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Big Ideas for Little Scientists

Child chemist

Dear parents and caregivers of young children, I have a confession. I failed Chemistry in high school. I’m not proud of it, but I just wasn’t interested in the nuts and bolts of science at the time. I remember drawing sketches of chickens and penguins on my homework instead of balancing chemical equations. I think my low point was when I received a 6% on one of my exams. Six percent!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved learning how things work. I notoriously take broken stuff apart, see how it works, and put it back together again (sometimes it actually works). You’ll find books on electricity, plumbing, auto repair, construction, and painting on my bookshelves at home. I love DIYing, tinkering, delving into “how” questions, and discovering new things, so it always really irked me that I totally bombed chemistry. I should have loved it!

A few years ago, something incredible happened. While sifting through videos with my (then 3-year-old) son, we happened upon one of Steve Spangler’s appearances on the Ellen show. That’s science?! I remember thinking. This man captured my attention and imagination more than a thousand chemistry teachers ever could have (sorry, Mr. Pennington). I was instantly hooked. Over the next few months I watched every video Steve had posted to YouTube. Eventually I started doing some of his experiments with my son and I haven’t looked back since.

I was lucky enough to meet Steve in 2014. He took time to visit with me and do some experiments with his biggest fan, my kiddo. It was way cool. Wherever in Internetopia you may be, thanks Steve! You’re the inspiration for much of this summer’s Science Camp and our Science Sunday program.

It’s a goal of mine to make science fun for kids through the use of unforgettable demonstrations and hands-on experimentation. Likewise, our science programs aim to spark the imagination and curiosity of kiddos so when they get into high school chemistry they’ll be excited; they’ll be eagerly diagramming covalent bonds instead of drawing assorted wildlife.

The following isn’t your typical list of science books. You won’t find books filled with experiments or how-to guides here. Instead, I tried to pull together a list of titles that was heavy on inspiration, big ideas, and memorable happenings. If you’re a science enthusiast (or not) I hope you’ll discover one of these books with the special kiddo in your life and become inspired to do some science of your own.

Until next time, keep reading together!


Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell is a beautiful picture book that tells the story of wildlife conservation activist and chimpanzee protector Jane Goodall. The illustrations and simple text are stunning and it’s on the top of this list for a reason: it’s perfect for little ones who have a soft spot in their heart for animals and other wildlife.

Moonshot by Brian Floca

I’ve recently been reading about the captivating life of Wernher von Braun, the architect of the Saturn V rocket that launched Neil, Buzz, and Michael into outer space back in July 1969. Moonshot by Brian Floca details the historic Apollo 11 journey taken by those 3 brave men 47 years ago and is a fun way to share some history and some science with the kiddos in your life.

Ocean Story by John Seven (illustrated by Jana Christy)

Ocean Story by John Seven (illustrated by Jana Christy) tells the story of the stuff of life (water) from start to finish. The charming illustrations offset just-the-right-balance-of-science-and-storytelling text. This book will appeal to beginning and intermediate readers alike.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba (illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba (illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon) is one of those inspiring books that you’ll want to read again and again. It details the true story of a young boy in Malawi that, against all odds, creates electricity from a homemade windmill to light his village and water his crops.

Energy Island by Allan Drummond

Continuing with the inspiring trend, Energy Island by Allan Drummond tells the true story of a small Danish island called Samsø that operates on 100% renewable energy. Amazingly enough, the island reduced their carbon emissions by a whopping 140% in only 10 years. This book is cool because it combines narrative with fascinating science sidebars.

Toilet by David Macaulay

Ever wondered how exactly your toilet works? Oh come on. Sure you have. David Macaulay shows you exactly what happens when you flush in Toilet. Reader beware, you’re so going to want to take the lid off the tank to explore once you read this book. Rubber gloves recommended!

Redwoods by Jason Chin

We took a family road trip to California when I was seven. My most vivid memory from the trip (other than nearly being marooned in Death Valley) was standing in awe under the giant redwood trees. Redwoods by Jason Chin is part graphic novel and part adventure tale wrapped in a fancy I-never-would-have-guessed-this-was-science package.

11 Experiments that Failed Jenny Offill (illustrated by Nancy Carpenter)

11 Experiments that Failed by Jenny Offill (illustrated by Nancy Carpenter) is so much fun. The book doesn’t contain actual experiments that failed, it contains, um, suggestions for experiments that will fail. Exciting, right? While altogether silly, goofy fun, it’s also a decent snapshot of how to conduct actual scientific experiments with results you can measure.

The Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien

The Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien is another one of those books that is so much silly fun you forget you’re learning about science. The Blobfish is a fascinatingly ugly (sorry, Blobfish) creature from the depths of the sea that just can’t get any respect. If your little reader is an Octonauts (or Rodney Dangerfield) fan, this is a must-read!

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