World's Fair

So, today is the last day of the Children’s book workshop, and it’s been a nice change of pace for sure. The instructor, Susan Juby, was excellent and the content generally helpful and did I say, nice change of pace? I also picked up a few great quotes about children in general, and in children’s lit specifically.

Two of my favourites have been:

“We know nothing of childhood, and with our mistaken notions the further we advance the further we go astray. The wisest writers devote themselves to what a man ought to know, without asking what a child is capable of learning. They are always looking for the man in the child, without considering what he is before he becomes a man.” ~Jean-Jacques Rousseau (this was one serious dude when it came to what he thought about kids, but this quote is nice)

“Nothing that happens after we are twelve matters very much.” ~JM Barrie

Anyway, this is all converging to a question I’m going to throw out there:

Are there any children’s books that are dear to you, either as a child or a parent, and especially ones that perhaps strike a chord with those from a science sensibility? Just curious really. And it doesn’t have to be a picture book, doesn’t even have to be a children’s book – just a book that, for whatever reason, worked for you.

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And in the spirit of summary, here were the children book reviews I’ve done this week in one easy to find list:

Comments

  1. #1 adamsj
    July 15, 2006

    Right here on the title page it’s noted that our vetrinarian and friend, Dr. Sturdevant (and his beagle U Know) gave me (and our beagle Playboy), on Xmas 1962 when I was four and a half years old, The Golden Treasury of Natural History, by Bertha Morris Parker of the University of Chicago and the Chicago Natural History Museum.

    Even though almost all my books are in storage and have been for over a year, I still have this one with me wherever I move.

  2. #2 jkcohen
    July 15, 2006

    My favorite science children’s book is and always has been Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters. I was gripped by the tension of Pasteur’s rabies cure and the drama of Ehrlich’s discovery of Salvarsan. It gave me a picture of scientists as heroes which has never entirely left me, even though Edward Jenner would never have considered his stock options before finding a cure for smallpox.

  3. #3 Tiax
    July 15, 2006

    Mine’s a little more math than science, but it’s Richard Scarry’s “Best Counting Book Ever”. On the last page there are 100 fireflies to count, and I would count them every single night, starting over if I didn’t get the right answer.

  4. #4 Timon
    July 16, 2006

    “National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders”. It might not qualify as a kids’ book, but it was definitely one of the great books I had when I was a kid. My dad had copies of the Audubon guides to North American Birds and “Familiar Mushrooms” and I was also given a copy of “Familiar Rocks and Minerals”, but the insect book was by far my favourite. It came to good use when we lived up in Prince Rupert, British Columbia: some of my earliest memories surround learning the gestation time for the slug eggs I uncovered under moss in our back yard or reading about the range and feeding preferences of the spittle bugs I would find tucked in gob-cocoons in the tall grass. Black or purple ground beetles were early favourites (though the rarer copper ones were even better, always warranting a trip indoors). When my family moved to Vancouver Island, I remember being blown away by the various crickets and grasshoppers I could find – I’d never seen anything like that up in Rupert. Based on my childhood memories, I would suggest that if children have any kind of interest in a topic such as ecology, go for a genuine field guide that has photographs of the things the kids will uncover at the park or in their back yard. Also be sure to keep a fly swatter and paper towels near the back door.

  5. #5 Kelly Black
    July 17, 2006

    The book that had the biggest impact in my interest in science was an old world atlas. I used to marvel at the pictures of the solar system and maps of the stars. I also loved the different maps that showed the various aspects of the world. I literally used to wake up at night and look over the maps by flashlight to see the various plates that made up the earth’s crust and look at the world in terms of agriculture, rain fall, and other aspects.

