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: 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.

Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.

Seasons Go ‘Round (Picture Book Preschool)

Leaves are falling from the trees outside my window as I type.  We have been watching summer turn to fall, and now fall will be winter soon.  It seems like a good time to talk about seasons with my little one.

It’s a great opportunity to share one of my favorite picture books: Red Sings From the Treetops by Joyce Sidman.  It was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog. I said,

“I loved the way this book pulled me into the details.  It reminded me to notice the things that I am often too busy to see.  It was a lovely invitation to see each season as something new to explore.  I can’t recommend it enough.”

We read it along with the sorting activity you see in the photograph and talked about the things we like to do in each season.  We focused on fall since that’s what we can see now.  Sidman’s fall gives way to spring like this,


Green is tired,


crisp around the edges.

Green sighs with relief:

I’ve ruled for so long.

Time for Brown to take over.”

Perhaps more important, to me, than exploring seasons is the opportunity to introduce my daughter to poetry and wonder.  The book Playful Learning is a great resource for parents who want simple activities and crafts to explore the wonder around them–including an activity that has kids observing a tree throughout the seasons.

There are, of course, many many good books about the seasons for kids, and I have a few of my favorites listed here.

Since it’s a favorite of Ladybug’s, I’m also including a video of Caillou’s seasons song.  Enjoy!

See my Parents & Educators page for more Picture Book Preschool posts.

The Poetry of Science (Books for Secular Families)

The Tree That Time Build: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination is one of my favorite poetry collections for young people.  From the book:

“Both poets and scientists wonder at and about the world.  Out of that wonder, scientists devise experiments to see whether they can verify what they think might be true, while poets craft language to examine and communicate their insights.”

I must admit that I am more of a poet than a scientist, so the poems in this collection are the perfect way for me to connect with science in a way that reinforces the idea that wonder doesn’t go away with explanation.  The poems are organized thematically to cover our origins, dinosaurs, plants life, animals, insects, and genetics.  The accompanying CD  includes many of the poems being read by the poets.  The book & CD would make a great gift for a family with an interest in nature.  Perhaps pair it with a tree planted in their name or other gift from the Arbor Day Foundation store.

This book will be a family treasure and a classroom favorite.

See more posts about science, religion, and secular family life on my Secular Thursday page.

Disclosure: Amazon Links are affiliate links.

Choosing Science Books (Books for Secular Families)

Children’s book reviewer, Danielle J. Ford writes in A Family of Readers in a chapter about science books for kids,

“One of the most valuable contributions a book can make is introducing children to the community and practice of science. A focus on facts alone might reward inherent interest in the subject, but it can be only a partial view of how science actually functions.”

Do you want to show your kids that science isn’t about facts as much as it is about investigation and curiosity?  Ford recommends books that include portraits of scientists, like the Scientists in the Field series.  My colleague offers a look at a few books in this series in a recent post on Books in Bloom.  She writes,

“Each book in the series follows real scientists as they seek to understand a specific topic in biology, zoology, earth science, astronomy, and more.  Authors and photographers follow real scientists out in the field, showing that science is more than cold laboratories and white coats.  Doing science is dirty, strenuous work, and can sometimes be very disappointing.”

Pair a title or two from that series with Turn it Loose: The Scientist in Absolutely Everybody by Diane Swanson for the ultimate in inspiration.  Swanson profiles various people who use scientific thinking (observation, prediction, etc.) in their careers.  Some are scientists (Marie Curie and Charles Darwin, for example) and some are not (Dr Seuss and Wayne Gretzky).   Swanson would have us believe that we are all scientists, and if we can keep our inner scientist alive, we can do amazing things.  I can’t recommend this book enough.


More book recommendations about religion and science on the For Secular Families page.