Bedtime stories

As many of your have probably seen on twitter or from reading some of my previous posts, I have two kids. My eldest is just about to turn 4 years old and is currently being raised on a healthy science-based education. Some of his favourite toys have been his bug kit (catch and release, no recorded fatalities), his Hoberman sphere and the human body app on my iPad. The app in particular was good when he was last ill to help him understand why he was feeling bad and he now keeps telling me that when he’s poorly that he thinks “a bit of sick might come out of my food tube”.

In terms of time with my kids, I live a pretty charmed life. I’m self employed and basically set my own hours so I can almost always get home by 16:30 to cook dinner and help play a bit before bedtime. But even the hour or so I get to play with them isn’t much, especially at the end of the day when I’m competing with CBEEBIES and they are competing for what little energy I have left after a full work day and while cooking.

So for me, bedtime stories are a fantastic 10-20 minutes of dedicated me + child time. My 4yr old often finds a whole new reserve of energy to ask a 1000 questions about every nuance of the story, while simultaneously trying to use me as a climbing frame. But until recently I was always disappointed that the books we had were just stories, and any science content was few and far between. Obviously I don’t need every book in our library to have a serious educational point, reading about underpant-stealing aliens is fine, heck any kind of reading is good, I just wanted at least one or two science options.

So after a little online searching I came across two very difference but excellent books for kids which are fun but at the same time cover big and difficult science topics.

Kitty’s Morning Tea

Kitties morning teaI have reddit to thank for helping me find this book as a free ebook offer by the author which went a bit viral led me to discover her Kickstarter campaign. Christine Liu is/was an undergraduate at the University of Oregon, studying Biology and Psychology with an passion for science outreach -which she succinctly sums up on her webpage as;

Scientists aren’t old men in sterile labs with white lab coats on. They’re girls like me with blue hair and curiosity about the mind. Anyone can be a scientist, and that’s what I want to get across to kids.

A quote that I like so much I may have to reference it next time I give a schools talk.

While doing her undergraduate degree she decided to try her hand at producing a children’s book and Kitty’s Morning Tea is the result. She then took this to Kickstarter, not to get it published but to fund a print run to donate her book to local libraries and classrooms in her local area.

The book is a little story about a kitty making a cup of tea and includes a very simple and easy to understand explanation of thermodynamics. In its few, short pages, it explains how heating the water makes the molecules ‘wiggle’ and then ‘fly’ out as steam – a page which has caused much dancing on the bed followed by a loud thump of jumping off the bed – which then leads nicely to water molecules dancing with tea leaves.

This book is short and sweet and was highly effective at teaching my 4yr old about properties of matter – something that I didn’t have any idea of how to communicate to a child. The book is available to read and download online for free but please consider buying a copy to support this new author. It’s well worth it.

Amazon link – Kitty’s Morning Tea: Kinetic Theory of Matter for Kids

Our Family Tree

Our Family TreeThis I found in the most unlikely place ever for a children’s book, on a Forbes list of Five Banned Books That You Should Read. The list is fairly American centric and this book has apparently been ‘challenged’ in several school and libraries. Given that it’s designed to teach kids about the always inflammatory theory of evolution, I am not very surprised (although quite disappointed).

The subtitle of the book is “An evolution story” and it is that and more. Over 30 odd pages the book tells the story of our evolution from single cell organism right up to the present day. To tell the story the book focuses on 8 ancestors and talks about the environment they lived in and what similarities they had to us today e.g. spiny fish.

The illustrations are by Lauren Stringer and each page is packed with animals and details from that particular period (for example cells living near warm ocean vents). For this blog article I was browsing her site and she’s got tons of other illustrated work that looks amazing. As someone who just about manages stick men, I am always a bit awed by good drawing.

The author of ‘Our Family Tree’ is Lisa Westberg Peters and she has more than a passing interest in science books, having written 19 on various topics including wether and geology. Her blog also has an excellent “Kids asked me” page where she answers questions she has received from kids over the years including this very important question.

Do you have a limousine?

A limo! No, I don’t have a limo. I drive a car with library books, candy wrappers, ice skates, mittens, parking tickets and doughnuts tossed in the back seat. I’m too messy to have a limo

Every time I read this book with my 4yr old it take twice as long as the previous time, as he asks more and more questions about each page. This books gives such a good overview of a very complex topic that it has sparked so many more questions about ‘why did the cells come together?’ or ‘why don’t we have a spiky backbone like the fish?’ – most of which are pretty tough. The author was obviously aware of this need for more information and very helpfully provides two pages of additional notes on each of the stages in the back of the book, so that you can answer at least some of the questions – although children have an annoying habit of asking questions you have never dreamed of 🙂

Summary: this is a pretty and well-written way to describe evolution and very engaging for kids. Also buying it might annoy some anti-evolution people – which is always fun.

Amazon link – Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story

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