Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Kid lit

Every now and then I am asked for recommendations of good science books for kids.

There are lots of terrific science books out there, and a good place to find them is the children's book section of a science or natural history museum. But my advice is: Don't be overly worried about providing science books for your kids. Expose them to good children's literature and the science will take care of itself.

Over the years I have often made reference to children's books in Science Musings, first in the Boston Globe and now on the web, including the books of Dr. Seuss, Antoine de Saint-Exupery's "The Little Prince," Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-glass", Frank Baum's "Wizard of Oz," Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows," and Felix Salten's "Bambi." All of these in essays about science.

Science books for children are packed full of interesting information. What most of these books do not convey is the story of how the information was obtained, why we understand it to be true, and how it might embellish the landscape of the mind. For many children -- and adults too -- science is a mass of facts. But facts are not science any more than a table is carpentry.

Science is an attitude toward the world -- curious, skeptical, undogmatic, and sensitive to beauty and mystery. The best books for children are the ones which convey these attitudes. They are not necessarily the books labeled "science."

Albert Einstein wrote: "When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than any talent for abstract, positive thinking." The best time -- perhaps the only time -- to acquire the gift of fantasy is childhood.

More tomorrow.