The World of Small Things: Summer Reading

September 2, 2015

tiny creatures bookThis column was originally published in ABOUT the River Valley Magazine. 

As a child, I never did very well in science classes. I passed the classes with decent grades but something always felt so out of reach, so disconnected. Now that I’m well into my thirties I find myself craving a more solid foundation in biology, botany, even physics. I’m discovering that my children are the best science teachers around.

At five-years-old, they’re enamored with the way anything and everything works. They’re fascinated with the idea that numbers can have no end and that things appear smaller the further they are away. They’re curious about how water freezes and how it boils. They want to know all about the body parts of a grasshopper and how ants poop. They ask questions about meteors and stars and the sun and the moon. Finding a spider or praying mantis in the garden shuts down all other activities. They make inventions and suggest hypotheses, their curious minds lighting a spark in my own. Together we explore.

As a young child my mom always took me to the Dardanelle library, making sure I made it to story time and took part in all the summer reading programs. She taught me about inter-library loaning and always encouraged —or at the very least, tolerated — my short-lived reading obsession with everything from horses to pirates to historical fiction. She believed in the fundamental power of childhood reading. Even when she was confused by or disapproved of my topics of interest, she always encouraged me to learn more. Because of this curiosity she honored in me, I can honestly say that as an adult I don’t ever get bored. Should I ever happen upon some free time (hahahaha), there is always a book waiting. I consider this inoculation against boredom one of her greatest gifts to me.

This summer my sons are taking part in the 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program, and we’ve been plowing through the hardcovers left and right. We’ve read picture books about Frog and Toad and the twins Ling and Ting and the Good Dog Carl series and pretty much anything we can find written by Mo Williams (be sure and check out City Dog, County Frog, even if you are 68-years-old and there are no kids around. It’s a book for the ages). We read books to their little sister about bushing teeth and the importance of going to sleep. But more often than not we read science books.

I love our time reading together, and not just because I get to watch their excited faces or hear their joyful exclamations or any of those other clichés everyone always says about kids and books and discovery. I love it because I am learning so much.  So far this summer I’ve learned how to make a wormery for compost, everything I could ever need to know about the life cycles of bees, dragonflies and grasshoppers, and how people go to the bathroom in a space ship. I’ve learned about the secret life of microbes and the details of pollination and the hibernation habits of bears and how owls make pellets. I have learned how wind makes weather and how microbes multiply.  Just this morning I learned about Antarctica.

I’m taken aback by the spark of hope and creativity I am finding in a 20 page book on how sea salt is made. And I’m throughly impressed with all the information that can be packed into a large font publication on bulbs and roots. Thanks to the generosity of several dear friends who sent us boxes of math-focused books, we’ve even started reading about fractions and basic math, and I am finding that maybe I have more of a math brain that I originally thought. Children’s books leave so much up to the imagination, and maybe that’s what I was missing all those years in science classes.

After all, when you have less than 20 pages, there is no time to wallow in the minutia of a subject. The authors get straight to the heart of the matter in simple and straight forward sentences. I keep thinking of the well-worn but useful quote from Einstein:  “The definition of genius is taking the complex and making it simple.”So hats off to children’s book authors. Anyone who thinks there just simple little books is missing out on what might be the most important thing we can ever come to know.

Below is a list of just a few of our favorites, all checked out from the Arkansas public library system. What are you reading this summer? Visit me online at http://www.boileddownjuice.com or http://www.tendingthebittersweets.wordpress.com and tell me about your favorite kids books this summer.

What Are Bulbs and Roots?
by Molly Aloian

World of Insects series – What is Pollination?
by Bobbie Kalman

Underground
by Denise Fleming (a book about ants)

The Frog Scientist
by Pamela S. Turner

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes
by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton

How Does Weather Change?
by Jennifer Boothroyd

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