Team Outer Space

It was space that first drew my daughter in to Brains On, a science podcast for kids, so it was hardly a surprise that when it came down to Outer Space vs. Deep Sea, she was firmly cheering for Team Outer Space to win the debate. In her mind, it was hardly even a debate.

“What’s so great about the ocean?” she asked from the back seat as we set off on a long drive one recent Saturday. I was about to press play on the big debate, and I admit, I was hoping she would keep an open mind.

“You might be surprised,” I said, thinking of the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean that I was certain would be as fascinating as planets, stars, and the possibility of alien life if she gave it a chance. We listened as Brains On producers presented their arguments for each side. We mostly kept our commentary to ourselves other than the occasional “huh” or “wow” for both Outer Space and Deep Sea.

We kept track of the points we would award each debater, and, in the end, Team Outer Space won the debate for both of us. But for those of you still on the fence about which one is cooler, perhaps one of these books will sway you:

Deep Sea
I wrote about What if Sharks Disappeared a few weeks ago, and it certainly fills in the argument for Deep Sea by sharing how we are connected to ocean life. But let’s stay focused on the debate at hand—The Deep Sea vs. Outer Space. For a look at the deepest parts of the ocean, Down, Down, Down by Steve Jenkins is a must-read. Really, all of Steve Jenkins’ books are must-reads, or at least must-browse-through-to-look-at-the-remarkable-illustrations.

Outer Space

Last time I wrote about Brains On, I shared Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space, and this is still one of my daughter’s favorite books. It’s funny and browsable while being full of information. Plus, she likes cats. Not as much of a cat person as she is? That’s okay. How about Destination: Space? In this book five kids take a tour of the universe from the big bang and beyond. It’s similar to Professor Astro Cat, just a little less cute and funny.

It’s up to you to choose a team (or remain neutral) in this very important debate. ;)

As a side note to fellow librarians reading this, it occurs to me as I write this that “Deep Sea vs. Outer Space” would be a fun library display. Actually, there are probably lots of possibilities here. Well, I’m off to brainstorm potential “versus” displays I could do in my library….

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What about sharks?

Everyone is afraid of sharks, right? They are fearsome creatures who come out of nowhere to attack when you’re swimming and having fun. Aren’t they? Perhaps there is more to it than that.

When we were in Boston a few months ago, we visited the New England Aquarium and caught a showing of Great White Shark 3D in the IMAX theater. The movie used suspenseful music and beautiful shots to explore the fear of sharks that is deeply ingrained in our culture while making it clear that sharks are in danger from humans far more than we are in danger from them.

My daughter was entranced by the film. First it was the 3D effects that caught her attention since it was her first 3D movie, but by the end, she had clearly invested in the shark’s plight. The call to action to protect sharks that ended the film earned a soft but firm “yeah” from her, which surprised me.

It’s been a few months since then, but I finally got my hands on a copy of If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams to share with her to reinforce and deepen the idea that sharks are important to the ecosystem—and to us. Imagine if the ocean became unlivable because plankton grew out of control because fish and pinnipeds disappeared because sharks disappeared. We are all connected. That’s the point here, and it is made in a way that even kids younger than my nine-year-old will be able to grasp. The scientific vocabulary and kid-friendly tips for helping protect sharks are just bonuses in an already powerful picture book.

I’m still afraid of sharks. I can’t imagine cage diving in shark infested waters, much less free diving in those places as was depicted in the film. But fear doesn’t negate the connection between us, which seems like an important idea to explore with kids whether we are talking about nature or other aspects of our world.

Great White Sharks 3D trailer:

If Sharks Disappeared trailer:

Speaking of chickens…

chickoOver on my photo blog, I shared three picture books with silly birds last week.  This week I happened upon another great silly chicken story that I have to share: Chick-o-Saurus Rex by Lenore Jennewein and Daniel Jennewein.  It is about a Little Chick who discovers his family connection to the great dinosaur.  Fun and educational! ;)

Here’s a trailer:

 

And here’s the author talking about the book (with a funny joke at the end).

 

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.