Friday Find: Brains On!

brainson“Wait! Pause it!”

We were listening to an episode of Brains On!, and my six year old could barely hold in her comments and questions.  I let her choose among the recent episodes, and she chose Is There Life on Other Planets? which opened with an excerpt from a science fiction story about aliens written by a kid, not too much older than my daughter.

“So this is a real story written by a real kid?” was her first question.  Then we had to go to the Brains On! web site to see the young author’s alien drawings.

Astrocat_001That was only the beginning  of the speculation and discussion that the episode sparked in her.  It wasn’t just the day we listened to it, either.  The ideas stuck with her enough to bring it up again and again.  We explored more about space in Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, which has a great spread with speculative aliens that my daughter loved.

We will definitely be listening to more of Brains On! And catching up on past episodes.  I love that it features kids asking real kid questions, and I am excited to explore more science with my daughter.

Since I am always thinking about books, I already have a few books in mind for some of the other episodes:

  • For Water, Water Everywhere we will check out Did a Dinosaur Drink this Water by Robert Wells and Let’s Drink Some Water by Ruth Walton.
  • The Soil–Can You Dig It episode fits well with A Handful of Dirt by Raymond Bial.
  • In How Do You Catch a Cold? there is talk of sneezes; Explore more in Sneeze! by Alexandra Siy.
  • If you listen to Is There Life on Other Planets? with kids a bit older than my six year old, you can direct them to The Alien Hunter’s Handbook by Mark Brake for more about what life is and how to find it.

Happy listening, reading, and exploring!

Interested in past Friday Finds posts? Click here

If you liked… Cosmos

downloadI suppose a better title for this post would be “If your kids liked Cosmos” because I really want to share some of my favorite science titles for the families who have been watching Cosmos together and want to keep the awesome science education going now that it’s over.

  • Gravity by Jason Chin – I love the way that Jason Chin’s picture books take an unusual approach to science, and his newest book does that with gravity.  It is very simple and visually striking.  Well worth sharing with young children to talk about what keeps us to the earth, what makes things fall, etc.   (Ages 4-8)
  • Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space by Dominic Walliman – This grand tour of space is guided by Professor Astro Cat in a fun and friendly way.  It’s stylishly designed and easy to understand. Even kids who aren’t as interested in science will likely be drawn in by the infographic style illustrations and funny asides in the text. It is also worth noting that the author holds a PhD in Quantum Physics, so he knows his stuff.  (Ages 8-10 – Though my 6 year-old loves to browse through it too)
  • How to Make a Planet by Scott Forbes – Start with the Big Bang and follow the steps that led to the earth we know today.  This is a fact-filled science book with the twist of being a “how-to book” for kids interested in having a planet of their own.  (Ages 8-12)

Not to mention some of the books I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past. You are Stardust and Older Than the Stars are two of my favorites.

What are some of your favorite science books for kids?

You Are Stardust

I read the first line of You Are Stardust: “Every tiny atom in your body came from a star that exploded long before you were born.”  My 4 year-old interrupted, “Is that true?”  She is the child of skeptics, and I could hear the disbelief in her voice.  I had to smile as I assured her it is, indeed, true.

I mentioned You Are Stardust in a recent post I contributed to Parents Beyond Belief about gift books for secular families, and I’ll probably bring it up again because it is easily my favorite picture book of 2012.  I could go on and on about science and wonder, but you read this blog so you know how I feel about that already. ;)

I really want you to see inside this book.  The illustrations are rather extraordinary. Take a look:

 

 

Here’s a video that shows the making of the book and there’s more cool stuff, including a teacher’s guide, here.

More about the book:

  • Julie Danielson said on the Kirkus blog, “Don’t miss this one, which begs to be shared intimately with children. Gather together, be still, and learn how we are stardust.”
  • Illustrator Soyeon Kim talks about her work in this “extraordinary debut” at Shelf Awareness.
  • More from inside the book in this Scientific American blog post.

 

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Early Science Skills (Picture Book Preschool)

I grew up with the idea that science was a collection of facts I needed to memorize to get a decent grade.  Since it seemed that science facts were always changing, I always gave myself permission to forget everything after the class was over.

Little did I know that all these years later, I would get super excited for Science Friday every week and eagerly read books like Head Start on Science to share my new interest with my daughter.  I don’t want her to see science as a process of memorizing and forgetting like I did.  I want her to really get the dynamic nature of scientific research at a much younger age than I did.

Of course I think the answer lies in books.  :)

There are many, many great books for kids that introduce science topics, but even before you start looking at specific ideas, you can start with skills.  Head Start on Science outlines these skills for preschoolers and primary graders: Observation, Comparison, Classification, and Communication.

