ZAP! Electricity!



  Melvin Berger’s Switch On, Switch Off (HarperCollins, 1990) in the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out science series is a simple picture-book explanation of how electricity is produced, transmitted, and used, with helpful diagrams and a simple experiment involving a magnet, a compass, and a length of wire. For ages 4-8.
  Geoff Waring’s Oscar and the Bird (Candlewick, 2011) in the Start with Science series begins when Oscar – a curious gray-and-white kitten – wonders what makes a tractor’s windshield wipers move. Luckily a competent brown bird arrives to tell him all about electricity, batteries, and circuits. For ages 4-7.
  In Joanna Cole’s The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip (Scholastic, 1999), one-of-a-kind teacher Ms. Frizzle explains electricity and takes her class on a trip through the power grid, via the (lightning-bolt-patterned) magic school bus. Much of the information is delivered via hand-printed kids’ school reports on lined notebook paper. For ages 5-9.
  Liam O’Donnell’s graphic novel, The Shocking World of Electricity with Max Axiom, Super Scientist (Capstone Press, 2007), illustrated by Richard Dominguez and Charles Barnett, is one of a series starring superhero scientist Max Axiom, whose multitudinous superpowers include being able to shrink to the size of an ant or an atom, travel through time and space (with the help of a magic lab coat), or surf on a sound wave. There’s not much in the books by way of plot, but the text and cool comic-book graphics provide easily accessible information on the featured science topic, with help from supplementary fact boxes. For ages 8 and up.
See Capstone Graphic Science for the complete list of Max Axiom science titles.
  Kazuhiro Fujitaki’s 224-page Manga Guide to Electricity (No Starch Press, 2009) is a black-and-white graphic-novel-style introduction to electricity. The frame story is that of failed high-school student Rereko from the electrically advanced world of Electopia, sent to Earth to learn the fundamentals of electricity from a knowledgeable tutor. Topics covered include the physical nature of electricity, voltage and potential, electrical circuits, Ohm’s Law, resistivity and conductivity, current and magnetic fields, batteries and power plants, and semiconductors, diodes, and transistors. A reader-friendly and readily understandable approach to a complex topic for ages 12 and up. One of a series: other titles include The Manga Guide to Physics, The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology, and The Manga Guide to the Universe.
  Kenn Amdahl’s 200+-page There Are No Electrons: Electronics for Earthlings (Clearwater Publishing, 1991) is a quirky, irreverent, entertaining, and scientifically thorough explanation of electrical concepts. Chapter titles include “Static Electricity: A Cat’s Nightmare,” “Circuits, Switches, Ants, Lizards and Pigs,” “The Intergalactic Steam Circus,” and “Vacuum Tube Diode: A Pickle Jar With a Purpose.” Amdahl’s inspiration for the book occurred when he realized that his sons, fans of Star Wars, had learned everything about Wookies, light sabers, and the Force – effortlessly. (“Yoda could have taught them Chemistry,” he wrote.) So why not write a book that made physical science as easy and absorbable as a movie? Here it is. For teenagers and adults.
  Henry Schlesinger’s The Battery (HarperPerennial, 2011) is a history of that small but all-important device from ancient Baghdad batteries, Galvani’s twitching frog legs, and Volta’s stack of zinc and copper discs to the present day. For older teenagers and adults.
  Articles About Electricity is a collection of helpful reader-friendly explanations by an electrical engineer at the University of Washington. Topics include “What’s the relation between watts, ohms, amps, and volts?” “What is voltage?” and “How transistors really work.” Also at the site is a list of great “Build-It Projects,” among them an ultra-simple electric generator, an electrostatic motor made from plastic soda bottles, and instructions for generating ball lightning in the microwave.
  Electricity and Ohm’s Law has background information, hands-on activities, and problem sheets on the crucial law that defines the relationships among power, voltage, current, and resistance.
  The History of Electricity: A Timeline is an annotated chronology of electrical discoveries, from Ben Franklin’s kite-and-key experiment to the first electricity-generating nuclear power plant.
  In the FactFinders series, Amie Jane Leavitt’s Who Really Discovered Electricity? (Capstone Press, 2011) covers the principal contributors and contenders, among them not only Ben Franklin, but English physician William Gilbert who in the year 1600 coined the word “electric,” and Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, who invented the battery. For ages 8-12.


  David Glover’s Batteries, Bulbs, and Wires (Kingfisher, 2002), illustrated with colorful drawings and photographs, is a short (31 pages) overview of magnetism and electricity with simple hands-on projects, among them lighting up a light bulb with a simple circuit. For ages 5-9.
  Doug Stillinger’s Battery Science: Making Widgets That Work and Gadgets That Go (Klutz, 2003) is a catchily designed collection of electrical projects, with such names as Nervous Noodler, Lie Detector, Bugzilla, Swamp Boat, and Amazing Submergible. Included along with the book is a kit of useful dohickeys, among them a battery, propeller, light bulb, wire, and alligator clips. For ages 8 and up.
  TOPScience has two terrific informational activity books on electricity, respectively targeted at grades 3-8 and 8-12. Illustrated instructions are presented in the form of panel cartoons; detailed lesson notes are included. The TOPS program is noted for doing substantive science experiments with very simple equipment – here, for example, think aluminum foil, paper clips, and clothespins. Sample activities from the Electricity modules include experimenting with series and parallel circuits, making electrical puzzles, building a fuse, and exploding a balloon with electricity. The modules are available as softcover books or downloadable e-books.
  From the San Francisco Exploratorium, Science Snacks About Electricity is a collection of short simple experiments (“snacks”) with electricity and magnetism, among them making a Leyden jar, an electrical (static, that is) flea circus, a hand battery, a magnetic pendulum, and an electric motor.
  With Ken Murphy’s Blinkybug Kit (Chronicle Books, 2010), kids can make their own (blinking) electronic insects. The kit includes all necessary materials and a comic-book-style instruction book. For ages 8 and up; about $15.
  From the Boston Museum of Science, Theater of Electricity has a history and demonstration of a Van de Graff generator, an illustrated explanation of Franklin’s famous kite experiment, a Tesla coil demonstration, a lightning safety quiz, and static electricity activities (including “Dancing Paper Bunnies” and instructions for making a simple electroscope).
  Frankenstein’s Lightning Laboratory from the Miami Science Museum has an interactive quiz on electrical safety, static electricity experiments, and instructions for generating electricity with a lemon (try to light up a Christmas-tree light).
  Electricity is a multi-part upper-elementary-level lesson plan in which kids make electrical circuits, a Morse-Code-transmitting device, a flashlight, and an electrical quiz board, experiment with static electricity, and design a poster about the history of electricity.
  More homemade flashlights! How to Build a Flashlight has a materials list, instructions, and a video guide. See PBSKids’ Flashlight for an alternative version.
  Electric Switches is a lesson plan for ages 8-11 in which kids learn how switches work, build electric circuits with switches, and draw basic wiring diagrams. Included at the website are downloadable worksheets with background info, diagrams, and instructions.
  Electric Circuits is a lesson plan for grades 3-8 in which kids model and build electric circuits, draw circuit diagrams, and test the conductivity of a range of materials.
  Make a Circuit Board has step-by-step instructions for making a circuit board – a great way to demonstrate simple electrical circuits for kids.
  Among SciFun’s Home Experiments are instructions for building an electric motor, bending water with static electricity, and testing the electrical conductivity of solutions.
  Electricity and Magnetism is a list of nicely designed experiments with accompanying diagrams and worksheets, targeted at fourth-graders. Titles include “Static Electricity,” “Simple Circuit,” “Conductors and Insulators,” “A Simple Computer,” and “Electromagnet.”
  All Science Fair Projects: Electricity has a list of projects based on electricity and magnetism, among them building a magnetic linear accelerator (which looks fun), testing different combinations of metals in galvanic cells, and experimenting with number of wire coils in electromagnets.
At Electricity and Electronics Science Fair Project Ideas, the projects are categorized by level of difficulty (Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced).
  At MonkeySee, view a demonstration on how to make four different kinds of batteries, from a potato battery to a homemade voltaic pile. (Try them all?)
Find out how to light a light bulb with (red-dyed) salt water – a.k.a. The Bloody Current experiment.
  Learn how to make a cool electric pinwheel.
  At Questacon’s Pop Fuse, find out how to op a balloon with electricity (and learn why it works). 
NeoK12: Electricity has interactive quizzes, games and puzzles, and many short videos on electricity. Titles of the latter include “Electricity and Circuits,” “Voltage and Current,” and “Introduction to Generating Electricity.”
Circuit Breaker is an interactive game in which players try to make a light bulb light up.


Find out for yourself what makes things go. Disassembling stuff – formally known as “reverse engineering” – is a terrific hands-on learning experience; and almost any yard sale is an inexpensive source of raw material.

  From TeachEngineering, Engineering in Reverse! is a hands-on activity targeted at grades 5-8 in which kids disassemble a push-toy, draw diagrams showing how it works, and suggest improvements.
For helpful safety tips and instructions on taking old appliances apart, see the Instructables’ How to Take Things Apart Without Killing Yourself.
  From Kids Building Things, Taking Things Apart has basic instructions, suggestions for machines to disassemble (and where to find them), and a recommended tool list.
  With the Electro-Mechanical Reverse Engineering Project, kids disassemble and test a part from a car mirror. The kit includes the mirror part (actuator), tools, and a detailed five-lesson instruction booklet. Targeted at ages 13 and up; about $35 from IQ Locker.
  Thomas Thwaites’s The Toaster Project (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011) is the story of Thwaites’s struggle to build a toaster from scratch. First step was to deconstruct a toaster – a process any curious kid can relate to – and then to reproduce it, a process which took nine months and a lot of research and ingenuity. A fascinating read for older teenagers and adults, after which you’ll never take an appliance for granted again.


