divvied up by category, because one of the best parts of the book is that you never know what field or subject you’ll battle next. But when Question #42 asks which is the largest ocean, and then Question #46 asks what the largest bodies of water are called, you can’t help but wonder why the order of those questions wasn’t swapped. (Some repetition also creeps into the book; fraction vs. part of a whole, for instance, is explored twice.)
To an older reader, some of the answers might come off as a bit simplistic. After all, thunder is said to be the sound of lightning, rather than the sound of rapidly expanding air during a lightning strike, and a group of whales is referred to as a herd without mentioning it can also be called a pod, a gam, or a school. But remember that these questions are intended for a fourth-to-sixth-grade knowledge and comprehension level, so simplifications and exclusions like these are to be expected.
Nonetheless, A Challenge of Common Knowledge succeeds where many trivia books fail. Instead of filling its pages with random factoids and minutiae, it comes off as the perfect end-of-year review or beginning-of-the-year primer for the age group. Pierce set a fairly ambitious goal for herself, and hit the mark more often than not.
Barbara A. Pierce