Sciency fiction and nonfiction

May 30, 2011 @ 12:22 pm | Filed under: ,

A booklist I’m putting together for later use:

Joy Hakim’s The Story of Science trilogy. Jeanne Faulconer’s review shifted these from “I keep meaning to take a look at those” to “that’s what I’ll use my gift certificate on.”

Animals Charles Darwin Saw by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Zina Saunders. A beautiful and informative picture book about Darwin’s travels, observations, thought processes, conclusions.

Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. Jane & I both enjoyed this thoughtful biography last year; I’d like for Rose and Beanie to read it too.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly. This frank and funny middle-grade novel set in 1899 was one of my favorite reads of 2010, and I wasn’t a bit surprised when it took the Newbery Honor that year. Three or four of us have read it already, but I don’t think Beanie has yet, and its tomboy heroine is very much up her alley. (An aside: this book would make an interesting pairing with New Dawn on Rocky Ridge, another turn-of-the-century tale.)

Archimedes and the Door to Science by Jeanne Bendick; also her Galen and Galileo books. Longtime Jane favorites, as is The Mystery of the Periodic Table, which seems to have been co-authored by Jeanne Bendick and Benjamin Wiker.

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Jos A. Smith. My friend Eileen recommended this picture book a while back.

Some of No Starch Press’s Manga Guides: Electricity, Physics, Relativity, etc. And I’d like a look at Larry Gonick’s Cartoon Guide to Physics.

The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner. Jane loved this book; I’m eager for a crack at it myself. An account of Peter and Rosemary Grant’s twenty years observing the finches of Daphne Major in the Galapagos.

The Voyage of the Beagle: Darwin’s account of his journey.

If you were along for my Fruitless Fall bee-frenzy two years ago, you may recall that the author, Rowan Jacobsen, was an MFA-program classmate of mine at UNC-Greensboro. The other day I remembered that I hadn’t checked in a while to see what new and interesting books he might have out. WELL. I read the sample chapters of his American Terroir, The Living Shore, and Shadows on the Gulf: A Journey through Our Last Great Wetland, and, well, now all three books are on their way. Scott insisted, and Jane—who loved his book on chocolate even more than the bee book, which is saying something—is ecstatic.

The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. Picture book I’ve heard good things about but haven’t read yet.

The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin, a perfectly gorgeous book by the great Peter Sis.

I’ll be adding to this list over time. For example, I know we have good biographies of Marie Curie and Pasteur that Jane has read more than once, but not the other girls. Jacqueline Houtman’s The Reinvention of Edison Thomas might fit the bill; I’ve wanted to read that one since the author’s interesting presentation at Kidlitcon last fall. I love her description of ‘sciency fiction’ as the genre she works in:

“In sciency fiction, science (actual, accurate, non-speculative science) is integral to the plot and/or thematic content of the novel. The characters and events may be fictional, but the science is not. Sciency fiction is not science fiction.”

(Mind you, I’m a huge science fiction fan, as well. Jane says she can’t imagine growing up without Ender’s Game. [Mature language warning for that one, okay?] But in recent years I have become more and more hooked on what Jacqueline calls sciency fiction, as well as science-themed nonfiction.)

Feel free to chime in with sciency fiction and nonfiction your kids have enjoyed. I’m particularly interested in picture books. Snowflake Bentley, perhaps?

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20 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. Barbara says:

    We recently read “One Beetle Too Many: the extraordinary adventures of Charles Darwin” by Kathryn Lasky. Jamie also enjoyed “Silk and Venom: Searching for a Dangerous Spider” by the same author. Although that could have been helped along by the recent tarantula exhibit at our local science museum. 🙂

  2. Penny says:

    Girls Who Looked Under Rocks (Atkins) – includes bio of Anna Botsford Comstock. Great book in general. Mistakes That Worked (Jones) – fun fun, fun. The Sky’s the Limit and Girls Think of Everything (Thimmesh). How to Think Like a Scientist (Kramer). Anything by Seymour Simon. And there’s a nice picture book about Audubon that I think is called Audubon, the Boy Who Drew Birds.

    By the way, I have daughters, that’s why all the girl centered books, but we read plenty about the male scientists as well 🙂

    I just ordered the Hakim books too – funny!

  3. Melissa Wiley says:

    Penny, too funny! Great minds!

    Thanks for the snoggestions, both of you. We LOVE Mistakes that Worked. What a gem that book is—good call.

    Another Lasky book to look into, I’m delighted!

  4. Barbara says:

    Mistakes that Worked sounds right up my budding scientist’s alley. Going to request that one from the library right now. 🙂 Somehow reading this blog always makes our library list longer. 😉

  5. Jacqueline says:

    I’d add The Green Glass Sea and its sequel, White Sands Red Menace by Ellen Klages.