  Rosalyn Schanzer’s How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning (HarperCollins, 2002) is a folksy  picture-book account of Franklin’s inventions and scientific experiments, with special attention to his studies of electricity, including the famous kite-in-the-storm experiment and Franklin’s promotion of the lightning rod. For ages 6-11.
  Jean Fritz’s What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? (Perfection Learning, 2001) is a witty and interesting biography of Franklin, filled with human interest, and emphasizing his many ideas and innovations, among them his electrical experiments. For ages 7-10.
  Carmela Van Vleet’s Amazing Ben Franklin Inventions You Can Build Yourself (Nomad Press, 2007) has both biographical background information and instructions for 30 different hands-on activities based on Franklin’s many varied interests. In the “Electricity and the Lightning Rod” chapter, for example, kids make a potato battery and a kite. For ages 9-12.
  Michael Brian Schiffer’s nearly 400-page Draw the Lightning Down: Benjamin Franklin and Electrical Technology in the Age of Enlightenment (University of California Press, 2006) is a well-researched history of Franklin’s electrical experiments and his essential role in the history of electrical technology. For older teenagers and adults.
  Learn all about lightning from the Global Hydrology and Climate Center’s Lightning Primer.
  The Franklin Institute’s Electrified Ben has information about Franklin’s lightning studies, lightning rods, teaching suggestions, and electricity activities, variously for grades 1-8. (Learn about Franklin’s lightning bells and listen to the sound of thunder.)


  David A. Adler’s A Picture Book of Thomas Alva Edison (Holiday House, 1999) is a short simple biography of the inventor for ages 4-8.
  Mike Venezia’s Thomas Edison: An Inventor With a Lot of Bright Ideas (Children’s Press, 2009) is an entertaining biography in the “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Inventors and Scientists” series, illustrated with photos and clever cartoons. For ages 5-9.
  In the Childhood of Famous Americans series, Sue Guthridge’s fictionalized Thomas Edison: Young Inventor (Aladdin, 1986) concentrates on Edison’s childhood, including his deafness (which led his mother to homeschool him), his home experiments, and the “laboratory on wheels” that he set up in an empty box car while working on a train. (It exploded.) For ages 7-11.
  Scott Welvaert’s Thomas Edison and the Lightbulb (Capstone Press, 2007) is a catchy graphic-novel-style biography of Edison’s race to develop an effective incandescent lightbulb, with appended book and resource lists. This is one of a series; other titles include The Wright Brothers and the Airplane, Philo Farnsworth and the Television, Marie Curie and Radioactivity, and Isaac Newton and the Laws of Motion. (For a complete list, see Capstone Press.) For ages 8 and up.
  Laurie Carlson’s Thomas Edison for Kids (Chicago Review Press, 2006) is a comprehensive biography of Edison, illustrated with photographs, period prints, and diagrams, and including 21 hands-on activities, among them making an electrical switch, a telegraph, and a zoetrope. For ages 9-12.
  Dan Gutman’s Back in Time with Thomas Edison (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2002) stars thirteen-year-old Qwerty Stevens (his nickname comes from a third-grade typing goof) who digs up a mysterious device in his backyard that sends him and his sister back to Thomas Edison’s laboratory in the late 19th century. Along with the exciting time-travel story, the book provides information about Edison’s life and work. Included are period photos and patent drawings, and an Edison timeline. For ages 9-12.
  In Geoff Watson’s Edison’s Gold (Egmont USA, 2010), seventh-grader Thomas Edison IV, great-great-grandson of the famous inventor, believes he may have found clues leading to his ancestor’s secret formula for changing base metal into gold – but he and his sidekicks have competition in their quest, primarily in the form of a descendant of Nikola Tesla, Edison’s arch-enemy. A mystery/thriller for ages 9-13.
  Randall E. Stross’s The Wizard of Menlo Park(Broadway, 2008) is a fascinating biography of Thomas Edison (“the patron saint of electric light”), his many inventions, and his overwhelming public persona. For older teenagers and adults.
  Jill Jonnes’s Empires of Light (Random House, 2004) details the 19th-century battle among Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, and George Westinghouse to forge an electrical empire, including the “War of the Electric Currents” between the supporters of AC current (Westinghouse and Tesla) and DC current (Edison and followers). For older teenagers and adults.
  Jane Brox’s Brilliant (Mariner Books, 2011) is a history of artificial light, from the torches of the Stone Age to the light bulb to the sometimes overwhelming illumination of the modern day. For older teenagers and adults.
  See Edison Invents! for instructions for making your own light bulb.
  Resources to accompany Edison’s Miracle of Light, a film in the PBS American Experience series, include a complete list of Edison’s 1,093 patents, photographs of Edison’s inventions, a timeline, and a teacher’s guide.
  Thomas Edison for Kids from the National Park Service has period photos, an Edison biography and timeline, info on Edison’s inventions, and more.
  Thomas Edison for Teachers has a detailed Teaching With Historic Places lesson plan titled “The Invention Factory: Thomas Edison’s Laboratories.”
  At the Franklin Institute, see (and learn all about) Edison’s Lightbulb.
  AC/DC: What’s the Difference? is a nicely designed animation on direct and alternating currents.
  From PBS, Tesla: Master of Lightning has information on Nikola Tesla’s life and work, interactive explorations of Tesla’s inventions, a tutorial on electricity, timelines, and lesson plans on energy and electricity.
  Take a virtual tour of the Nikola Tesla Museum in Belgrade.


  In John Rocco’s Blackout (Hyperion Books, 2011), it’s a normal city summer night – hot, loud, and busy – until, suddenly, the lights go out. Deprived of computer, television, and cookstove, a family is left to its own devices: making flashlight pictures, stargazing, eating ice cream with the neighbors. The experience is so rewarding that when the lights come back on, they decide to turn them off again and play a board game together. The illustrations, for which Blackout won a Caldecott Honor award, include panels and full-page drawings and segue from full color to a lights-off blue, black, and white; the stars are Van-Gogh-esque pinwheels. For ages 4-8.
  In Suzanne Collins’s cartoon-illustrated When Charlie McButton Lost Power (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005), Charlie is a total techie kid (“The things that he liked involved handsets and bots”), whose world disintegrates when a lightning bolt knocks out the electrical tower. Desperate, he steals batteries from his sister’s talking doll, which only gets him in trouble; and eventually he comes to terms with his electricity-less situation and finds that imaginative play with his sister is fun. For ages 4-8.
  Cynthia Rylant’s When I Was Young in the Mountains (Puffin, 1993), with enchanting illustrations by Diane Goode, is a gentle story of what life was like in the rural hills of West Virginia – without plumbing or electricity, when there were kerosene lamps in the kitchen, water pumped from the well (and boiled for baths in the kitchen), and candlelit trips to the outdoor “johnny-house.” For ages 4-8.
  By Stephen Scott and Kenneth Pellman, Living Without Electricity (Good Books, 1990), illustrated with black-and-white photographs, explains how the Amish make do without electricity or modern appliances. Chapters cover various aspects of Amish life: “How Do You Light a Room Without Electricity?” “How Do You Keep Warm Without Centralized Heating?” “What Do You Do for Entertainment If You Don’t Have TV?” “How Do You Get Around Without a Car?” 128 pages long; for ages 12 and up.
  In Susan Maushart’s The Winter of Our Disconnect (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2010), the author and her three teenaged kids pull the plug on technology for six screen-free months – no computer, no cell phone, no iPod, no TV. A funny and fascinating exploration of the pros and cons of our now-electronic world. For older teenagers and adults.
  Journalist Nick Rosen’s Off the Grid (Penguin, 2010) is a journey in search of the growing movement of people seeking to live “off the grid,” free from dependence on electricity, telecommunications networks, government services, and mainstream culture. This is a human-interest book, rather than a how-to manual; it concentrates on many reasons for and ways in which different people attempt to live free. For older teenagers and adults.
  The classic off-the-grid story is certainly that told in Helen and Scott Nearing’s The Good Life (Schocken Books, 1990), an account of how the Nearings left New York City in the 1930s to life a self-sufficient life on a small farm, first in Vermont, then later in Maine. For older teenagers and adults.
  Colin Beavan’s No Impact Man (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009) is an account of Beavan’s heroic year-long attempt to live with as little environmental impact as possible, smack in the middle of New York City. This involved giving up plastic, toilet paper, electricity, and motorized vehicles; eating local food; conserving water; and cutting down on trash. The book is peppered with observations, insights, and a lot of (sometimes appalling) statistics. Included is a helpful resource list. For families.
For more information, see the No Impact Project, a website based on the book. Included is a five-lesson curriculum for educators, targeted at grades 6-12, variously focusing on Consumption, Energy, Food, Transportation, and Water.
  No Impact Man: The Documentary (2009), a 93-minute film based on the book, is available on DVD or as an Amazon Instant Video.
  Maggie Koerth-Baker’s Before the Lights Go Out (John Wiley & Sons, 2012) is a thoroughly interesting and wholly reader-friendly overview of the energy crisis that faces us and its possible solutions. There’s no easy fix, Koerth-Baker explains, and the solution will inevitably involve multiple approaches rather than a single miraculous one-size-fits-all. Readers also learn where our current electrical grid came from in the first place and meet a lot of innovative and optimistic energy pioneers. For older teenagers and adults.
  Jeanne DuPrau’s aging City of Ember (Yearling, 2008) would exist in perpetual darkness if not for the (increasingly feeble) floodlights that struggle to provide twelve hours of gloomy “daylight.” The inhabitants of Ember have long since forgotten their origins, and it’s left to two twelve-year-olds –  Lina Mayfleet, put to work as a messenger, and Doon Harrow, assigned to the Pipeworks, site of the city’s failing electrical generator – to solve the mystery of the city’s past and save its inhabitants. Three sequels. For ages 8-12.
Also see the film version of City of Ember (2008), directed by Gil Denan. It’s rated PG (for peril); available on DVD and as an Amazon Instant Video.
  Jessie, the protagonist of Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Running Out of Time (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1997) believes that she lives in the village of Clifton, Indiana, in 1840. When diphtheria strikes the town, however, Jessie’s mother reveals that Clifton is really a reconstructed museum village, project of an eccentric millionaire – and Jessie must escape to the outer world of 1996 to find help. Not only is this an exciting adventure, but a clever twist on time-travel as Jessie suddenly has to cope with a world of electric lights, telephones, and automobiles. For ages 9-13.
  In Peter Dickinson’s Changes trilogy, originally published between 1968 and 1970, England is suffering from a time known as “The Changes” in which suddenly, inexplicably, the populace has turned against machines and reverted to a state of medieval peasantry. The few hold-outs who hoard modern machinery are accused of witchcraft. The three books in the series are The Devil’s Children, Heartsease, and The Weathermonger. All, though out of print, are readily obtainable through libraries and used-book suppliers. For ages 12 and up.
  Pat Frank’s now-classic Alas, Babylon (Harper Perennial, 2005), originally published in 1959, was one of the first post-apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age, based in a small town in central Florida. The protagonist, Randy Bragg, has some warning of the impending strike from his brother, a military officer, who sends his wife and young children to stay with Randy, hoping this will keep them out of harm’s way. The little town does survive “the Day,” as the global holocaust comes to be called, but their way of life is gone forever, as electricity fails; food, water, gasoline, and medical supplies are exhausted; and “highwaymen” take to preying on the townspeople. For ages 12 and up.
The Alas, Babylon Reading Guide has background information and discussion questions.
  In Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow (Phoenix Pick, 2011), now a sci-fi classic, America has been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust and the survivors blame technology for the disaster. The protagonists, young cousins Len and Esau, live in a New Mennonite farming community called Piper’s Run, but long for a different way of life, having been fascinated by their grandmother’s stories of a time when there were electrified cities, airplanes, televisions, and automobiles. After discovering a radio set said to come from Bartorstown – a mysterious town attempting to bring back the old technologies – the boys run away to find it. For ages 12 and up.
  In S.M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire (Roc, 2005), “the Change” has inactivated all modern technology, including electricity and explosives. Survivors group themselves into bands and communities, struggling to forge new lives and to protect themselves from warlords and marauders. Among the survivors: a Marine pilot, now leader of the Bearkillers; folksinger Juniper Mackenzie, now leader of Clan Mackenzie; and Norman Arminger, ex-medieval professor, now leader of the threatening Portland Protective Agency. The first of a series. For ages 14 and up.
  Jean Hegland’s Into the Forest (Dial, 1998) is the story of Nell and Eva, two teenage sisters who live in the redwoods of northern California at an unspecified time in the not-so-distant future when the world as we know it is coming to an end. Their parents die; electricity and phones go out; fuel and food supplies dwindle; and in the outer world, violence prevails. Eventually the girls must come to terms with their new primitive life in the forest. For ages 14 and up.
  In J.J. Abrams and Eric Kripke’s NBC series Revolution, the lights have suddenly gone out, cars have stopped, planes have fallen out of the sky. For fifteen years now, the world has been in a black-out; survivors live in small farming communities, under the thumb of an ominous leather-armored militia. The Matheson family possess an artifact that may hold the key to the power collapse and the means of reversing its effects, which puts them at risk from various malefactors. Young Charlie Matheson (a girl and a whiz with the crossbow) sets off with a band of companions to distant Chicago to rescue her brother, kidnapped by the militia, and solve the mystery.


