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Science Books to Help Your Kids Avoid Summer Brain Drain


Heather Malcomson

Ahh, summer. Warm breezes, cool ice cream, the gentle whine of mosquitoes. And the not so gentle whine of bored, out-of-school children. For summer vacation, AAAS offers a reading list of 10 science books for children ages 10-14, or grades 4-8.

Heather Malcomson, editor of AAAS's Science Books & Films magazine, composed the list based on her experience reviewing science books for the magazine.

"If you are trying to keep your kids' minds from turning to mush this summer, bring home a few science books from the library," Malcomson said. "A good science book will certainly capture children's interest with true life stories and interesting photographs."

The books include stories on bioluminescent creatures, excavations from colonial-era settlements, and women who trained for space flight. Malcomson's list also includes activity books, such as a bird watching guide and a book containing tips on how to be "green."

"With real-world applications and hands-on activities, science books can interest all kids, even those who are not avid readers," Malcomson said.

The science books are available through online book vendors, including, and most of them cost less than $20.

The list:

  • "Science on the Loose: Amazing Activities and Science Facts You'll Never Believe," by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Claudia Davila. Maple Tree Press, 2008. 64pp. $10.95

This book is the right kind of fun: It is thought provoking, imaginative, and engaging, with a blend of intelligent writing, intriguing ideas and easy-to-perform experiments. There is also plenty of humor. The first part of the book covers topics ranging from brain tricks to making ice cream. The final section moves beyond a human focus to other animals, plants, and space. The book explains far-out experiments in science (think glow-in-the-dark pigs and computers that emit fragrances), while making the work accessible and engaging.

  • "Mars 3-D: A Rover's-Eye View of the Red Planet," by Jim Bell. Illustrated. Sterling, 2008. 148pp. $19.95

Of the many books written about the planet Mars and about the space probes that have traveled there, none is quite like this one. Filled with pictures taken by the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, Mars 3-D gives many three-dimensional views that make readers feel as though they are actually on the Red Planet. The reader is supplied with a built-in 3-D viewer as the front cover flap. Each of the 3-D pictures is accompanied by another picture putting the image in perspective.

  • "Dino-Why? The Dinosaur Question and Answer Book," by Sylvia Funston. Illustrated. Maple Tree Press, 2008. 64pp. $10.95

This book is an excellent and highly readable introduction to dinosaurs for elementary and junior high school children. It offers an interesting question—and-answer approach to the subject on 55 of its 64 pages. The questions are well conceived, and the answers, provided either on the same page as the corresponding questions or at the back of the book, are scientifically sound and up to date.

  • "Easy Genius Science Projects with Weather: Great Experiments and Ideas," by Robert Gardner, illustrations from the Easy Genius Science Projects Series. Enslow, 2009. 128pp. $31.93

This may be one of the very best investigation books for 4th through 10th grade students. The first part of the book does an outstanding job of explaining the importance of safety, the use of science fairs and, more importantly, a very clear and complete section explaining the scientific method. The book is primarily composed of investigations about weather, but also has sections on the importance of water, wind and climatology.

  • "Looking for Miza: The True Story of the Mountain Gorilla Family Who Rescued One of Their Own," by Juliana Hatkoff, Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Paula Kahumbu; illustrated by Peter Greste. Scholastic, 2008. 30pp. $16.99

This book is a true story of a baby mountain gorilla who was lost in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa. The story is told from the point of view of Innocent Mburanumwe and Diddy Mwanaki, two Congolese rangers who have dedicated their lives to protecting the 380 mountain gorillas in that park. Mountain gorillas are identified by their noseprints, which are as distinctive as our human fingerprints. When Miza and her mother, Lessinjina, disappear, the two rangers begin searching the mountainside for them. Beautiful photographs of the mountain gorilla family accompany this compelling story.

  • "True Green Kids: 100 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet," Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin. Illustrated. National Geographic Society, 2008. 143pp. $15.95

"True Green Kids" is aimed at American kids who live in a nation with the highest rate of carbon emissions in the world. The book's purpose is to guide them in the philosophy of "reduce, reuse, recycle, rethink." The book is graphically very attractive, with 100 actions that can move the child and his or her household toward a smaller "eco-footprint." Actions are organized by where (your room, your home, outdoors, your school, on vacation) and by how (with friends, buying stuff, teamwork, making fun things). Each action is given its own brightly illustrated page with a few powerful facts, an action step, and, often, a reference website for more "how-to" information.

  • "Cold Light: Creatures, Discoveries, and Inventions That Glow," by Anita Sitarski. Illustrated. Boyds Mills, 2008. 48pp. $16.95

The author describes how nature produces "cold light," also known as bioluminescence, through a variety of biochemical reactions. She gives several examples of its practical use, and offers a view of how knowledge of this phenomenon could be used for commercial purposes. Anyone who has ever roamed the woods and fields at night has seen nature's cold light in the form of fireflies (lighting bugs) or a glowing fungus. This book does an excellent job telling how scientists figured out the behavior of cold light at the molecular level.

  • "The Young Birder's Guide to Birds of Eastern North America," by Bill Thompson, III, illustrated by Julie Zickefoose. Houghton Mifflin, 2008. 256pp. $14.95

Everything is here for a beginner birder. At the front of the book are sections on getting started, basic gear and binoculars, basics in bird identification, field skills and manners, and where to find different types of birds. The bulk of the book consists of wonderful pictures and descriptions of 200 of the most common birds found in the eastern United States. Each of the profiles describes what to look and listen for in making the identification.

  • "Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream," by Tanya Lee Stone, with a foreword by Margaret A. Weitekamp. Illustrated. Candlewick Press, 2009. 142pp. $17.99

What does it take to be an astronaut? Excellence at flying, courage, intelligence, resistance to stress, top physical shape—any checklist would include these. But when the United States created NASA in 1958, there was another unspoken rule: you had to be a man. Here is the tale of thirteen women who proved that they were not only as tough as the toughest man but also brave enough to challenge the government. They were blocked by prejudice, jealousy, and the scrawled note of one of the most powerful men in Washington. Although the Mercury 13 women did not make it into space, they were true pioneers, empowering young women who became pilots and astronauts.

  • "Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland," by Sally M. Walker. Illustrated. Carolrhoda Books, 2009. 144pp. $22.95

This book details the excavation, analysis and interpretation of some human burials from colonial-era Chesapeake Bay, including James Fort and St. Mary's City. It is filled with beautifully detailed color photos and drawings. The hero of this book is the Smithsonian Institution's Doug Owsley and some of his colleagues and co-workers. This book is informative and well produced.