When my daughter graduates from high school next month, there will be no looking back. As someone thinking about majoring in astrophysics, she feels like the opportunities to explore her interests will really just begin. So how does a kid learn enough about a subject to think they might like to major in such a field before college even starts? Well, it certainly wasn’t in any of her middle school or high school classes. The answer won’t surprise most of you: nonfiction books for kids.
I can still see her walking over to the library desk, half the size that she is now, with her weekly stack of Seymour Simon books. If space is your thing when you’re a kid, Seymour is the man. He’s written a book on every planet and then some, with great information well beyond the usual elementary level of standard science fair basic styroform model stuff. She was happy to read and soak up as much as this prolific writer could tell her.
One particular book was so important to her that she mentioned it in one of her college essays. It’s called Voyager to the Planets by Necia Apfel and it describes the travels of Voyager 1 and 2 with amazing accompanying photographs. The story of spacecraft and planets enthralled her immediately and was her first real introduction to astronomy.
When I first started this blog, one of the first people I asked to join, based on my kids level of interest in their books, was David Schwartz. Science and math go hand in hand and David’s books, G is for Googol and Q is for Quark succeed in showing how interesting they both can be. These are the books that make scientific and mathematical concepts readily accessible to the elementary set well beyond what the average educator usually believes a child is prepared to understand. Alphabet books, indeed!
Another book my daughter loved because it focused on the fun and delight of an intellectual challenge is Ivan Moscovich’s 1000 Play Thinks. Puzzles, Paradoxes, Illusions & Games. This book has chapters on everything from numbers to logic to topology as well as perception and solutions. A book to promote the fun of thinking. Who would have thunk it.
There are quite a few more. This might necessitate a Part II. A kid can appreciate a lot of good books in eighteen years. She’s already wondering how many bookshelves she’ll have in her dorm room. Some gems just can’t be left behind in childhood.