  Allan Drummond’s Energy Island (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011) is the picture-book story of the Danish island of Samso, which has come to rely almost entirely on renewable energy, using wind turbines, solar panels, and biomass converters, riding bicycles, and driving electric cars. For ages 6-10.
  By William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (William Morrow, 2010) is the story of 14-year-old William who, determined to bring electricity to his poverty-stricken Malawi village, finds an old physics book with diagrams of windmills and manages to fabricate a working windmill from scraps, junk, and old bicycle parts. The book – an inspirational story of hope and ingenuity – is targeted at older teenagers and adults. A Young Readers version of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Dial, 2012) is available for ages 6-11.
Listen to William Kamkwamba’s TED talk on his windmill project.
  From PBS’s SciGirls, Blowin’ in the Wind is a project for building a model windmill capable of hoisting a weight.
  Michael J. Caduto’s Catch the Wind, Harness the Sun (Storey Publishing, 2011) is an informative activity book on energy and global climate change, illustrated with cartoons, diagrams, and color photographs. For example, kids build mini-windmills, power a battery with a bicycle, and make a solar heater. For ages 8-12.
  Kathleen Reilly’s Energy (Nomad Press, 2009), subtitled “Investigate Why We Need Power and How We Get It,” is an informational activity book with chapters devoted to electricity, hydrogen, petroleum, coal, nuclear power, wind, hydropower, solar power, geothermal energy, and biomass.  Included are fact boxes, word lists, and 25 hands-on projects, among them building a steam-powered boat, a solar-powered water heater, and an electric burglar alarm. For ages 9-12.
  Mike Rigsby’s Doable Renewables (Chicago Review Press, 2010) is a collection of “16 Alternative Energy Projects for Young Scientists.” Among these are a “Simple Heat Engine” made from corrugated cardboard, rubber bands, and a sewing needle that runs off an incandescent desk lamp; and a fascinating solar-powered seesaw, operated by sunlight focused through a magnifying glass. (You’ll need a bimetallic strip for this one,that you obtain by tearing apart a large-dial thermometer, but it’s worth it.) Other projects involve fooling around with devices that you buy outright, such as a solar drinking bird, a thermobile – dunk it in a cup of hot water and the wheels go around, and a radiometer. (Sources provided.) Each project includes brief background information and a list of “More to Think About” questions. For ages 9 and up.
Power Play is an interactive activity in which players, by clicking and dragging, assemble Rube-Goldberg-like machines for capturing power from various sources such as wind, water, and heat.
  Alliant Energy Kids has kid-friendly information on renewable energy, plus interactive games, projects (for example, make a wind turbine, an anemometer, and a solar oven), and lesson plans on energy efficiency and conservation. 
  Kids & Energy has information on energy history, means of generating energy, uses of energy, and energy conservation, short biographies of “energy pioneers,” games, puzzles, and lesson plans.
TVA’s downloadable Energy Sourcebooks are complete energy curricula with activities, variously for elementary, middle-school, and high-school students.


  Captured Lightning has information about sculptor Bert Hickman, whose works are fractal-like Lichtenberg structures, made by blasting a block of acrylic with electricity.
  From Popular Science, Trap Lightning in a Block shows just how to do it, with explanations and a cool video.
  See Fulgurites to learn all about fulgurites (“petrified lightning”), lightning glass, and an artist who works with artificial lightning. Wonderful photographs.
  All About Lightning is an interview with Martin Uman from the University of Florida’s Center for Lightning Research and Testing.  Included are information on artificially triggered lightning and a photo of the world’s largest excavated fulgurite.
Posted in Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Response

Love the Library


Everybody loves the library! See below for books about libraries and librarians, animals at the library (including the real-life tale of Dewey the Library Cat), library mysteries, library poems, library projects, and a handful of really strange libraries.


