When I was growing up, I always enjoyed reading Encyclopedia Brown books. Before I read the solutions at the end, I tried to catch the seemingly casual, crucial details in the chapter that enabled the boy genius to solve the mystery. This book has similar appeal, applying science in practical situations, challenging the reader to observe details and draw conclusions before turning the page to test the solution. It’s a fun approach to either learning as you read, or quizzing what you know!
There are a number of strong points:
- The problems are solvable, but not too easy
- Science is applied to a wide range of natural situations
- Scientific terms like “phototropism” are explained in context
- Includes a range of fields: life, earth, space, physics, chemistry, and general science
- The kids are average, not geniuses, and characters differ from chapter to chapter
- Both boys and girls demonstrate interest in science, and names suggest a range of cultural backgrounds without stereotypes
- Positive sibling and family relationships
One weakness is the illustrations, which look like average stock photos or computer-generated images that don’t impress me. But this is a minor annoyance that will not bother most readers. I haven’t read previous volumes, but I recommend this one for budding scientists, mystery lovers, class discussion, family challenges, travel diversion, etc.
Lives of the Scientists: Experiments, Explosions (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. Houghton Mifflin, 2013.
I had been pleased to find a new collective biography by Krull and Hewitt. I have enjoyed other books by this duo who pair good illustrations with brief biographies of famous people, highlighting their accomplishments and idiosyncrasies.
This time, I was disappointed. The illustrations were still good, but the biographical sketches focused more on trivia than significant events. The characters selected and details included were politically correct; Christianity in particular and white men (except Darwin) were treated disparagingly; and it promotes an unfounded theory that George Washington Carver was a homosexual. It serves as a reminder that reading redemptively always requires discernment. Skip this one.