Home » 5 Picture Books About the Wonders of Science

5 Picture Books About the Wonders of Science

by admin

FOSSILS FROM LOST WORLDS
Written by Damien Laverdunt
Illustrated by Hélène Rajcak
Translated by Daniel Hahn

SCIENCE AND ME
Written by Ali Winter
Illustrated by Mickaël El Fathi

WHAT’S INSIDE A FLOWER?
And Other Questions About Science & Nature
Written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky

THE SNAIL WITH THE RIGHT HEART
A True Story
Written by Maria Popova
Illustrated by Ping Zhu

THE BOY WHOSE HEAD WAS FILLED WITH STARS
A Life of Edwin Hubble
Written by Isabelle Marinov
Illustrated by Deborah Marcero

As parents home-schooling during the Covid epidemic have discovered, explaining science to kids is hard. It can expose the deficiencies in our own understanding — what exactly is a gene anyway? — or leave us unable to communicate what we do know, in language accessible to young children. (How do you define DNA for someone who doesn’t know what a molecule is?) These are problems that authors, illustrators and editors of children’s science books wrestle with all the time. The solutions they have found have never been more varied or creative, offering many routes into the world of science for all sorts of young readers, and their grown-ups.

Many children’s nonfiction books take the form of what I call “the list,” with each spread covering one topic within the greater whole. It’s not difficult to make books like this look exciting: some bright artwork, a bit of fashionable design and an author prepared to squirt words like grouting around a set of tiles. What is harder is to use the list structure to add to the information communicated, and to make a meaningful marriage of pictures and words.

“Fossils From Lost Worlds,” by Damien Laverdunt and Hélène Rajcak — who also collaborated on the picture books “Small and Tall Tales of Extinct Animals” and “Unseen Worlds: Microscopic Creatures Hiding All Around Us” — shows how well this format can work. Each spread features a different prehistoric creature, chosen for what it reveals about the history of life on earth and the science of paleontology. The illustrations use an elegant color palette but don’t sacrifice adventure, humor or information for design. There are familiar favorites here, such as T. rex and Protoceratops, beloved of young dino-freaks, and lesser-known species, too: Anomalocaris, a bug-eyed invertebrate from more than 500 million years ago, and Megacerops, an S.U.V.-size mammal from more than 30 million years ago. The careful curation of this parade of creatures takes readers on a comprehensive journey through the fossil record. I enjoyed the paleontologists, depicted in droll graphic-novel-style comics interspersed throughout, almost as much as I enjoyed the paleontology.

In “Science and Me,” by Ali Winter and Mickaël El Fathi, another fine example of the list format, the scientists come before their science. We learn about 13 Nobel laureates in physics, chemistry and medicine, starting with my girlhood hero, Marie Curie, and ending with Donna Strickland, who won the physics prize in 2018 for her breakthroughs in laser technology. There isn’t much room for an explanation of scientific discoveries on one double-page spread, but Winter and El Fathi give a satisfying flavor of the work that guided scientific and moral compasses, while highlighting aspects of the scientists’ personal histories. An important moment from each life, such as Guglielmo Marconi’s meeting with Titanic survivors whose rescue his wireless radio helped to enable, is captured in a collaged image. The inclusive promise of the title is, to some extent, delivered on by the space-suited “every child” figure who appears throughout, and by the invitation issued at the end of the book to think about what science means to you.

The challenge of igniting children’s curiosity is akin to lighting a fire. You can’t put something as large as a log on a spark; you have to start with something smaller. “What’s Inside a Flower?” — written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky (“Women in Science”) — is the best kind of tinder for little sparks. It is a highly accessible gateway to botany that doesn’t shy away from real scientific words but doesn’t overload readers with too much information. The book answers the simple, child-centered question of the title in a succession of exquisite images with sparse, well-targeted text and captions. Readers will learn not only the internal structure of a flower, but also how flowers create relationships with pollinators and play a vital role in ecosystems and food production.

Of all the devices for communicating information, my favorite is the narrative: humanity’s psychological carry-on bag, in use since we huddled around our first fires. It can hold both factual information and ideas, real and imagined aspects of human experience. “The Snail With the Right Heart,” written by Maria Popova (yes, the Brain Pickings blogger!) and illustrated by Ping Zhu, tells the extraordinary true story of Jeremy, the lefty snail. Snails with left-spiraling shells are a one-in-a-million rarity, and the search for a mate for Jeremy became a British media sensation. Popova’s lyrical retelling and Ping Zhu’s simple, charming artwork add so much to an already marvelous story, introducing readers to the genetic significance of Jeremy’s rare mutation and to the concept of deep time (and how life exists within it).

The cyclical nature of many scientific phenomena provides writers with ready-made narrative structures, but a human life story can be tricky to handle in a picture book: What to include, what to leave out when you have so few words and pages? In “The Boy Whose Head Was Filled With Stars,” Isabelle Marinov and Deborah Marcero get it just right. Edwin Hubble is a colossal figure in astronomy. His research proved that the Milky Way is just one among an infinite number of galaxies. He’s difficult to summarize. Beginning with the words “Edwin was a curious boy,” Marinov succeeds in distilling Hubble’s life to the essence of youthful curiosity, bringing readers back time and again to the three key questions to which he sought answers: “How many stars are in the sky? How did the universe begin? Where did it come from?” (themselves typeset in a glimmering silver foil). Marcero’s tender illustrations remind readers on every page that the experience of looking at a dark, starry sky shaped Edwin’s life.

Of course there are many things missing from this small biography. No book can tell you everything, nor should it try to. The job of nonfiction is to build the fire of curiosity and to instill in readers the idea that while knowledge is finite, questions and the ability to ask them are not. In Edwin Hubble’s words, “We do not know why we are born into the world, but we can try to find out what sort of world it is.”

Nicola Davies is a zoologist and prolific children’s author. Her most recent picture books are “Grow: Secrets of Our DNA” and “Last: The Story of a White Rhino.”

FOSSILS FROM LOST WORLDS
Written by Damien Laverdunt
Illustrated by Hélène Rajcak
Translated by Daniel Hahn
72 pp. Gecko. $29.99.
(Ages 7 to 10)

SCIENCE AND ME
Written by Ali Winter
Illustrated by Mickaël El Fathi
40 pp. Lantana. $17.99.
(Ages 7 to 11)

WHAT’S INSIDE A FLOWER?
And Other Questions About Science & Nature
Written and illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky
48 pp. Random House. $17.99.
(Ages 4 to 7)

THE SNAIL WITH THE RIGHT HEART
A True Story
Written by Maria Popova
Illustrated by Ping Zhu
44 pp. Enchanted Lion. $18.95.
(Ages 7 to 12)

THE BOY WHOSE HEAD WAS FILLED WITH STARS
A Life of Edwin Hubble
Written by Isabelle Marinov
Illustrated by Deborah Marcero
52 pp. Enchanted Lion. $17.95.
(Ages 6 to 10)

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Comment