  In Anna McQuinn’s Lola at the Library (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2006), Lola – who sports adorable pigtails – loves Tuesdays, when she and her mother visit the library. The book follows Lola through the day, ending with new library books and a story at bedtime. For ages 2-5.
  In Laura Numeroff’s Beatrice Doesn’t Want To (Candlewick, 2008), Beatrice’s big brother Henry has to write a school report on dinosaurs – but he also has to babysit for Beatrice. He ends up taking Beatrice with him to the library, with Beatrice protesting (“I don’t want to!”) every step of the way. Finally, in spite of herself, Beatrice becomes entranced by a library story time and Henry, when he comes to retrieve her, finds her happily curled up in a chair, lost in a book. For ages 3-6.
  In Margret and H.A. Rey’s Curious George Visits the Library (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), the Man in the Yellow Hat takes George to story hour – where the disaster-prone little monkey gets twitchy (he wants to read a dinosaur book) and chaos ensues. All ends happily, however, with new books and George’s own library card. For ages 3-7.
  In Marc Brown’s D.W.’s Library Card (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2003), Arthur’s little sister struggles to learn to write her full name so that she can get a library card in order to check out the book she’s been craving, Hop-a-Long Frog. A nicely done story (who doesn’t love Arthur and D.W.?) but I kept thinking “Why all this name-writing stuff? Just give the kid a library card!” For ages 3-7.
  There’s an endless appeal to stories about what goes on after dark in the department store, toy store, dollhouse – and library. In Megan MacDonald’s When the Library Lights Go Out (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009), the library puppets, Lion, Rabbit, and Hermit Crab, have a wonderful and imaginative moonlight adventure that ends with a picnic under the stars. A fun pick for library pajama parties. For ages 3-7.
  Sarah Stewart’s rhyming picture book The Library (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1995) is the story of young Elizabeth Brown, bookworm, who didn’t like to play with dolls and didn’t like to skate – all she liked to do was read. Finally she accumulates so many books that there’s simply no more room: “Volumes climbed the parlor walls/And blocked the big front door/She had to face the awful fact/She could not have one more.” It’s a problem with which many of us can sympathize. Elizabeth’s solution is perfect: she donates her books to the town and turns her house into a library. For ages 4-8.
  In Alexander Stadler’s Beverly Billingsly Borrows a Book (Sandpiper, 2006), Beverly, a panic-stricken small bear, has so adored her chosen library book (Dinosaurs of the Cretaceous Period) that she’s kept it too long and the book is now overdue. Friends have told her that she owes a thousand dollars in library fines and that she might end up in jail. Beverly is too upset to eat; she even has a nightmare in which the book’s due date – APRIL 7 – appears printed in red all over her pajamas. Finally she breaks down and confides in her mother; the book is safely returned; and the kindly librarian puts Beverly’s fears to rest. For ages 4-8.
  In Lisa Campbell Ernst’s Stella Louella’s Runaway Book (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2001), Stella’s library book (“due today by five o’clock”) is missing and Stella is in a tizzy. There follows a frantic cumulative search, beginning with her brother Sam, who left it on the porch by the mailbox, and variously pulling in the mailman, a neighbor, a policeman, the owner of the town diner, an entire scout troop, and more, until finally the book turns up – safely back in the hands of Mrs. Graham, the librarian. For ages 4-8.
  In Lauren Child’s But Excuse Me That is My Book (Dial, 2006), the irrepressible Lola is convinced that Beetles, Bugs, and Butterflies is the best book in the world. In fact, it’s the only book that she will check out of the library. When the beloved book is not on the shelves – and Lola sees another little girl walking out with it – big brother Charlie has to explain how libraries work: the books are there to be borrowed and shared. Eventually he even manages to convince Lola to try a new book – Cheetahs and Chimpanzees. For ages 4-7.
  In Barbara Bottner’s Miss Brooks Loves Books (and I Don’t) (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2010), Missy – a ragamuffin first-grader with an evil glare, in overalls and a woolly hat – can’t abide librarian Miss Brooks, who dresses up like book characters and does her best to find every child a perfect book.  Missy rejects them all: fairies are too flowery, dogs too furry, trains too clickety. (“You’re as stubborn as a wart,” Missy’s frustrated mother says.) But finally the imaginative Miss Brooks does find Missy’s perfect book: William Steig’s Shrek, the story of a stubborn, smelly, snorty, green ogre, with warts. A hoot for ages 4-8.
  In Mike Thaler’s The Librarian from the Black Lagoon (Cartwheel Books, 2008), Hubie’s class is off to visit the library – rumored to be a dreadful place, presided over by the fearsome librarian Mrs. Beamster. There’s said to be a Gum Detector at the door; kids are glued to the chairs to keep them from wiggling; all the books are bolted to the shelves, and anybody who whispers gets laminated. Luckily this isn’t the case. For ages 4-8.
  Kate Bertheimer’s The Lonely Book (Schwartz & Wade, 2012) is essentially The Velveteen Rabbit for books. When the book first arrives at the library, brand new, it is loved by all – but over time it grows worn and tattered; its last page is missing; and no one checks it out anymore. Relegated to the basement, the book languishes – until finally a little girl discovers it and is enchanted. For ages 4-8.
  Carlene Morton’s The Library Pages (Upstart Books, 2010) is every librarian’s nightmare. Mrs. Heath, the school librarian, is out on maternity leave, but helpful kids send updates about how they’re keeping the library running smoothly: shelving the books by color, mending them with duct tape, and cutting up the encyclopedias for collages. Before Mrs. Heath totally melts down, it turns out to be an April Fool’s joke. For ages 4-9.
  Actually organizing books by color is gorgeous. Check it out here.
  Suzanne Williams’s Library Lil (Puffin, 2001) – zanily illustrated by Steven Kellogg – is a library-style anti-TV tall tale starring Lil, Chesterfield’s stupendously strong and wholly unconventional librarian. When a storm blows down the Chesterfield television lines, Lil singlehandedly pushes the bookmobile from house to house, converting an entire town of TV-watching couch potatoes into voracious bookworms. Even a book-hating motorcycle gang is no match for Lil; by the end of the story, the leader of the gang, hooked on books, has become Lil’s library assistant. For ages 4-9.
  In Patricia Polacco’s Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair (Philomel Books, 1996), the people of Triple Creek erected an enormous television tower fifty years ago, and have since become so addicted to television that they have forgotten how to read. Books, now useless, are used to patch roofs, fill potholes, and mend walls. Then feisty Aunt Chip, once the town librarian, teaches her nephew Eli how to read – and soon all the kids in town are reading everything they can lay their hands on. Finally Eli and friends yank a copy of Moby Dick out of a hole in the town dam, which unleashes a flood, topples the TV tower, and brings the adults to their senses. By the end of the book, Aunt Chip has her old job back and reading reigns supreme. For ages 4-9.
  When Michael Garland’s red-headed teacher Miss Smith reads from her Incredible Storybook, the book characters come alive. In Miss Smith and the Haunted Library (Puffin, 2012), the class visits the library, presided over by purple-haired librarian Virginia Creeper, who uses the Storybook to conjure up such spooky characters as Frankenstein, Dracula, Captain Hook, the Hound of the Baskervilles, and the Headless Horseman. For ages 5-8.
  In Carmen Agra Deedy’s The Library Dragon (Peachtree Publishers, 2012), the librarian, Miss Lotty Scales, is an actual fire-breathing dragon – and a nasty one at that; she can’t stand the thought of children pawing at the books with their sticky little fingers, and so refuses to let anyone take a book from the shelves. Finally, nearsighted little Molly Brickmeyer – who has lost her glasses – wanders into the library, bumps into a shelf, and catches the book that falls into her hands. As she begins to read aloud, children eagerly gather round, and Miss Lotty has a change of heart. For ages 6-10.
  Also see the sequel, Return of the Library Dragon (Peachtree Publishers, 2012), in which Miss Lotty’s dragonish nature re-surfaces when the library’s books are replaced with computers and e-readers.
  From the ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children, Fun activities @ your library has library-based games and scavenger hunts, and Reader’s Theater versions of The Library Card, The Chicken and the Librarian, and The Library Dragon.
  In Florence Parry Heide’s The Problem with Pulcifer  (Mulberry Books, 1992), Pulcifer is an avid reader in a society dedicated to watching TV, and Pulcifer’s parents are concerned. (“It isn’t because we haven’t set a good example,” said Pulcifer’s mother. “We’re always watching television. And we’ve always had the nicest television sets. We’ve tried to make it easy for him. Color, remote, even TV dinners.”) At school, Pulcifer is put in a remedial class for non-television-watchers; eventually his parents even send him to a psychiatrist. Pulcifer, however, holds his own, and finally his parents learn that they love him even though he is different. At the end, Pulcifer happily settles down with a stack of new library books. For ages 7-11.
  When I Went to the Library (Groundwood Books, 2002), edited by Debora Pearson, is a wonderful collection of short stories by nine noted writers about the ability of libraries to create adventures, liberate the imagination, solve problems, and change lives. In Ken Roberts’s “Dear Mr. Winston,” for example – which reads like something by Dorothy Parker – Cara struggles to apologize for letting a snake loose in the library. In Marc Talbert’s “Books Don’t Cry,” Tad uses the library to help come to terms with the impending death of his grandmother; and in Paul Yee’s “Fly Away,” a young Chinese girl, Mei-ping, finds that the library helps her cope with the loneliness of living in an isolated town in Canada. For ages 8-12.
  Jerry Spinelli’s The Library Card (Scholastic, 1998) is a tribute to the library’s power to help, heal, and change. The book tells the stories of four troubled kids and four library cards. Twelve-year-old Mongoose seems headed for a life of crime until he finds a library card in a stolen bag of candy and discovers a world of reading. Brenda is addicted to television until – bored to tears during her school’s Great TV Turn-Off week – she visits the library and discovers a mysterious and compelling biography of herself. Sonseray, an anti-social 13-year-old, finds comforting memories of his dead mother at the library that lead him to change his ways; and April, miserable about her family’s move to a mushroom farm in Pennsylvania, ends up on a high-jacked bookmobile, driven by the even unhappier runaway Nanette, with whom she forms a bond. For ages 9-13.
imgres-3 In Richard Peck’s Here Lies the Librarian (Puffin, 2007), set in rural Indiana in 1914, 14-year-old Peewee (Eleanor) McGrath is being raised by her older brother Jake; the two of them run a struggling small-town garage. Then the feisty Irene Ridpath arrives, fresh out of library school, along with her three sorority sisters, preparing to take over the defunct town library. For ages 10-14.


