ummy, why is the sky all pink and orange? It’s meant to be blue!”
My son and I were driving back from his grandmother’s house and the sky above Stonehenge was a glorious flamingo colour. He was gaping at the sight, mystified.
“But Mummy, why isn’t it bluuuue?”
“The sky isn’t always blue,” I said. We left it there because Seth, three, had spotted a cloud shaped like a monkey. We moved on to a game of “find the funny cloud” but I couldn’t help feeling a rising sense of smugness, because I could have answered his question. I know (I actually know!) why the sky changes colour as the sun sets. Yes, Mr Rendell, the girl who dossed her way through your science class gossiping on the back bench can truthfully say she knows the answer.
I also know why the Mona Lisa doesn’t have eyebrows, how “the lady in the sat nav” knows where to go, and why the evolution of zebra stripes may have more to do with mosquitoes than camouflage. These days my head is full of curious information. There I was, expecting to be the parent with the joke answers or the one marching the kids off to Wikipedia for help with school assignments (“Don’t worry, let’s crowd-source your homework”). But instead, when my children’s questions get complicated, I’m going to be an insufferable know-it-all. Why? Because I spent the past few years collecting thousands of questions from primary school children all over the UK, and getting them answered by world experts.
The idea for a book popped into my head while on maternity leave after hearing my niece ask two impossible questions: “Why are kiwis hairy?” and “What is a wish?” The concept was so obvious – a sort of QI for kids – that I couldn’t believe it hadn’t been done before.
I realised the book needed to support a children’s charity, and by the time the NSPCC and a publisher were on board, the project had developed a life of its own. In the end a long list of scientists,