Ace science books for kids

http://www.iainclaridge.co.uk/blog/11638I recently read some conference notes by John Womersley (a guy involved in science and technology communication) that really resonated with me. He said that “…astronomy is a ‘gateway drug’ to get young people interested in science.” It’s true – almost all kids go through a space phase. Some even go beyond sticking glow-in-the-dark stars on their ceiling and start getting up at the crack of dawn for specific astronomical events and checking out career pathways at NASA*.

I’d add microscopes to Womersley’s ‘gateway’ list, basically for their all-round coolness (who doesn’t want to look at their own spit under a microscope?). I’d also add dinosaurs for their early-introduction-to-evolutionary-biology-appeal.

In my life BC (Before Children), much of my work entailed science communication and to this day, I’m drawn to anything that takes a complex scientific concept and explains it in a simple way. Having kids gave me further reason to seek out the best in science communication, so I thought I’d share some of my favourite science books for kids (grown-ups will love them as well).

science-books-aFor the youngest readers, Tiny by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton introduces kids to the ‘invisible’ world of microbiology in a picture-book format. It’s full of interesting and startling facts –

“Right now there are more microbes living on your skin than there are people on Earth, and there are ten or even a hundred times as many as that in your tummy.”

Excellent stuff (never fear, the book clearly states that most microbes keep us healthy).

For science-meets-philosophy, Gemma Elwin Harris’s book Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am? covers all the big issues – Why does sweetcorn come out the same as when I ate it? Do spiders speak? Why does Dad never win the lottery? How does the lady in the satnav know where to go? Kids have asked the questions and experts (including Sir David Attenborough, Heston Blumenthal and Bear Grylls {for the bits about wee}) have answered them.

science-books-bAnother book to dip in and out of is Randal Munroe’s What If?. Suitable for older readers (and a step up from Goldfish), the book tackles perplexing hypothetical questions, accompanied by neat cartoon illustrations – What would happen if everyone on Earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant? How much physical space does the Internet take up? If every person on Earth aimed a laser pointer at the Moon at the same time, would it change colour?

Putting the ‘ohhh’ and ‘ahhh’  in maths is Dr Mike Goldsmith’s From Zero to Infinity (and Beyond). It’s packed with maths and physics facts, presented in a way that is a little more manageable for grade threes than say, Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.

For budding biologists of all ages, Nature Anatomy by Julia Rothman combines the natural sciences with breathtakingly beautiful graphic design. Rothman considers nature at every scale, beginning with the layers of Earth, landforms and weather patterns to the microscopic – the shapes of snowflakes, the spores of mushrooms and a bee’s antenna.  Although the focus is on North American species of plants and animals, the book is filled with so many wonderful and interesting details that its application is broad.

Finally, if you have a kid who’s keen on science but is also a reluctant reader, get your hands on Science Illustrated magazine. The magazine is published bi-monthly and although includes a handful of feature-length articles, the bulk of the content is presented as photographs, tables, diagrams and graphs (it still counts as reading!).

* May or may not have been ten-year-old me.

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