  Judy Sierra’s rhyming picture book Wild About Books (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2004) features librarian Molly McGrew who mistakenly drives the bookmobile into the zoo and soon has all the animals hooked on reading and writing. The book is a riot of clever word play, and there are a lot of charming little touches – the crocodiles end up reading Peter Pan; the giraffes prefer tall books about skyscrapers and redwood trees. The conclusion: there’s something for everybody at the library – and you can even write your own books too. For ages 3-7.
  Wild About Books has discussion questions and varied activities to accompany the book.
  In Toni Buzzeo’s No T. Rex in the Library (Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2010), Tess – who wears great striped stockings – is out of control. “TIME OUT!” her mother shouts. Then Tess, sent to sit next to a library cart, tips over a stack of books, from one of which leaps a rampaging T. rex. A lesson in how not to behave in the library for ages 3-5.
  Lois Grambling’s Can I Bring Woolly to the Library, Ms. Reeder? (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2012) is an object lesson in library etiquette and procedure as a little boy attempts to bring his woolly mammoth to the library. (No thumping or bellowing.) For ages 4-8.
  Marni McGee’s Winston the Book Wolf (Walker Children’s Books, 2006) is a literary take on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. Winston the Wolf likes nothing better than to eat books – to the point where he’s been banned from the local library for his destructive chewing. Luckily he meets a little girl named Rosie (wearing a red hoodie and carrying a basket) who shows him that it’s better to read books than to eat them. Soon Winston is an avid reader – and Rosie even comes up with a scheme for smuggling him back into the library, disguised in her Grandma’s clothes. Soon the reformed Book Wolf is reading to groups of kids at storytime. For ages 3-7.
  If Winston catches your fancy, also check out Oliver Jeffers’s The Incredible Book Eating Boy (Philomel, 2007) in which Henry devours books – that is, he chews them up and eats them, and the more he eats, the smarter he gets. Eventually, however, Henry’s habit brings on a massive case of physical and mental indigestion – and he has to find a better way to interact with books. Wonderful cartoon-style illustrations enhance the story. For ages 4-8.
  In Daniel Kirk’s The Library Mouse (Harry N. Abrams, 2007), Sam – a mouse – lives in a hole in the library behind the children’s reference book section. Every night, after the library is closed, he reads to his heart’s content – and soon he decides to start writing as well. He tucks his first work – Squeak! A Mouse’s Life – into the library’s biography section; then follows up with The Lonely Cheese and The Mystery of Mouse Mansion. The curious librarian invites Sam to a “Meet the Author Day,” which Sam turns into a writing workshop, with participating kids producing their own books. Several sequels. For ages 4-8.
  The World of Library Mouse is a teaching guide to accompany the Library Mouse books.
  In Mary Ann Fraser’s I.Q. Goes to the Library (Walker Children’s Books, 2003), I.Q. – a bright and curious little mouse who lives in an elementary-school classroom – accompanies the kids on a trip to the library. The big worry: will I.Q. be able to get a library card? For ages 4-8.
  In Brian Lies’s Bats at the Library (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2008), a window left open at the library leads to an exciting adventure for a colony of bats, who zoom through the building taking pictures of themselves with the copier, swimming in the fountain, and holding a storytime for young bats featuring such bat favorites as Goodnight Sun and Little Red Riding Bat. For ages 4-8.
  A teacher’s guide to accompany Bats at the Library, includes discussion questions and suggestions for such activities as performing a bat shadow play, reviewing an insect book (pretend you’re a bat), and drawing an aerial map of your house.
  In Reeve Lindbergh’s rhyming Homer, the Library Cat (Candlewick, 2011), orange-striped Homer is a quiet cat who leads a peaceful existence with a quiet owner – until one day a tremendous CRASH frightens him into leaping out the window. Finally, after contending with a very noisy world, he finds his owner in another quiet place – she’s the town librarian – and the relieved Homer becomes the library cat. For ages 4-8.
  In Patricia Lakin’s Clarence the Copy Cat (Dragonfly Books, 2007), pacifist Clarence – booted from Sam’s Sandwich Shop for his refusal to harm mice – finds a happy home in the local library, where he particularly enjoys sitting on top of the copy machine. Then, to Clarence’s horror, a book-chewing mouse moves in. Clarence’s mouse machinations are hilarious and the eventual solution – which involves the copy machine – scares the mouse away once and for all. For ages 4-8.
  By Vicki Myron and Bret Witter, Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2009) is the (true) picture-book story of the little kitten librarian Myron found in the return box at her Iowa public library. Named Dewey Readmore Books, the kitten, nursed back to health, grew up to become the official library cat and won over the entire town. For ages 4-8.
  Also by Myron and Witter, Dewey the Library Cat (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2010) is a more detailed 200+-page version of the story for ages 9-14.
  Learn more about Dewey.
  See a short history of library cats – apparently they’ve been prowling libraries since the days of ancient Egypt.
  In Michelle Knudsen’s Library Lion (Candlewick, 2009), Miss Merriweather, head librarian, allows Lion to stay at the library provided that he breaks no rules – despite the disapproval of uptight circulation assistant Mr. McBee. Lion proves to be a great help – he dusts shelves with his tail, licks envelopes, and serves as a comfy backrest for young readers – but when Miss Merriweather falls and breaks an arm, he summons help with a tremendous ROAR. Upset by his breaking of the rules, Lion vanishes from the library, only to return when it becomes clear how much he is missed. For ages 4-8.
  From the publisher, see this story hour activity guide to accompany Library Lion.
  Susan G. Larkin’s Top Cats: The Life and Times of the New York Public Library Lions (Pomegranate, 2007) is an 80-page history of Patience and Fortitude, the much-loved marble lions that flank the entrance to the New York Public Library, illustrated with dozens of photographs, cartoons, prints, and drawings. The book is available as a free downloadable e-book.
  For a short online history of the NYPL lions (with accompanying photo of Patience), visit the library’s website here.

All About Libraries

  Check It Out! The Book About Libraries by Gail Gibbons (Sandpiper, 1988) is a brightly illustrated non-fiction picture book on the many aspects of the library, including the history of libraries, the many different kinds of libraries today (from the small and local to the massive Library of Congress), and an explanation of how libraries are organized. Readers also learn what a card catalog is and find out how to check out a book. For ages 4-8.
  Sonya Terry’s L is for Library (Upstart Books, 2006) is an alphabetical tour of the library, led by an orange cat and a flock of obstreperous yellow ducklings. A is for Author, B for Book, D for Dewey Decimal System. For ages 5-8.
  The ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children has library-based activities for kids, program suggestions for parents, educators, and librarians, games and puzzles, recommended book lists, and more.
  Dotti Enderle’s The Library Gingerbread Man (Upstart Books, 2010) is a mash-up of the familiar tale about the runaway cookie and the Dewey Decimal system. The Gingerbread Man escapes from his place at 398.2 and sets off at a mad dash around the library, pursued by the librarian, with help from a wizardly thesaurus at 423.1 (who shouts “Stop! Cease! Halt! Freeze! Stay!”), a robot (629.892), and a cast of characters in the biographical 920s, including Harriet Tubman and Amelia Earhart. For ages 6-9.
A lesson to accompany The Library Gingerbread Man has kid-friendly tutorials on the Dewey Decimal System and an exercise on ordering decimal numbers.
  By Carol K. Lee and Janet Langford, Learning about Books and Libraries (Highsmith, 2000) is a collection of 47 educational games for kids, variously covering book genres, bibliographies, research resources, and library map skills. For ages 5-12.
  See Children’s Literature Education for a seven-unit multidisciplinary study unit, “Introduction to the Library,” encompassing literature, technology, math, art, and writing. Topics covered include library resources, the parts of a book, book genres, and the Dewey Decimal System. Adaptable for ages 6-12.
  Let’s Do Dewey has a brief biography of Melvil Dewey and a tutorial on the Dewey Decimal Classification System.
The Dewey Decimal System (“Do We Really Know Dewey?”) with a printable quiz is a student-designed Thinkquest.
See the Internet Public Library for the Dewey Decimal System on a single convenient printable sheet (beginning with 000 Generalities).
See Wikipedia’s Library classification entry for an overview of classification systems, including the Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, and Bliss bibliographic systems.
  From the Utah Education Network, Library Media Lesson Plans has Dewey Decimal games, exercises on shelving and finding books, suggestions for literature circles, and a library treasure hunt. Lessons are categorized by grade (3-12).
  The Book Disaster is a challenge for upper-elementary students: the library has been knocked down, the books are in piles. Kids must create a Dewey Decimal System handbook for getting the books back in order.
shelveit At Mrs. Lodge’s Library, Shelve-It is a great little interactive game in which players put fiction books in order by call number.
  The books on your bookshelves – what they are, how you arrange them – says a lot about you. Leah Price’s Unpacking My Library (Yale University Press, 2011), illustrated with great color photographs, describes the personal libraries of thirteen well-known writers, among them Alison Bechdel, Philip Pullman, Jonathan Lethem, and Steven Pinker. For older teenagers and adults.
  Learn how to search the collections of famous libraries and museums.  Included are the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institute, the British Library, and the National Library of Scotland.
  By librarian Matthew Battles, Library: An Unquiet History  (W.W. Norton & Company, 2004) is the story of the difficult lives of libraries from ancient times to the present. They’ve been burned, banned, shunned, and now (some argue) just possibly rendered obsolete, but still they survive. For older teenagers and adults.
  Stuart A.P. Murray’s The Library: An Illustrated History (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009) is a 300+-page history of libraries from the clay tablets of Assyria to the modern media center, crammed with fascinating stories and illustrated with wonderful prints, paintings, and photographs. For older teenagers and adults.
  Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night (Yale University Press, 2009) is a marvelous and eccentric history of the life, times, and functions of books and libraries, both public and personal, with such chapter titles as “The Library as Myth,” “The Library as Order,” “The Library as Island,” and “The Library as Identity.” Libraries, says Manguel, are “pleasantly mad places.” For older teenagers and adults.
  The History of Libraries Through the Ages is a reader-friendly hyperlinked chronology, illustrated with prints and photographs, beginning with an Assyrian clay tablet.
Barbara Krasner-Khalt’s Survivor: The History of the Library is a short illustrated history of libraries from ancient times to the present from History Magazine.
  For a history of the Library of Congress, see Jefferson’s Legacy or take a virtual tour of the library.
The Library History Buff has an interesting assortment of library-related resources, including “Postal Librariana” (libraries on postcards and postage stamps), an extensive list of library history links, and galleries of library artifacts.
  Get your own library cards! A pack of 50, complete with lines for title, author, due date, and borrower’s name, costs $4.99 from Amazon. Also available: library card pockets.


