Our grandson has a birthday coming up.  Okay, two grandsons have a birthday coming up—the same day, in fact—but that's for the moment beside the point.  The problem is that we were given a great gift idea, but I'm having an astonishingly hard time fulfilling it.  He loves to read, and science books would be particularly welcomed.  His current interest is planets but it's just as likely to become airplanes or frogs or the periodic table—just about any appropriate subject would be good.  Reading/grade level is hard to determine.  I'd have guessed maybe third, but I've seen plenty that Amazon has rated fifth through ninth that could be appropriate—I'm sure they're underestimating fifth graders, let alone ninth!  But generally I'd say I'm looking for books aimed at elementary school age.

You'd think there'd be plenty, and there certainly is no dearth of apparently appropriate books.  But oh, my.  I don't want something obviously intended for schools, with questions and lesson plans.  I don't want jokes, especially not dumb jokes, and most especially not jokes about flatulence.  Flatulence?  Really?  In a discussion of Brownian motion?  This was in an otherwise appealing book, and leads me to suspect the whole series; Amazon only lets you preview a few pages, and I'm left wondering what unpleasant surprises lurk, unexamined.  Sad, because the series (Basher books) is otherwise one of the most attractive.

Condescension is almost as bad as flatulence.  Isn't it possible to present facts simply without talking down to your audience?  National Geographic books looked promising at first, but they don't have a lot of choice and are not free from condescension and stupid jokes.  I'll probably get some nonetheless, but I'm hoping for suggestions from those of you with more experience.  Bring them on, please!

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, March 22, 2015 at 3:24 pm | Edit
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I am going to give this a little more thought. I do agree with you about the Basher Books. Someone had recommended them, but I was turned off. Why do they feel like they have to offer juvenile entertainment to a subject that should be entertaining enough!

Billy really enjoyed the Seymour Simon books, but I think we might have given them to Heather. Perhaps not, if I saved them in the attic for Bill, but I'm guessing I passed them on.

Not just for kids, but absolutely beautiful books, are the ones by Theodore Gray called The Elements, and Molecules. Birthday boy might like them because they are so interesting. You know him better than I do, though.

While looking at the Theo Gray ones, I came across a similarly visually appealing book for the Solar System by Markus Chown.

There are the Jeanne Bendick books, but I am not sure that is what you want and I think I may have passed those on, as well.

I would also suggest going to a library near you with a good kids section and seeing what they have. I have found some great history books that way that wouldn't have popped up on amazon.

Another suggestion is the lists of outstanding science trade books from the National Science Teachers Association.

If I think of anything else, I will let you know.


Posted by dstb on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 8:14 am

I would take flatulence over condescension. I prefer books that have plenty of real terms that are defined in context, or in a glossary to ones that use dumb-down vocabulary. Dry is not a problem as long as the facts are clear. I prefer books with real pictures rather than illustrations because it gives a better picture of what's really going on.

When in doubt, pick something at too high a level. Even the youngest can learn from just pictures, and I love it when a child can grow with a book as his ability to digest it grows. Plus, half the reason why we need these books is because I need to learn the terms to answer their questions!

Thanks for the suggestions, Sarah, in general, we are quite happy with your finds.

Posted by Janet on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 8:34 am

Great ideas, Sarah. I knew you'd come through. I had found the NSTA books, and was initially put off by the fact that they're all very modern books (reverse chronological snobbery). But that doesn't mean there aren't some good ones, and your list is in a better format than the one I found. I'll definitely look more into the Seymour Simon books. Janet, your comments have all but completely sold me on the Gray books; my initial reaction had been that they are beautiful but maybe better later. Also, reading the reviews I hear over and over that they pictures are the strong point, the text being variable in quality and too much reflective of the author' personal collection and political opinions. But Elements does look like something Joseph would enjoy looking at and growing with. It will have to be hardcover, though—too many reviews said the paperback version fell apart quickly.

Posted by SursumCorda on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 9:25 am

Ha. For some reason I was thinking you were getting these for Noah. That is why I kept referring to books I had passed on to Heather.

The Seymour Simon books have great pictures and are more "readable" than the books by Theo Gray. When I say "readable" I mean that they flow as a book rather than as little blurbs. He has an entire set of astronomy books - one for each planet, plus one on the sun, moon, universe and more. His books on natural phenomenon - volcanoes, tornadoes, lightning, etc were good too. He has many to choose from on other subjects.


Posted by dstb on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 12:29 pm
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