Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reviewing Books for Space Facts

If I were an editor publishing a book about space, or a writer producing a book about space, I wouldn't think about releasing it without first passing it through the fine-toothed comb that is Marianne Dyson's brain. I'm a fan of her book, Space Station Science. The writing is pitch-perfect. Energized. (The book editor is the highly regarded Nancy Feresten who's over at National Geographic now.) Marianne Dyson was once a flight controller for NASA and has a degree in physics.

But the reason I'm blogging is that I think educators could really draw some meaty lessons from the reviews on Dyson's website. She covers the space science of both fiction and nonfiction books. I feel deep sympathy for the authors of these books. They had their work pulled apart. But the lessons are important for us all. It's easy to get things wrong about outer space.

The reviews are not only illuminating; they're kind of a hoot—especially the ones about fiction. Her most recent review is of The Three Aliens and the Big Bad Robot.

She says, "The third brother builds his sturdy safe house on Neptune. But Neptune, being a gas giant, has no surface to build on. Its large moon Triton would have made a more logical choice."

"In the story the kids travel in essentially no time from place to place and communicate with each other and their mother instantly as well. None of that is possible in real space. It takes light 8 minutes to reach Earth from sun…"

She must have a really hard time, as my brother-in-law does, with suspension of disbelief while watching sci fi movies! Fiction, of course, has license for departure from reality. But we often embrace its background information as probable truth. So it's intriguing to find out just where fiction book worlds depart from scientific fact. I can imagine educators having fun with 3rd-6th grade students and these book reviews. The students could learn a pile by reading the reviews and discussing them. Or, they could read the books first, review them, and then see what Marianne Dyson picked up in the texts.

In the spirit of fair disclosure, I used to be on a listserv with Ms.Dyson, am her facebook friend, and have met her once with several Texas writers for a meal. Although we share a passion for science, we're vastly different. She has a black belt in karate and I have a black belt that holds up jeans. I just know when I don't know something and I don't know space and Marianne Dyson sure does.

1 comment:

Myra Zarnowski said...

Thank you so much for the website. As you mentioned, the reviews would be great to use with kids, but also with teachers and people studying to become teachers. When I was on the Orbis Pictus Award Committee for Outstanding Nonfiction, we often faced the problem that none of us on the Committee was an expert on the topic of a book we were reviewing. We learned pretty fast to run our books by people who were experts. It's sobering to see that there's so much misinformation in children's books. Why isn't there more fact checking?