  Juli Cummins’s The Inside-Outside Book of Libraries (Dragonfly Books, 2008) is an exploration of thirteen very different libraries, with detailed illustrations showing both the inside and outside of each. Included are a library on board an aircraft carrier, a tiny one-room library on an island off North Carolina, a prison library, a library for the blind, and a library that lends tools rather than books. For ages 6-9.
BMP_8932_JT.indd Barb Rosenstock’s Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library (Calkins Creek, 2013) explains how young Tom Jefferson discovered that he loved books and eventually amassed the wonderful collection that became the Library of Congress. A delightful and cleverly designed picture book for ages 6-10.
  The Little Free Library is a community project to establish tiny free book-exchange libraries in towns across the nation. The website has information, suggestions, a gallery of tiny libraries, building plans, and more. A terrific group project.
  The Gentleman Scholar has a gorgeous photo gallery of famous libraries of the world.
  Beautiful Libraries is an image gallery of the most beautiful libraries in the world depicted in paintings, prints, and photographs. Libraries are categorized as modest, grand, truly grand, academic, royal, historical (and more); also included are libraries in art, film, and myth.
  World Literature Today has photos and descriptions of ten unusual libraries, among them the Argentinian “Weapon of Mass Instruction,” phone box libraries, the Bondi Beach Outdoor Bookcase, and a German library built from beer crates.


  In Carla Morris’s The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians (Peachtree Publishers, 2007), Melvin, a curious bespectacled little boy, loves the library and its three librarians (Marge, Leeola, and Betty) who are a never-failing source of information and support. They help Melvin identify the creepy bugs in his collection (which promptly escape from the jar), bolster him by finding helpful passages from Organic Gardening when he’s chosen to play an eggplant in the school play, and provide resources when he competes in the school spelling bee. Eventually Marvin grows up and goes to college, and as the book ends, a new little boy arrives at the library, where Marvin is now a librarian. For ages 4-9.
  In M.G. King’s Librarian on the Roof! (Albert Whitman and Company, 2010), when the new librarian arrives at the library in Lockhart, Texas, she finds to her dismay that no children use it. Determined to create a children’s room, she decides to camp out on the library roof until enough money is raised for a library addition – and eventually, inspired, the town rallies round. Based on a true story. For ages 6-9.
  Pat Mora’s Tomas and the Library Lady (Dragonfly Books, 2000) is the story of Tomas, child of a family of migrant workers, who – having heard all the stories that his grandfather, Papa Grande, has to tell – is sent to the library to find more. There he meets an understanding librarian who introduces Tomas to an entire world of books. The book is based on the life story of Mexican-American author and educator Tomas Rivers. For ages 4-8.
  William Miller’s Richard Wright and the Library Card (Lee & Low, 1999) is a story taken from author Wright’s autobiographical Black Boy, which details his experiences growing up black in the segregated South of the 1920s. Miller’s picture book describes how Wright as a teenager was barred from checking out books from the local public library – a privilege accorded only to whites – until a white co-worker helped him circumvent the rules. Books, for Wright, are a ticket to freedom, and by the end of the book, with a wealth of reading under his belt, he’s on his way to Chicago to start a new life. For ages 6-10.
  See Richard Wright and the Library Card for a teacher’s guide with discussion questions and activities to accompany the book.
  How would you get your library books if you lived, say, on the islands off the coast of Finland or in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert? Margriet Ruurs’s My Librarian is a Camel (Boyds Mills Press, 2005) describes how isolated areas in thirteen different countries get access to books – for example, via elephant, camel, boat, donkey cart, and wheelbarrow. The book is illustrated with color photographs; sidebars provide maps and information on each of the featured countries. For ages 8-12.
  Visit Margriet Ruurs’s website for a teacher’s guide to accompany My Librarian is a Camel and information on “adopting” (donating books to) a mobile library.
  Based on the real-life work of librarian Luis Soriano, Monica Brown’s Waiting for the Biblioburro (Tricycle Press, 2011), is the picture-book story of Ana who lives with her family in a tiny village in rural Colombia. Ana loves stories and longs for books, and her life is changed when a wonderful man arrives with two book-laden burros. For ages 4-8.
  Luis Soriano himself is the protagonist of Jeanette Winter’s picture book Biblioburro (Beach Lane Books, 2010).  Luis so loves to read that his house can barely hold his piles of books – so he loads up his burros and sets off for faraway villages to share his love of books and reading with the children there. The message is not only pro-book, it’s that one determined person can make a difference. For ages 4-8.
  Heather Henson’s That Book Woman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008) is the story of young Cal, who lives with his parents and sister Lark high in the mountains of Appalachia. When the Book Woman arrives on horseback with her pack of books, his sister Lark – “the readenest child you ever did see” – is delighted, but Cal insists that books are not for him. Finally, though, impressed by the Book Woman’s determination, he asks Lark to teach him to read. The book is based on the Pack Horse Librarians of the 1930s, participants in a WPA program to deliver books to people in isolated regions. For ages 7-11.
  For a photo gallery of Pack Horse Librarians, see the New Deal Network.
  By Susan Roth and Karen Leggett Abouraya, Hands Around the Library (Dial, 2012) is the story of how Egyptian students and librarians literally joined hands and formed a ring around the Bibliotheca Alexandrina to protect it during the overthrow of the Egyptian government in the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. The simple text is accompanied by bright blended collages. An appendix has information about ancient and modern libraries and the Egyptian Revolution of January, 2011. For ages 6-9.
  Jeanette Winter’s The Librarian of Basra (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2005) is the story of librarian Alia Muhammad Baker who, in the days of the Iraq war, managed to move all her library’s books to safety. An inspirational story with a lot of opportunity for discussion. For ages 7-10.
  Also see Alia’s Mission by Mark Alan Stamaty (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2004), a graphic-novel account of Baker’s accomplishment, for ages 9-13.
  In Natalie Kinsey-Warnock’s Lumber Camp Library (HarperCollins, 2003), set in early twentieth-century Vermont, ten-year-old Ruby lives with her family in a lumber camp. Then her father drowns in a logging accident, her mother takes a job as lumber-camp cook, and Ruby is forced to drop out of school to take care of her ten younger siblings. She’s miserable – until Mrs. Graham, a neighbor, offers to share her books. Soon Ruby is teaching some of the lumberjacks how to read – and eventually she goes on to become a teacher and to found a lumber camp library. For ages 8-11.
  Can you name a famous librarian? See the top 25 in history or the 25 Famous Librarians Who Changed History.
  From Library Journal, How to Become a Librarian sums up my dream as a child.


  In David A. Adler’s Young Cam Jansen series, Cam – her nickname is short for “camera” – has a photographic memory, which helps her solve mild mysteries. In Young Cam Jansen and the Library Mystery (Puffin, 2002), for example, Cam, her father, and friend Eric visit the library where Cam first checks out a mystery, then solves an actual mystery involving a missing shopping list. For ages 5-8.
  In Gertrude Chandler Warner’s The Deserted Library Mystery – a volume in the Boxcar Children series – Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny set out to save an old boarded-up library from being torn down, and end up dealing with a mysterious intruder and a Civil War sword. For ages 7-10.
  In Eth Clifford’s Help! I’m a Prisoner in the Library (Sandpiper, 2004), sisters Mary Rose and Jo-Beth – prosaically looking for a bathroom – end up locked in a peculiar library full of eerie Victorian artifacts. In a blizzard. A mild mystery for ages 7-10.
  In Dori Hillestad Butler’s The Buddy Files: The Case of the Library Monster (Albert Whitman and Company, 2012), detective dog Buddy – also therapy dog at the Four Lakes Elementary School – tackles the mystery of the elusive creature (ghost? monster?) in the school library. Told in the first person by Buddy, who makes great paw-print-bulleted lists. For ages 7-10.
  In Avi’s Who Stole the Wizard of Oz? (Yearling, 1990), Toby’s twin sister Becky has been accused of stealing a rare copy of The Wizard of Oz from the library. Together they set out to clear her name and discover the real thief. A suspenseful mystery involving clever bookish clues. For ages 7-10.
  Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lover’s Mystery series stars Lindsey Norris, library director of the Briar Creek Public Library, who – in this growing series of bookish books – solves mysteries in her spare time. In Books Can Be Deceiving (Berkley, 2011), Lindsey’s friend Beth – children’s librarian and hopeful author – is suspected of murdering a visiting New York City editor. For older teenagers and adults.


  J. Patrick Lewis’s Please Bury Me in the Library (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2005) is an illustrated collection of sixteen bookish poems, among them “What If Books Had Different Names?”  For ages 7-11.
  Please Bury Me in the Library has writing activities based on the book – though I’d suggest modifying the activity for the poem “Great Good Bad,” which describes how Lewis, the author, feels about great, good, and bad books. “Because one student does not like a particular book does not mean that everyone does not or should not agree,” writes the teacher, who further suggests that bad books be omitted from the discussion. A dreadful idea. Everybody loves a lively discussion of what constitutes a bad book.
  Read Nikki Giovanni’s My First Memory (of Librarians).
Read In the Library by Charles Simic.
Read Branch Library by Edward Hirsch.
  See In a Library by Emily Dickinson.


