Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Quest for Answers

I discovered that our favorite non-fiction books on science have something in common (besides science!).

Seeking answers to questions around us – this was the common thread running through the books we have enjoyed the most.

image source Tulika Books
Why the sky is blueDr C.V. Raman talks about science
Concept and Photographs Chandralekha and Dashrath Patel
Tulika Publishers
Ages 8+

What good is information without imagination and inspiration? We started off on our science odyssey with a book that sparks imagination and provides plenty of inspiration to young minds.

Dr C.V. Raman loved the universe, loved science, and loved speaking to young children – all of which is quite evident from this unique and wonderful effort by Tulika.

Each page has just a couple of lines of text, extracted from the Nobel Laureate’s lecture, along with a photograph of the inspiring man. The dramatic photographs have a major role in making the book what it is; all close up shots and all taken probably within minutes of each other, giving a feeling of motion. The expressions, the use of hands to gesture convey his urgency, excitement and passion. It felt as if I was really there listening to the genius speak.

The opening lines struck a chord, “Science does not flourish only inside laboratories. The real inspiration of science for me has essentially been the love of nature”. One does not need equipment, laboratories or textbooks, says Dr C.V Raman, problems of science can be found all around us.

While the age recommendation from the publisher says 8+, I tried the book with my son when he was four, and it was like opening a treasure chest! Older readers will benefit more from the content of the book, but younger ones too can appreciate the spirit behind it. It was interesting to get a peek into the four year-old’s thought process as he tried to wrap his head around why the stars are not visible during the day. “The sky moves to other side of the earth carrying with it the moon and stars”, he said and then wondered where that left the sun! It was a fun journey as we asked one question in response to another to get to the bottom of things.

An interesting introduction, anecdotes and tidbits add a personal touch and reveal facets of the man. Those looking for facts and scientific explanations will not be disappointed, for the last couple of pages have a crisp timeline with milestones and a simple explanation of the Raman Effect.

The book is neither a biography, nor does it claim to “teach science”. Instead, it captures the essence of a great thinker, and communicates his love for science. It is impossible not to be infected by the scientist’s enthusiasm for the subject.

image source
Where Fish Go in Winter And Other Great Mysteries
By Amy Goldman Koss
Illustrated by Laura J. Bryant
A Puffin Easy-to-read Level 3 book
Ages 6-9

Thus enthused, we next sat down to read a book that provides scientific explanations to nature’s mysteries.

If islands float, what clouds feel like, why leaves change colors, the sound in a seashell, how spiders don’t stick to their own webs, how seeds know which way is up, and so on – each answered in a dozen lines of verse. We discussed possibilities before proceeding to read.

An unassuming little book with well-researched content, all set in verse!

Sample this excerpt from the how birds fly page –

"Her beak weighs less
Than teeth and jaws.
Her bones are hollow,
Head to claws.

With lungs and heart 
Big for her size,
She hardly tires
When she flies.

And feathers are 
The perfect touch.
They keep her warm,
 But don’t weigh much."

In the spirit of what Dr C.V. Raman said, this is a book that does more than provide information, it encourages children to think.

image source

Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is?
By Robert E. Wells
Albert Whitman & Company
Ages 5+

So often we hear little ones declare -
“I am *five* years old, that is really old, isn't it?”
“My school is far away, very far, hundred kilometres.”
 “I have many books, many, thousands, infinity.”
“I have a bi...g book, bigger than this box. Enormous”

The Wells of Knowledge Science series helps put things in perspective.

"'What is bigger than a blue whale?", I asked my five-year  old. “Earth, solar system” came the prompt response. The effect of 'Sameer's House' no doubt. We were curious to see what Robert Wells had said.

If you put hundred blue whales in a jar, put two such whale jars on a platform and made a tower of ten such platforms, the tower would look quite small on top of Mount Everest.

What is even bigger than Mt. Everest? The earth, of course. The illustration shows a stack of hundred Mt. Everests – a mere whisker on the face of the earth.

We went on to learn a bit about the sun, the giant star Antares, the Milky Way galaxy and the universe.

Size, weight, number, age, speed, time – Robert Wells tackles all of these topics and more, in relatable terms, in this series of non-fiction books.

To quote Dr C.V. Raman, “The essence of the scientific spirit is to realize what a wonderful world it is that we live in. And perhaps the most wonderful thing in this world is the human spirit. Even at the age of 80, I am still wondering at things I can’t understand.”

Here’s to the kids of the twenty-first century. May they retain their wonder and delight; may the questioning never cease; the curiosity and excitement never diminish!


sathish said...

lovely ending to the review Arundhati - "May they retain their wonder and delight; may the questioning never cease; the curiosity and excitement never diminish!"

Choxbox said...

Nice picks Arundhati!

The first book is truly unique - haven't seen many books of this nature. One to be explored in depth.

The last one we have read and yes has triggered many an interesting discussion. Have read another similar one by the author - What's Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew?, also very informative.

Am intrigued by the second - science and verses are always a hit!
On a tangent, our ancient folks had this mastered too - we went to the World Samskrit Fair couple years ago and saw many posters with slokas that talked about chemistry, math and physics laws, the slokas follow strict rules of grammar and sound beautiful when chanted too.

Sheela said...

Lovely collection, Arundhati!

Why is the sky blue sounds very interesting. Indeed, what is science if not trying to unravel the mysteries of nature around us...

Amy Koss' explanation in verse was much loved by the 7 yo - esp., the Kitty Purring :)

Is A Blue Whale The Biggest Thing There Is is such a hit with the 4 yo who loves all things space... I liked the book as it makes the comparison of sizes fun and relatable like, "if our sun were an orange and we put 100 of those oranges in a crate..."

Arundhati said...

Thanks Sathish. Good books do just that, don't they?

Chox - Yes, the C.V. Raman book is one of a kind.

The second book is available on flipkart -

From the Wells series, we also have 'Can you count to a googol?' and 'What's older than a giant tortoise?' in which we encountered giant sequoias, the pyramids of Giza, meteor craters, mammoth and dino fossils...

And Chox, that is the beauty of our shlokas, no?

Thanks Sheela :) You will love the Tulika book!

> esp., the Kitty Purring

Relatable and fun - that was what I liked most about the Wells books too!

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