  6. #6 Rhea Tregebov
    July 17, 2006

    Hi Dave; so glad you’re covering this issue. As you know, I’m a children’s author myself, and share your sense of the importance of kids’ lit. While I didn’t read this myself as a kid, I do find it one of the most astounding picture books around: Vera B. Williams’ Cherries and Cherry Pits. The level of sophistication both visually and in terms of narrative is really remarkable and beyond that, the message that she has is very signficant. I won’t say more, but I do recommend this book to all readers, kids and non. Rhea

  7. #7 Hsien Lei
    July 18, 2006

    Too cool! I’m always on the lookout for more science books for myself and my preschooler. Have shared your great reviews with readers of Play Library too. :)

  8. #8 chez jake
    July 18, 2006

    I’ll second jkcohen’s nomination of Paul de Kruif’s Microbe Hunters for older kids with a science interest. It not only provides some great microbiological history, but also gives some very understandable explanations of experimental design.

    For those a bit younger, Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth is a delightful fantasy that encourages thinking outside the box, as well as being loaded with delightful wordplay.

    For all kids, having some good, standard reference books in the house provides a constant way for kids to indulge their curiosity. Teach kids to use a dictionary as soon as you think they are ready. A good world atlas (preferably one that has more than just geopolitical maps) lets you show younger kids where things are that they hear about, and lets older kids with imaginations go on mental voyages of exploration. When I was a kid, “Santa” brought us the latest edition of the World Almanac and Book of Facts every year.

    Like Timon, we also always had field guides available, and they always came with us wherever we went on vacation — birds, wildflowers, insects, reptiles and amphibians, trees and shrubs, fish, and rocks and minerals.

  9. #9 SkookumPlanet
    July 18, 2006

    This was written for Dr. Free Ride’s kid’s book post and her citing of Biesty’s book. I only noticed that was in response to this post after it was written. And, yes, she’s a budding paleontologist…

    Here are three of the books hanging around my place for my niece, one old and two brand-new.

    Biesty has a cross-sections book Castle. It progresses from one end of a castle to the other and there’s a bit of a plot — a siege — beginning, middle and end. The big attractions were an enemy spy hidden in every double-page spread, and …. well, toilets. Copious amount of details about life in middle ages with all the right castle stuff.

    Just purchased is dinosaur artist Luis V. Rey’s Extreme Dinosaurs. It’s a compilation of many of his recent works with a text for, roughly, 4th grade reading level, that covers much basic and broad intro material well. But the real point is the 50+% of the page space filled with weird dinosaurs in eye-popping color. The cover [at Amazon?] says it all. Organized by continent, there are quite a few feathered dinosaurs, and I actually used this as a companion to Mark Norell’s Unearthing the Dragon, which I read about a month ago and reviewed here at sciblogs. Rey’s book includes all the dino/bird-bird/dino melds covered in Norell’s book and includes a pronouncing glossary of species’ scientific names. Norell’s 8-book reading list includes a book Rey co-authored and his description fits this book. “…these creatures, rendered at the limit of credulity, are so different than how we [reconstructed]…a few years ago.”

    The star of the three books here, though, is Encyclopedia Prehistorica, Sharks and Other Sea Monsters by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart. [I think there are other volumes.] This is the most extravagant, complex, over the top fold-out pop-up book I’ve ever seen. I’m not a connoisseur, but it’s way beyond anything in my universe. This was an unresearched choice I purchased with Norrel’s book from a book club as an extra, website-only, 3-for-the-price-of-2 sale. I haven’t checked list price but likely it’s $20-30. For that you get 6 double-page spreads. But, each of these has 2, 3 or 4 mini pages in the corners and sides — every available space not occupied by the giant pop-ups that emerge from the center fold. These mini pages tuck in at a corner like scrapbook photograph corner mounts. These in turn are pop-ups and about half of them have multiple pages. Some of these are incredibly intricate and besides lots of ancient sea monsters include some paleontological history [including 19th century fossil hunter Mary Anning] and two with clear plastic incorporated representing water surface, the intro with tetrapods coming onto land, half-in, half-out of then water and a close with the Loch Ness monster.

    Page = double-page spread. Page 1: Sea scorpions and trilobites. Page 2: Giant dino-eating croc with a dino’s tail poised between it’s closing jaws. Page 3: Huge shark who’s entire head comes right out about 8 inches, with great interior detail. Page 4. A kronosauris fossil skeleton rises up with ichthyosaurs and liopleurodon et. al. in the surrounding 4 mini pages. Page 5: A stupendous battle arises, including plumes of water, between two long necked plesiosaurs, almost interwoven, who defend themselves against a mosasaurus whose tail raises higher than their heads. This is another 8″ high spectacle. Finally, Page 6 is marine mammals [and a marine bird] starring basilosaurus and ambulocetus.