  In William Joyce’s picture book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012), after a dreadful windstorm sweeps away everything he owns, Morris meets a lady who gives him a mysterious flying book. The book leads him to an extraordinary library where many flying books “nest,” and there Morris settles down to live, read, care for the books, and write a book of his own. Years pass, and finally Morris finishes writing his book and decides that it’s time to move on. Away he flies, pulled by a flock of flying books – but leaving his own book behind. Then a little girl arrives – and Morris Lessmore’s book flies up to her and opens its pages. And she begins to read. A visually gorgeous and fascinating surreal story for ages 4 and up.
imgres-2 In Edward Eager’s Seven-Day Magic (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1999), five children find a mysterious red book at the library that grants wishes. They have an adventurous week with a dragon, a wizard, and a spot of time travel – but the book has to be returned to the library in seven days. For ages 8-12.
  Michael Dahl’s Attack of the Paper Bats (Stone Arch Books, 2007) is the first of the Library of Doom series, in which a mysterious Librarian presides over a fearsome collection of the world’s most dangerous books. Here, a strange book falls open, its pages flutter in the wind, and turn into razor-sharp paper bats. Other titles in the series include The Creeping Bookends, The Golden Book of Death, and The Smashing Scroll. For ages 9-12.
imgres-1 In Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Scholastic, 2007), the evil Librarians have a powerful secret network and are plotting to take over the world. Up against them are 13-year-old Alcatraz Smedley and company – all named for famous prisons, and armed with Talents and amazing glasses. Alcatraz, whose Talent is for breaking things, receives a gift on his 13th birthday from his missing parents: a bag of sand, which is promptly stolen. It turns out that the sand is important: it can be used to forge special lenses through which Alcatraz will be able to read the mysterious Forgotten Language. The first of a series for ages 9-12.
  In Jorge Luis Borges’s famous short story “The Library of Babel,” the universe is a library – an infinite expanse of interlocking hexagonal rooms, each filled with bookshelves. The library, though its order seems random and meaningless, is believed to contain all knowledge, but the difficulty in finding anything in it has led the despairing inhabitants to propose various courses of action. See the text of The Library of Babel online. A classic for older teenagers and adults.
  In the 1994 film The Pagemaster, 10-year-old Richard fears practically everything and is obsessed with safety statistics. Caught in a thunderstorm, he stumbles into a peculiar library where he is transformed into a book illustration – and can only escape by navigating the library’s fiction section to find the exit. With the help of three anthropomorphic books – Adventure, Fantasy, and Horror – Richard deals with  characters from classic literature, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Long John Silver and his pirate band, a fire-breathing dragon, and a lot of hostile Lilliputians. He emerges a far braver boy. Rated G. Available on DVD.
Posted in History, Literature | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Gourds: Birdhouses, Banjos, Stars, and the Blood of a King


Growing gourds – inedible hard-shelled cousins of the pumpkin and squash – is a wonderful gardening project for kids. Gourds come in all shapes and sizes, have catchy names, are simple to prepare (you pick them and let them sit), and just one hill or two will supply you with lots. And you can do all kinds of things with them.

Should you lack the time or space to grow your own, you can buy them. Try any farmer’s market in fall.

Amish Gourds, year round, sells clean dried gourds for crafters, tools and craft supplies, gourd birdhouse kits, gourd craft books, and more.

And, as it turns out, there’s more to gourds than meets the eye.


  Charles B. Heiser’s The Gourd Book (University of Oklahoma Press, 1993) is a fascinating and information-crammed account of the science, history, uses, and multicultural folklore of gourds. Learn all about biblical gourds, medicinal gourds, musical gourds, and ocean-going gourds. For older teenagers and adults.
  People have been using gourds for some 10,000 years. The Domestication of the Bottle Gourd has historical background info, a list of archaeological sites associated with gourds, and a hyperlinked resource list.
  From the Wayne’s Word online natural history textbook, The Wild and Wonderful World of Gourds is a fascinating and detailed illustrated history of the gourd family, with reference list, growing instructions, and seed sources. Learn about Argentinian yerba mate cups (gourds), the 19th-century national currency of Haiti (gourds), and the penis sheath gourds of New Guinea.
  For beginning gourd growers, Ohio State University Extension’s Growing and Curing Gourds in the Home Garden is a helpful fact sheet, with an accompanying list of seed suppliers. Grow a Penguin, a Caveman’s Club, or a bathtub’s-worth of Luffas.
  The Gourd Reserve has an illustrated Gourd ID Chart, a history of purple martins and birdhouse gourds, a list of native American gourd uses, instructions for harvesting, cleaning, and drying gourds, and galleries of gourd art.
  The American Gourd Society is a national organization that promotes all things gourd, from cultivation to crafts to competitions. The Society publishes a quarterly Gourd Magazine (each issue includes informational articles and a “Kid’s Korner” gourd project). An annual membership costs $15. Visit the website for a photo gallery of spectacular art gourds.
  A National Geographic’s Gourds Puzzler, kids can solve a series of simple online gourd jigsaw puzzles made from great color photographs of real gourds.


  The Gourd Dollhouse Tutorial has simple illustrated step-by-step instructions for making dollhouses from birdhouse or bottle gourds. Younger kids will need some help – the project calls for a Dremel tool and sandpaper – but the end result is irresistible.
  Or what about a gnome home? Fans of fairy gardens will love building gnome homes with gourds. For suggestions and photos, see How to Build a Gnome Home
  Gorgeous Gourds is a project for making fanciful little people from small ornamental gourds and other natural materials.
  For illustrated step-by-step instructions for making a gourd birdhouse, see Birds & Blooms.
  Jamaican Gourds has instructions for making a flower-patterned Jamaican gourd basket. Requires a drill and a wood-burning tool.
  By Ginger Summit and Jim Widess, The Complete Book of Gourd Craft (Sally Miner Publishing, 1998) has 22 projects, 55 decorative techniques, and lots of helpful color photographs for would-be gourd crafters.
  Making Gourd Musical Instruments by Ginger Summit and Jim Widess (Sterling, 2007) has instructions for making and playing over sixty different string, wind, and percussion instruments – all made from gourds – along with a lot of interesting historical background information and some gorgeous gourd photographs.  Try making your own fipple flute, water drum, kalimba (thumb piano), or temple gong. For all ages.
  The Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra plays “Paleolithic lounge music” on instruments made from locally grown gourds. The site includes photos of the instruments and audio clips of gourd music.
  The (almost) definitive history of gourd banjos ranges from Africa to the West Indies, colonial America, and the western frontier. Also at the site are a gallery of gourd banjos and selections of gourd banjo music.
  Learn all about the shekere – a beaded gourd rattle, originally from West Africa – and find out how to make and play one of your own.
  Make a Native American Rattle has complete illustrated instructions for a terrific gourd-based rattle. (You’ll also need paint and a dowel stick.)


  F.N. Monjo’s The Drinking Gourd (HarperCollins, 1993) is the story of a family fleeing north to escape slavery, using the Big Dipper (the “Drinking Gourd”) as a directional guide. They shelter at Deacon Fuller’s house, which is a station on the Underground Railroad, where young Tommy Fuller discovers them – and has a soul-searching discussion with his father about breaking the law. For ages 5-8.
  In Jeanette Winters’s Follow the Drinking Gourd (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2008), an old sailor named Peg Leg Joe travels from plantation to plantation in the days before the Civil War, teaching the slaves the words to a song that holds the key to the way north to freedom. Illustrated with dramatic paintings. For ages 5-8.
  Follow the Drinking Gourd: A Cultural History is a history of the “Follow the Drinking Gourd” folk song, with an explanation of what the lyrics mean, audio clips of performances, a children’s book list, and a teacher’s guide.
  Franklyn M. Branley’s The Big Dipper (HarperCollins, 1991), one of the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out science series, is an introduction to the Dipper/Drinking Gourd. Included is a diagram showing the changing position of the Dipper in the night sky through the seasons of the year, and the names of all the Dipper’s stars. For ages 4-8.
  E.C. Krupp’s The Big Dipper and You (HarperTrophy, 1999) is sadly out of print, but worth tracking down through libraries and used-book sources. In this 48-page overview of the northern hemisphere’s best-known asterism (that is, a part of a constellation), readers learn why the Dipper handle hangs down (like an icicle) in winter) and points up (like a dipper full of cold lemonade) in summer, and discover that the ancient Persians used the second (double) star in the Dipper’s handle as a test of eyesight. For ages 6-10.
  Nancy I. Sanders’s D is for Drinking Gourd (Sleeping Bear Press, 2011) is an African-American alphabet book in which each letter stands for an event, cultural feature, or influential person in African-American history. A, for example, is for Abolitionist, D for Drinking Gourd, K for Kwanzaa, and X for Malcolm X. Each letter is accompanied by a four-line poem, an explanatory historical note, and a full-page watercolor painting. For ages 6-10.
  This detailed Teacher’s Guide to accompany D is for Drinking Gourd has vocabulary lists, exercises and puzzles, templates for publishing an abolitionist newspaper, a reader’s theater play (“From Station to Station on the Underground Railroad”), and a Who Am I? quiz on famous African-Americans.


  In James Rumford’s Calabash Cat and His Amazing Journey (Houghton Mifflin, 2003), a curious cat sets out from Africa to see where the world ends. He travels across desert, grassland, jungle, and ocean, helped by many animals along the way, all drawn in a stylized fashion that imitates the gourd art of the Kotoko people of Chad. For ages 4-8.
  The Calabash Kids is a folktale from Tanzania, told by Aaron Shepard, in which a lonely old woman prays to the Great Mountain Spirit for help, and receives a gift of gourd seeds. Once the gourds are grown, picked, and dried, they magically turn into children. There’s also a useful lesson here about the evils of name-calling. For ages 3-9.
  The Magic Gourd by Baba Wague Diakite (Scholastic, 2003) is a retelling of an African folktale in which Rabbit saves a chameleon from a thorn bush, and is given in reward a magic gourd that fills with anything its owner wishes for. When the gourd is stolen by a greedy king, Chameleon and Rabbit join forces to teach him a valuable lesson. For ages 6-10.
  In Disney’s live-action Chinese fantasy The Secret of the Magic Gourd (2007), eleven-year-old Ray (or Wang Bao), imaginative but lazy, finds a Magic Gourd (named Bailey) that will grant him anything he wishes for, provided he keeps the gourd a secret. Ray’s wishes, however, continually lead to disaster – a lot of the things Ray wishes for, for example, Bailey simply steals from someone else. The lessons ultimately learned have to do with honesty, the value of work, and the benefits of doing things for oneself. Made in China, in Chinese; viewers have a choice of English dubbing or subtitles. Available on DVD, or from Amazon Instant Video. Rated G. For ages 5-10.
  Animated Tales of the World has teaching suggestions, discussion questions, follow-up activities, and resources to accompany The Secret of the Magic Gourd.
  Volume 4 in the 10-book Korean Folktales for Children series (Duance Vorhees, Mark Mueller, and Pak Mi-Son; Hollym International, 1990) has illustrated versions of two traditional children’s stories: “The Seven Brothers and the Big Dipper” and “Hungbu, Nolbu, and the Magic Gourds.” In this last, a bird gives a pair of brothers, one kind and generous, one greedy and mean, some magic gourd seeds. The text is in both English and Korean. For ages 6-10.
  Caren Ke’ala Loebel-Fried’s Legend of the Gourd (Bishop Museum Press, 2010), gorgeously illustrated with woodcuts, is a picture-book interpretation of a magical Hawaiian folktale that explains how the people of Kamaoa Plain came to be called the People of the Gourd. For ages 6 and up.


