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Monday, November 19, 2012

Children's Non-Fiction Picture Books and Biographies

Over the last 2 months, we read a few books on Math & Eco-Science in preparation for Saffron Tree's CROCUS 2012. Some of the books appealed a lot to the 7yo, particularly the biographies. Hypatia became a sort of larger-than-life goddess of a figure and Marie-Curie seemed too real yet too incredible... Manfish was my favorite...

The Librarian Who Measured The Earth
by Kathryn Lasky
illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

In 3rd century B.C, when it wasn't a well-established fact that the Earth is approximately an oblate spheroid - a sphere flattened along the axis, when there was no space program and satellite imaging, no way of stating with certainty the radius of our Earth, how did Eratosthenes arrive at the fairly accurate estimation of the circumference of the Earth?

This book talks about it in a child friendly way by providing a fascinating biography of Eratosthenes, a mathematician, geographer and chief librarian of the Great Library of Alexandria.

The book talks a lot about Eratosthenes' role as a supreme librarian - in fact, there is enough information  to dedicate a separate book to the libraries and museums and their beauty and function in those days.

But his ingenious method for measuring the total distance around the Earth (as described here) is what impressed us - even if the 7 yo has no idea about the geometry and the calculations at this point.

[image source:]

Math Curse, Science Verse
Jon Scieszka
illustrated by Lane Smith

Neither Scieszka nor Lane Smith need much introduction in the children's literature world - they have collaborated on many wonderful books, the first of which that came to our hands being The Three Little Pigs.

In Math Curse, the protagonist has been informed that everything can be thought of as a math problem, and that terrifies her for some reason. She wakes up the next day and from getting ready for school to the various classes in school to birthdays on calendars to getting back home, everything turns into a math problem, a math curse.

Our favorite page was Mrs.Fibonacci's bar chart... We had read about Fibonacci in one of the issues of Ask magazine that... I must digress a bit here - Cricket magazines are an absolute favorite having watched Ana grow up with them, from Ladybug to Click to Ask - all thanks to subscription from grandparents for Christmas each year. No unwanted ads, no nonsense, just age-appropriate facts and stories... and, when we are in the library, we browse Appleseeds and Spider magazines as well on and off...

Anyway, back to Math Curse...

Fractions was fun - even if Ana is still working on it:
Which tastes greater?
a) ½ a pizza
b) ½ an apple pie

Trick question, eh?

Math Curse offers shades/layers for different age groups, so, even if she didn't get all the humor and nuance, the book managed to keep her engaged.

The kid in the book of course manages to break out of the Math Curse only to land on Science Verse~

"If you listen closely enough, you can hear the poetry of science in everything.", says Mr.Newton in science class. And the very next day, our protagonist starts hearing everything as a science poem!

Thus starts Science Verse which parodies the famous works of Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Lewis Carroll, Robert Frost, Clement Clarke Moore, and even a few nursery rhymes like Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Science Verse is often pulled from our bookshelf and perused by the 7 yo - a few pages at a time - just for fun, even though she is not familiar with the original poems that are being parodied. And that is just fine - it doesn't take away from the experience. And one day, when she is ready, when she comes across The Raven by Poe, it will be fun for her to make the connection to the Dino-sore poem in Science Verse.

The only one that the 4 yo could appreciate, especially when sung to the nursery rhyme tune of It's Raining, It's Pouring was the Water Cycle poem: "It's raining, its' pouring. For H20, it's boring. Precipitation, Evaporation, Precipitation, Evaporation... Evening, night, and morning."

As a bonus, the Science Verse had the Periodic Table on the inside front and back covers which fascinated the 4 yo who was then knee-deep in the study of The Periodic Table.

[image source: Jon Scieszka Worldwide]

What Makes Me Me?
by Robert Winston

Human biology is complex, to say the least. Robert Winston, in his inimitable style of imparting science information to a wide range of audience, explores what makes us who we are, unique and yet the same.

What are we made of? Water molecules, mostly. A few key elements. That's how the book starts.

"... we are made of: just water, carbon, and a handful of simple chemical elements that you can find anywhere. In fact, you could dig up all the atoms you need to make a human body in your back yard."

Of course, we all know it is not as simple as that. But it's a great start. After we toss in the carbon and magnesium and iron and potassium and magnesium and iodine and sodium and such with the water molecules, is there anything else? Do we have a human body yet?

"You'd never build a human body by simply mixing the chemical elements-"

And so the book progresses, step by step to defining what makes us unique, how our brains work, what is our potential? There is a Test Yourself section with memory, numerical, lateral thinking challenges.

The book has a wide range of information to satisfy readers young and old, written in an easy manner that characterizes Winston's books. His It's Elementary! was a big hit with the kids a couple of months ago.

[image source: DK Books]

Marie Curie, Prize-Winning Scientist
 by Lori Mortensen
illustrated by Susan Jaekel.

A straightforward narration of Madame Curie's life in picture book format- it impressed upon Ana how one can pursue and persevere if they are determined enough.

The little anecdote about how Marie could read by 4 years old, and despite all the noise and confusion in her house (with many siblings sharing a small living quarters), she managed to focus and concentrate on her work... and graduate with flying colors in high school; and how she helped her sister through higher education and then it was her turn to go to the University, she studied math, physics and chemistry, and then went on to be the first woman to earn a doctorate in science.

Our Periodic Table study also told us about the two radioactive elements Madame Curie is credited with, plus the Nobel prizes she won in both physics and chemistry...

[image source:]

Me... Jane
by Patrick McDonnell

Dr.Jane Goodall is easily an inspiration to my generation and it was fun to introduce her to the next through this gentle picture book that shares the story of young Jane and her toy chimpanzee, Jubilee, when she dreams about a life living with and helping animals.

The text is simple and direct, and the illustrations are beautiful and complement the text well. The greens and browns of the jungle and the muted colors instantly gives it a 'natural' appeal.

[Interview with Patrick McDonnell at Hachett Books]
[image source: Hachett Book Group]

Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau
by Jennifer Berne
illustrated by Éric Puybaret

[reviewed here for Saffron Tree]

Of Numbers and Stars: A Story of Hypatia
by D. Anne Love
illustrated by Pam Paparone

[reviewed here for Saffron Tree]

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At 6:51 PM, Blogger Choxbox said...

Lovely picks!

Am terribly intrigued by Manfish - hope to find it some day. it is priced at >800 bucks on flipkart so not getting it.

Science Verse is indeed fun - and as you said the parody is obviously lost on the 7-yo here but the 12-yo gets it and totally loved it :)

We found another book on Marie Curie - also amazing, with illustrations by Christian Birmingham.

Robert Winston is a staple in our bookshelves. Love the clarity with which concepts are presented in his books.

Hypatia is truly inspiring, her father's parenting amazing given the age they lived in.
The book we have about her talks about how her horrible public murder might have scared women off the sciences for centuries.

Love these posts of yours Sheels, keep 'em coming!

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Sheela said...

Thanks, Choxie! And I am of course going to keep picking your brain for ideas for the kids, thanks to your encyclopedic knowledge on all things!


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