There are about a million picture books that fall under Observation, but Who’s Hiding? stands out an unusual book that asks kids to look closely at the animals in the illustrations to answer the questions about them.  Where’s Walrus? follows a walrus who has escaped from the zoo as he tries to hide from the zookeeper.  Little kids love a good seek and find, and the ability to pick out details will serve them well in science.

Stars by Mary Lyn Ray is a beautiful picture book perfect for encouraging kids to wonder at the natural world, but it’s also an example of Comparison.  Look around, what do you see that might be star-like?  That’s Not a Daffodil is the story of a young boy watching a plant grow.  At first it looks like one thing, then another.  In the end, it is a flower.

Let’s Count to 100 is an interactive picture book that will have kids counting and classifying the 100 objects on each spread. Observation and Classification at their best!

Blue Sky and Green are concept books that explore the great variety that we can observe in just one thing–and the many ways to describe it.   After observation, after all, comes Communication, and we need the vocabulary to be able to do it.  These books are great places to start.

See all the Picture Book Preschool posts here.

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On the Value of Dissent

I am embarrassed to admit that I only recently got around to reading Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. This biography, published in 2009 for teen readers, focuses on the Darwins as a couple.  It begins with Charles’ famous pro/con list of reasons to marry or not marry, and it follows their sweet courtship and admirable marriage in a way that humanizes the famous scientist as few other books have been able yo do.

As I read, I couldn’t help but think of the polarization in our current culture.  We self-segregate based on what we believe to the point that interfaith marriages like the Darwin’s are the exception.

I’m guilty here too.  I’m a progressive, liberal skeptic, and most of the people I call friends are the same.  The subject is personal to the author, who is herself in an interfaith marriage, and her book certainly testifies to the value of dissent in our lives as she makes it plain her belief that Charles and Emma’s disagreements made their arguments stronger, and, perhaps, each of them better people than they might have been.

I highly recommend this book to all readers interested in exploring the idea of tolerance and thinking about what we might gain from learning to live and love those who fundamentally disagree with us.

For more about religion, science, and secular family life, see my Secular Thursday page.

Other books pictured above: Charles Darwin by Kathleen Krull, The Reluctant Mr. Darwin by David Quammen, Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life by Niles Eldredge, The Sandwalk Adventures by Jay Hosler, The Riverbank by Charles Darwin (on the blog here), The Tree of Life by Peter Sis

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links.   A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!  Books reviewed from library copies.

Evolution for Everyone

Earth Day is just around the corner (April 22nd), and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than learning about the “how” behind the natural world.  Here are a few good choices for appreciating evolution this Earth Day:

  • For All Ages –  Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors by Joyce Sidman – Yes, this is a picture book published for kids, but it is well worth perusing for just about anyone. It is really quite beautiful.
  • For Kids –  Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution by Steve Jenkins – Eye-catching and informative look at Earth’s history from its very beginning to the present.
  • For Pre-teens –  Billions of Years, Amazing Changes: The Story of Evolution by Laurence Pringle – A lively and straight-forward introduction to evolution illustrated by Steve Jenkins.  Here is a great blog post praising Pringle’s organization of the book, noting that he does not get side-tracked by unsupported doubts of evolution.
  • For Teens and Adults: Evolution: The Story of Life on Earth by Jay Hosler – This 
    Evolution by Jay Hosler on display at the Twin Cities Book Festivalgraphic novel (illustrated by Twin Cities natives from Big Time Attic) looks at life on earth through blob-like aliens learning about human genetics.  It isn’t as silly as it sounds.  Hosler (a professor of biology who has published a few science related graphic novels) keeps it fun, but informative.

If you don’t have plans for your weekend yet, you might want to join an Earth Day clean up crew. Check out your local parks department for details.  Here’s the Minneapolis Earth Day Clean Up page for you locals.

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links.   A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

For more about religion & science, see my Secular Thursday page.

Vicki Cobb wins lifetime achievement award

Have I mentioned lately how much I love Vicki Cobb?  Well, her books, anyway. She is pretty much the queen of science writing for kids, and her royal status has been confirmed with her recent lifetime achievement award for excellence in children’s books from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Subaru Science Books & Film.  They call her the “Julia Child of hands-on science.”

My Vicki Cobb picks?  The Science Play series.  I mentioned one of the titles in Kite Day (Picture Book Preschool), but the whole series is spot-on for 3 to 5 year-olds to explore science.  I can’t recommend them highly enough.  Children’s literature professor, Betty Carter says this in an essay about preschool science books in A Family of Readers (love this book, btw!):

“Look carefully at a four-volume series named Science Play written by Vicki Cobb. Both together and individually, these books get right at the process of discovery by asking youngsters to participate in a number of experiments in order to understand scientific principles.”