    There are jaws with lots of big teeth coming out right at the reader or at each other all over the place. The cover claims there are 35 pop-ups inside. I haven’t actually read it yet and my niece has seen it once, right before she went to Hawaii for 3 weeks. Yeah, tough summer vacation so far.

    Looks like most of the creatures, ecosystems, and time periods we are already familiar with from watching, many times, BBC’s Chased by Sea Monsters and Walking with Dinos/Beasts ["Beasts" is the rise of mammals]. Both series are also highly recommended and briefly reviewed in the link above. This book is moving to her house in a couple days. I’ve had time to think through some actual techniques to show her for handling it. An almost 9-year-old’s experience needs some enhancement just to prolong the life of this amazing, complex thing. I have no idea how this would actually get produced. Describing it as elaborate is clearly an understatement.

  10. #10 T. Brian Evans
    July 19, 2006

    “Black Holes and Warped Spaced Time” by William J. Kaufmann (1979) was interesting. It was a fairly easy read for such a complex subject. I should probably read it again.

    If nothing else, it explained to me what event horizons and singularities are.

    Amazon is selling it but it is at a pretty hefty price. It is going for somewhere between $0.44 and $3.00 per copy.

  11. #11 Benjamin Cohen
    July 19, 2006

    I have to answer on behalf of my son, who’s currently quite smitten with some outstanding children’s books. For my own sake, I was always a big fan of Make Way for Ducklings, although I can’t say that was for scientific or even ecological reasons (though I know I could in the least recast it for an environmental-ecological theme). Now, as for Whitt, he’s enamored less with books that show him why something is the way it is and more with anything that shows him how he can make things, or at least see how it works. So, he’ll love a good anatomy book, not so much because he then knows *why* blood flows all around, but because he can see *how* it does. And so Richard Scarry books fit the bill really nicely there, the ones that show the inside of cars or waterwheels or buildings under construction. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go and What do People Do All Day?, are the tops. So I offer those as great children’s books.

  12. #12 James McCann
    July 19, 2006

    My biggest influences of science in fiction would have to be Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (written as a satire of an HG Wells novel), Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (originally a short story called “The Firefighter”), and, more recently, Darwinia by Robert Charles Wilson.

    In each there is an element of science that warns us of how we may lose our humanity should we rely too much on technology as our companion/entertainment, and in each is a tale of morality that stays true throughout the decades.

    While religion brings us closer in relationship to each other, technology brings us closer in relationship to machines.

  13. #13 Rebekah Stendahl
    July 27, 2006

    Some of my favorite picture books for kids with a great science/ecological message are:
    Wild Woods by Simon James
    Sally and the Limpet by Simon James
    The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer

    All three books have the same overall message about leaving wild creatures where they belong– in the wild. The Salamander Room specifically also does a good job in illustrating how ecosystems work as you see piece by piece all the things that would be needed to give the salamander an appropriate home.

    My favorite book without an obvious conservation or science message– but still about animals– would have to be An Extraordinary Egg by Leo Lionni. It’s downright hilarious!!

  14. #14 Web Hosting
    March 16, 2010

    Page = double-page spread. Page 1: Sea scorpions and trilobites. Page 2: Giant dino-eating croc with a dino’s tail poised between it’s closing jaws. Page 3: Huge shark who’s entire head comes right out about 8 inches, with great interior detail. Page 4. A kronosauris fossil skeleton rises up with ichthyosaurs and liopleurodon et. al. in the surrounding 4 mini pages. Page 5: A stupendous battle arises, including plumes of water, between two long necked plesiosaurs, almost interwoven, who defend themselves against a mosasaurus whose tail raises higher than their heads. This is another 8″ high spectacle. Finally, Page 6 is marine mammals [and a marine bird] starring basilosaurus and ambulocetus.