  6. Melissa Wiley says:

    Ooh, good suggestions! Jane (my 15yo) has read both of those, I think—White Sands, for sure—as has my husband, but not I, yet. So I’m glad you reminded me.

    And hi there, by the way! Delighted to see you around these parts! Your excellent phrase has more or less inspired our next season of what I call “high tide” learning. (See “tidal homeschooling.”)

  7. Melissa Wiley says:

    Barbara, I thought I’d written a description of Mistakes that Worked somewhere, but it seems I just included it in a list of books my kids were loving in 2005. It deserves a thorough review!

  8. Penny says:

    Lissa, Snowflake Bentley’s house is near me – we generally visit once a summer – I’ll check for some fun Bentley things beyond the Jacqueline Briggs book for you (assuming snowflakes interest you So. Cal types at all…) There are nice postcards and such there.

    OH! And do watch that movie My Family and Other Animals. Please. It’s sciencey and unschooly and British – what more could you ask for?

    No pressure. ha.

    A fun experiment book is The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science by Sean Connolly. But for some reason I think you have written about that here already.

    This is fun!

  9. Melissa Wiley says:

    I haven’t read the Totally Irresponsible Science book but it does ring a bell! Maybe I saw it at ALA last winter?

    We have the My Family & Other Animals book but once again, I have not read it and Jane has! We seem to have reached some kind of tipping point where she is much better read than I am. 🙂 We will most certainly take your advice and watch the film!

    Rilla and Sean, my California children, have never experienced snow at all! Can you believe it?!

  10. sarah says:

    For heaven’s sake, stop recommending wonderful books, my librarians are starting to look disapprovingly at me!

    I think my girl is almost ready for Ender’s Game. That’s one of those books you need to introduce at exactly the right time. I loved the sequel told from Bean’s pov too.

  11. Jennifer says:

    I’m with sarah. However, I’ve had those Hakim books on my mind for some time. I’ll have to go check out that review.

  12. Sara says:

    How mature is the language in Ender’s Game? I think my 12 yo knows all the words. 😉 He read When I Return to You, which I thought was a little mature.

  13. Hannah @ A Quiet Spot says:

    Great topic. Since I’m not a big science person myself, I gravitate toward books that make the subject more approachable. Loved Calpurnia Tate, for example (and Charles and Emma).

    I wonder whether Jane would enjoy The Telephone Gambit?

    For picture books, we’ve liked:
    The Flower Hunter
    The Boy Who Drew Birds
    The Are You an Ant? etc. series
    Neo Leo: The Ageless Inventions of Leonard da Vinci
    Children of Summer
    Greg’s Microscope
    One Small Square series
    … and more I can’t think of off the top of my head …

    On the TBR list: Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas

  14. Melissa Wiley says:

    Sarah & Jenn–turnabout is fair play. Do you see what the lot of you are doing to MY book budget here?! 🙂

    Sara, been a while since I read Ender but what I remember is some barracks language/tone. Adolescent boys in a dorm. Lots of bullying and off-color talk. I think Jane read it first at age 13. SUCH a great book.

    Thanks everyone for your suggestions–keep ’em coming!

  15. Hannah @ A Quiet Spot says:

    Oh, and of course, for Jane, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I confess to skimming over some of the more science-y discussion, but she’d probably eat it up!

  16. Rebecca says:

    My now-9 year old daughter skyrocketed into ornithology with Thornton Burgess’ Bird Book for Children last year. She has learned an incredible amount about bird identification and habits from this book. Also, the Take-Along Guides (“Birds, Nests and Eggs”, “Trees, Leaves and Bark”, etc.) have been great fun. And we have used our copy of Care of the Wild countless times – keeps my daughters on the right track (and keeps me sane) when they decide they want to rehabilitate an injured salamander or an orphan baby rabbit!!

  17. Lisa D. says:

    I just finished The Danger Box, by Blue Balliett (Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, The Calder Game) today. I would definitely add it to your “sciency fiction” list. It fits in nicely with your other Darwinesque titles. I went to my local library today, and they didn’t have even one of the books you listed (no surprise), so I’m off to check the online catalog of the county library system!

  18. Lisa says:

    “The librarian” book reminded me of an early Hugh Grant movie my kids and I loved “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill…Came down Mountain.”–excellent story. I loved Calpurnia and my kids STILL [we read in ’05? ’06??] know who Archimedes was and can tell about him! (We liked Galen & Gateway to Medicine, too). Have you listened to the “Your Story Hour” science biographies? We liked them in the car back in the day here’s a link:

    P.S. I reviewed the new Penderwicks book!

  19. mary Illicete says:

    Lissa, I love your reading list and I’m very excited that most of the books can be gotten very afford ably.
    Thanks for sharing your wealth!