Wednesday, January 21, 2009

“Being Smart is Cool!”

So said the voice on the radio* amidst a discussion about our new President and First Lady, how they embody the principle that getting an education can lead to great heights. With the Obamas as such wonderful role models, how will children be inspired and enabled to follow in their footsteps? How do you get to be smart?
* The speaker was on All Things Considered, but unfortunately I didn’t catch his name.

An interesting Scientific American article, The Secret to Raising Smart Kids, suggests that keeping the focus on EFFORT, rather than “intelligence” or “talent” can make a big difference. It seems that students who coast through their early education may stumble when the going gets tougher if they haven’t had reinforcement of the skill of stick-to-itiveness. Students who were only praised for being “gifted” or “bright,” tended to give up easily when faced with a challenge... "I must be dumb after all."
The research indicates that parents and teachers should emphasize the value of working hard and seek to create a problem-solving mindset in students... it will serve them well when they encounter difficult subject matter.

With the above caveat in mind, let’s look at some books that will inspire kids to grow their grey matter. Where better to start than with a man whose mother used to wake him up for study sessions at 4:30 in the morning? A few months ago I couldn’t find more than one or two biographies of Barack Obama for young readers. Perhaps the publishers were waiting for the outcome of the election. More books are starting to appear, though as of this date the pickings are still pretty slim. Presumably a few are in the works!

Barack Obama: Our 44th President
By Beatrice Gormley
Age 9-12, 176 pages

A detailed account that includes how his mother’s interest in social issues inspired Barack’s interest in politics.

White House Q&A
by Denise Rinaldo
Age 5-9, 48 pages

This Smithsonian book gives an insider tour of President Obama’s new digs, has loads of fun historical facts and photos, and answers questions such as “What happens when you write to the White House?”

What Lincoln Said
by Sarah L. Thomson, illustrated by James E. Ransome
Age 4-8, 32 pages

The story of how Lincoln’s determination led to his great achievements, incorporating many direct quotations.

Phillis's Big Test
by Catherine Clinton, illustrated by Sean Qualls
Age 6-9, 32 pages

Based on the life of Phillis Wheatley, the first African American to publish a book of poetry. In 1772 at the age of 17, she had to prove that despite being a slave, she was indeed the author of her poems.

One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference
by Katie Smith Milway, illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes
Age 7 and up, 32 pages

Based on a true story about a Ghanan boy who used a small loan to buy first one hen, then two, then a flock of chickens to fund his schooling after his father died.

Nibbling on Einstein's Brain: The Good, the Bad and the Bogus in Science
by Diane Swanson, illustrated by Francis Blake
Age 9-12, 112 pages

An updated edition that helps readers distinguish between good and bad science by using logic, asking questions, and maintaining a healthy skepticism. The principles it discusses can be applied to other subject areas as well.

Bones, Brains and DNA: The Human Genome and Human Evolution
by Ian Tattersall
Age 8-12, 40 pages

Based on the new Hall of Human Origins in the American Museum of Natural History, this book explores how scientists study human origins, including how we got so smart.

Philosophy for Kids : 40 Fun Questions That Help You Wonder About Everything!
David A. White
Age 10 and up

Intriguing questions are raised such as “Can you think about nothing?”

As a brilliant I.N.K. reader, the following probably has already occurred to you:
Reading ANY Nonfiction Book Will Make Kids Smarter!

Right? This list just scratches the surface, but it was fun to find books that help kids build their brainpower. Please add your suggestions!


Charlotte said...

Gosh, what nice books! I am adding several of them to my wish list...

Linda Salzman said...

I would add The Philosophers' Club by Christopher Philips (Tricycle Press). Similar to the philosophy book you mentioned in that it presents questions to discuss using the Socratic method (what is the difference between truth and a lie? How do you know you're here?) but presented in picture book form for a younger audience.

candospirit said...

Thanks for including One Hen in this wonderful selection of books. Many children, teachers and parents also enjoy the website, which integrates the one hen lesson of compassion and globabl citizenship with fun games that allow children to trigger real loans to the poor in Africa. Check it out.

candospirit said...
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Linda Zajac said...

Thanks for pointing out the Scientific American article. I found it very interesting, especially since I have twins and one is highly motivated, the other not. It has changed the way I talk to my kids. I've also passed it along to friends. One friend thanked me and said she emailed it to a bunch of people.

Unknown said...

I related to the article immediately, because I can recall from school days many instances of negative thoughts when faced with an assignment that wasn’t immediately easy for me. For example, in college as an art major I can distinctly remember thinking “I must not be very creative.” Eventually that thought was replaced with “How can I learn to be more creative?” which was much more fruitful!