Saturday, 10 March 2012

A Great Book for Kids

I remember at the age of 8-ish what first got me in to astronomy. I'd seen Star Wars at the Cinema, and was instantly hooked on space and sci-fi. Voyager's 1&2 were cruising past Jupiter, bringing the most amazing images I'd ever seen to our newly bought colour TV, and I guess that love of space must have permeated through to my parents and grandparants, as that year, my nan bought me small refracting telescope and a book on "Space" filled with the Palomar images and a cartoon drawing of the Space Shuttle, which was still being developed at the time.

34 years later, and my own 6 year old daughter has a fascination for space. She's not an atypical girl at all. Hates pink, hates "princesses" (recently dressed up for a princess party as Princess Leia, as "she's the only cool princess".. We launch rockets (SRB types the Estes models), we build crystal radio sets, and she's obsessed with being the first "girl" on the Moon as she got "very upset that only boys have been so far".

She's used and operated a goto telescope on her own (EQ3 synscan) to look at the Moon, has imaged Jupiter (with help) and the ISS (on her own, which got her in to Popular Astronomy Magazine, the youngest ever contributor for an image)...

So I bought her a new book... along the same lines as the one I was given at the age of 8. "My Tourist Guide to the Solar System...And Beyond" by Dr Lewis Dartnell, and published by DK (Lewis is one of the UK's leading astrobiology experts), is perfectly pitched at that 7-10 age group, large clear images, cut out short blocks of text, which my 6yo daughter reads through and then asks questions about. It's this lack of large paragraphs, which can intimidate a young reader, which I think makes the book work so well. It's littered with fun facts about the planets, comets, asteroids even out to black holes and red giant stars, with useful analogies (e.g. how long it would take you to get to Betelgeuse in the fastest rockets we have now...)

It mixes fact with fictional ways to explore some of the most exciting places in the solar system, like ice diving on Europa, which being in to scuba, would be a dream come true even for this 42 year old!

It's fired up her mind no end... she's now interested in the aforementioned black holes, though doesn't quite get how something the size of a full stop could swallow a planet :-). It's things like this which expand the mind. Something the great Richard Feynman said in his autobiography has stuck with me for most of the past 10 or so years, in that when he was a child, his father used to spend lots of time, explaining how things worked to him, not just saying "oh that's a so and so"... So spending hours with her the past few days, answering questions she raised and explaining with drawings, you tube videos etc, how things like a black hole work, I feel is just taking his wise words and acting on them.

So... parents...if you want a really good book, one that is both beautifully illustrated, and very well written, and will genuinely fire up the imagination of a child...I can heartily recommend this one.