Start with Science Play.  Move on to one of Vicki Cobb’s 80-odd other science books for kids.  As Carter says, “Cobb knows her science, and she knows children and their abilities.”

   

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support!

For more about science for kids, see my Secular Thursday page.

Finding Magic & Wonder

The blog’s been quiet this week, I know.  I’ve been reading as usual, and I’ve been thinking about what I’ve read recently.  The Magic of Reality, in particular (which I blogged about here).  My daughter is too young yet for the book (aimed at teens and non-science-oriented adults), but she isn’t too young to start encouraging a sense of wonder at science and nature.

I’ve been immersed in science picture books for a work project recently, and wonder seems to be a theme this season.  At least that’s what I see in books like A Leaf Can Be… and Step Gently Out.  Both of these books use art and poetry to introduce the subject while creating a sense of awe, and they both offer more details in the back matter.

These are the sorts of books that I love to share with my daughter because they don’t really end when you finish reading the book.  The best part is what happens after you read them.  Maybe they’ll show up in a Picture Book Preschool post some time soon because they really do seem made for inspiring young science projects or at least a closer look.  It is so exciting to see my preschooler notice nature in a new way or make connections she hadn’t before because of what we’ve read.

How do you encourage a sense of wonder in your children?

 

Disclosure: Amazon.com links are affiliate links.  A portion of purchases made via these links earns a commission for this blog.  Thanks for your support! :)

For more about science for kids, see my Secular Thursday page.

Searching for Magic with Richard Dawkins

“I want to show you that the real world, as understood scientifically, has magic of its own–the kind I call poetic magic: an inspiring beauty which is all the more magical because it is real and because we can understand how it works . . . The magic of reality is–quite simply–wonderful.  Wonderful and real.  Wonderful because real.”  — Richard Dawkins in The Magic of Reality

When I heard that Richard Dawkins was writing a book for young people, I was semi-interested.  When I heard that the book was going to be illustrated by Dave McKean, I was solidly interested. When I read the above quote, I was sold.  I am so glad that someone else, with a bigger mouth than mine, is finally talking about the idea of “poetic magic.”  This is the best kind of magic because it never goes away.  The more we delve into it, the cooler it gets.  The more magical–awe inspiring, beautiful–it is.  This is the world in which we live.

This kind of magic is all around us, and people have been trying to understand it for a long time.  The Magic of Reality is a fascinating mix of history/culture, science, and art that brings science alive in a way that can’t help but draw in readers–even a “non-science person” such as myself–as it answers questions with the many ways humans have tried to understand the natural world with myth and science.   I must admit that I often found the cultural bits more interesting than the science bits, but the real draw throughout the book were the illustrations, which were almost a second narrative that intertwined with the text.  I imagined the illustrations as one reader’s imagination/thought process as he or she sorted through the stories and facts that filled the book.  Some pages are like dreamscapes while others are more like diagrams.  It really opens the book up to people, like myself, who aren’t used to thinking scientifically or who may connect with concepts more visually.  It really is quite striking.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that not everyone likes Richard Dawkins’ way of talking about religion.  Even non-religious people don’t necessarily appreciate that this book includes the Judeo-Christian stories right next to the myths of others cultures with no differentiation between them.  I even blogged about my concern before I’d read the book.  Now that I have read The Magic of Reality, I’m less concerned.  It didn’t seem to cross any lines I hadn’t seen crossed in books aimed at young people before when addressing issue related to religion, faith, or critical thinking, in particular the Really, Really Big Questions series I blogged about recently.

These are just a few of the issues I discussed during a taping of an upcoming episode of Atheists Talk, which is a public access television show produced by the MN Atheists.  You might remember me blogging about it before.  Keep an eye for your local stations or for the podcast when it becomes available if you are interested in the whole conversation.

Meanwhile, I’ll be putting The Magic of Reality on the shelf for a while until Ladybug is old enough to appreciate it.  Can’t wait. :)

For more about science for kids, see my Secular Thursday page.

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11 Experiments That Failed

Thanks to the PBS Kids show Dinosaur Train, my four-year-old knows that a hypothesis is “an idea you can test.”  Or at least she can parrot that sentence when asked.  I wanted to get beyond a catchphrase definition, and I wanted to do it without going over her head.

Enter: 11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill. Make no mistake–this picture book is not going to be taken as a textbook about the scientific method.  It’s fun and silly, but it’s actually a great introduction to the hypothesis as the girl from 17 Things I’m Not Allowed to Do Anymore has all sorts of ideas–most of which kids are going to recognize as bad ideas–and tests them out with comical results.

Here’s hoping it’s just the beginning of our science adventures! :)

 

For more about science for kids, see my Secular Thursday page.

 

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