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Season's readings ... for kids

Houghton Mifflin
Science-oriented books for

kids include "Prehistoric

Actual Size" (not shown

here at actual size).

In the old days, a kid’s prime source for science information was the "How and Why Wonder Book" series, or maybe a bookshelf’s worth of encyclopedia volumes. Today, the printed word has to compete with computers – and that’s led to a new generation of children’s books on science that follow fresh formats. Check out some of the freshest goodies in this week's special report from the journal Nature, then tell us about your own favorite science books for children.

In Nature's roundup, Harriet Coles observes that publishers have gone to gimmicks ranging from pop-up pages to companion CD-ROMs in order to keep young readers engaged - and keep the grown-ups buying books.

"Some cultural commentators say that books are enjoying their final years of supremacy," Coles writes. "Whether this is the case or not, recent competition from the new media has only been a good thing for children's science publishing."

Among the books that push the envelope are:

  • "The Global Garden," which uses almost every trick in the book (cartoons, pop-ups, lift-up flaps) to trace the origins of food and the global economy.
  • "Famously Foul Experiments," one of the books in Nick Arnold's "Horrible Science" series, which uses simple do-at-home activities to give kids a feel for key experiments in the history of science.
  • "The Story of Everything" by Neal Layton, an elaborate pop-up book about the scientific view of origins, ranging from the big bang to the rise of life and civilization.
  • "Actual Size" and "Prehistoric Actual Size," picture books by Steve Jenkins in which the pictures show natural curiosities and fossil specimens as big as they are in life.
  •  "Math Doesn't Suck," in which one-time "Wonder Years" child star Danica McKellar, a.k.a. Winnie Cooper, adds a jolt of girl power to mathematical subjects.
  • "Why Is Snot Green?" by Glenn Murphy, a Q&A book that doesn't shrink away from grossology (Do rabbits fart?) or the deep questions (Will computers ever be cleverer than people?).

Sometimes, the best gimmick turns out to be a really cool story, as in "Moon Man" (in which a youngster investigates whether the Apollo moon landings ever took place), or "The Fossil Girl" (a graphic novel that delves into the childhood of pioneer paleontologist Mary Anning), or "George's Secret Key to the Universe" (a collaboration between world-famous physicist Stephen Hawking and his daughter Lucy).

Nature's list is a bit Anglocentric - which is understandable, considering that the journal is published in Britain - but almost all of the books cited are available from your favorite U.S. bookseller as well. And once you start searching for titles, you'll find other promising prospects as well.

If you need further suggestions, try grazing through 12 years' worth of book recommendations from the National Science Teachers Association, or this roundup from When it comes to sumptuous science books, for kids or grown-ups, DK Publishing is one of the big players. And the "Magic School Bus" series has built up an inventory that rivals the old "How and Why" repertoire.

Now it's your turn: What science books would you recommend for the preschool-through-12th-grade set? You don't have to confine yourself to the latest crop - classics such as "Flatland" will count as well. Just leave your suggestions below. In a later posting, we'll give you an opportunity to talk about science books for the older set.