  The blood of King Louis XVI – guillotined during the French Revolution – may be hidden inside a…gourd. Really. Read all about it here
  Also see Bloody Gourd May Contain a Beheaded King’s DNA from Wired Science.
Posted in Food/Cooking, Plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chickens, Chicks, and Little Red Hens


September is National Chicken Month. (Celebrate?) See below for chicken books, chicken mummies, a dinosaur made from chicken bones, and Emily Dickinson’s opinion of why the chicken crossed the road.

Read More »

Posted in Animals | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Response

Famous Potatoes


We’ve got a National Potato Month (September) and a National Potato Day (August 19), but potatoes, frankly, are interesting (and fun) any time of the year.

Famous incidents in the life of the potato include Richard Dreyfuss’s mashed-potato sculpture in Close Encounters of the Third Kind; Dan Quayle’s career-crushing 1992 misspelling of POTATO(E); the debut (in 1952) of the perennially popular Mr. Potato Head; and the deciphering of the potato genome, which is when we discovered that potatoes have more genes than we do. And, of course, there’s much more.

  Rebecca Rupp’s How Carrots Won the Trojan War (Storey Publishing, 2011) – a reader-friendly overview of the history and science of garden vegetables from Asparagus to Turnip – includes a chapter on potatoes. Learn about Henry VIII’s favorite pie, Marie Antoinette’s potato-blossom hair-do, John Dillinger’s potato-based escape from jail, and the devastating 18th-century Potato War. Intended for adults, but there’s something interesting here for all.


  Aubrey Davis’s The Enormous Potato (Kids Can Press, 1999) is a re-telling of the familiar folktale in which a farmer grows the most enormous – say, potato – in the world, which requires the help of every person and creature in sight to unearth. Similar huge vegetable tales include Aleksei Tolstoy’s The Gigantic Turnip (Barefoot Books, 2009), Jan Peck’s The Giant Carrot (Dial, 1998), Cherie Stihler’s The Giant Cabbage (Sasquatch Books, 2003) and Dianne de las Casas’s The Gigantic Sweet Potato (Pelican Publishing, 2010). For ages 4-7.
For a lesson plan to accompany The Enormous Potato, see The Enormous Kinder Garden (subtitled “Books about planting enormous things”).
  In Tomie de Paola’s Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato (Puffin, 1997), Jamie – the laziest man in Ireland – is used to having his wife, Eileen, do all the work. Then Eileen wrenches her back and is laid up in bed, and it’s all over to Jamie – who captures a leprechaun and gets a seed for the biggest potato (pratie) ever.  For ages 4-8.
  In Michael Ian Black’s delightful picture book I’m Bored (Simon & Schuster, 2012), a bored little girl in pigtails is smacked down by an equally bored potato, who announces that kids are the ultimate in boring. Outraged, the girl sets out to show the potato how creative and fun kids can be, what with games, acrobatics, and imaginative pretend play, in which she becomes everything from a ballerina to a pirate. (“Boring,” the potato responds.) Reverse psychology with a twist for ages 3-8.
I’m Bored at illustrator Debbie Ohi’s website has activities to accompany the book. For example, kids write their own story pages, make potato prints, and learn to say “I’m bored” in a dozen different languages.
  In John Coy’s Two Old Potatoes and Me (Dragonfly Books, 2009), with wonderful illustrations by Carolyn Fisher,  a little girl is about to toss a pair of old sprouted potatoes into the trash, when her dad suggests that they plant them instead. They do, and raise a new crop of potatoes. The greater message has to do with conservation, intergenerational relationships, and the survival of family after divorce. For ages 5-8.
A Dads & Kids Book Club lesson plan for Two Old Potatoes and Me for preschoolers and early-elementary-level kids includes discussion questions and suggested activities, among them making potato prints and cooking mashed potatoes with creative toppings.
  Kate Lied’s Potato: A Tale from the Great Depression (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2002) is a family story, originally written by an eight-year-old about her grandparents, Clarence and Agnes. When the Great Depression hit, Clarence lost his job – so they borrowed a car and drove to Idaho to work digging potatoes. A perk of the job was that they were allowed to dig leftovers to keep – and at the end of the harvest season, they headed home, loaded with potatoes to carry them through the winter. For ages 5-8.
  In Anita Lobel’s Potatoes, Potatoes (Greenwillow Books, 2004), neighboring countries are at war and, rather than tending their crops and chickens, the people spend all their time making cannonballs, sharpening swords, and sewing buttons on soldiers’ uniforms. Except, that is, for one woman, who builds a wall around her little farm to protect her potatoes and her two sons.  Eventually, however, the boys grow up and decide that they too want to become soldiers – and end up as commanders of opposing armies. When the war destroys their mother’s home, however, they realize the dreadful damage that they’ve done – and at last the war ends. A good discussion book for ages 5-8.
  In Kathleen D. Lindsey’s Sweet Potato Pie (Lee & Low Books, 2008), set in the early 1900s, crops have failed due to drought and eight-year-old Sadie’s family is at risk of losing their farm. All that has survived are the sweet potatoes – so, in a bid to save their home, the whole family pitches in to make and sell sweet potato pies. A lovely family story for ages 5-9.
From the Powell Center for Economic Literacy, Sweet Potato Pie is an economics-based lesson plan to accompany the book, targeted at grades 1-3.
  This recipe for Old-Fashioned Sweet Potato Pie comes from the Food Network.
  In Erin Berlin’s The Potato Chip Puzzles (Puffin, 2010), puzzle-lover Winston Breen and friends enter a puzzle competition sponsored by potato chip magnate Dmitri Simon in an attempt to win a huge cash prize for their school. The plot involves a zealous math teacher, a lot of brain-bending puzzles, and a dangerous saboteur. For ages 8-12. Other puzzle-filled Winston Breen mysteries include The Puzzling World of Winston Breen (Puffin, 2009) and The Puzzler’s Mansion (Putnam Juvenile Books, 2012).
For synopses of the books and downloadable copies of the puzzles, visit The Puzzling World of Winston Breen.
  In Ellen Raskin’s The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues (Puffin, 2011), teenaged art student Dickory Dock takes a job as painter’s assistant at 12 Cobble Lane and ends up helping the painter and friends solve crimes. For ages 10 and up.
  Bake a batch of Tattooed Potatoes with this recipe from Dish ‘n’ That.
  Potatoes are about all there is to eat on the occupied island of Guernsey during World War II. Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Dial Press, 2009) is a wonderful epistolary novel that begins when – just post-World-War-II – author Juliet Ashton gets a letter from Guernsey pig farmer Dawsey Adams, written because one of her books found its way into his hands. Juliet becomes increasingly involved with the islanders and their experiences under the Nazis – a story that is tragic, brave, and hopeful, with a lovely happy ending. For teenagers and adults.


  Ellen Weiss’s From Eye to Potato (Children’s Press, 2007) is an overview of the life cycle of the potato, with a simple text and terrific color photographs. For ages 4-7.
  Rosalind Creasy’s Blue Potatoes, Orange Tomatoes (Sierra Club Books for Children, 2000) is a picture-book gardening guide to growing vegetables in out-of-the-ordinary colors – not only blue potatoes and orange tomatoes, but red popcorn, yellow watermelon, and purple string beans. For ages 6-9.
  Ellen Rodger’s The Biography of Potatoes (Crabtree Publishing, 2007) is one of the How Did They Get Here? Series, each volume of which traces the history and global impact of such staples as chocolate, coffee, cotton, rice, rubber, sugar, tomatoes, wheat, wool – and, here, potatoes. The book, in 32 illustrated pages, covers the life and times of potatoes, from their origin in the Andes Mountains of Peru – the Incas grew them – through their impact on workers’ diets, the Irish potato famine, potato farming today, and modern potato products. For ages 7-11.
  By Deborah Peterson and Millicent Selsam, Don’t Throw It, Grow It! (Storey Publishing, 2008) has instructions for growing 68 different windowsill plants from kitchen scraps – among them a potted potato. Fun for all.
  In Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire (Random House, 2002), a fascinating discussion of the convoluted relationships between human beings and plants, the section on the potato covers the history of the potato and the way in which biotechnology – via genetic engineering – is changing the potato’s future. Highly recommended for teenagers and adults.
  From the UK Potato Council, Grow Your Own Potatoes is a multi-part lesson plan, with instructions, printable fact sheets and worksheets, activities, interactive games, and recipes. The twelve lessons are categorized under “Growing Potatoes,” “Knowing Potatoes,” “Healthy Eating and Potatoes,” and “Cooking Potatoes.”
  Potatoes: Goodness Unearthed has recipes, resources for educators, a fact-filled Potato Party coloring book, printable activity sheets, a great “DIG THIS” potato poster, and more.
  From Mashed to Riches is a lesson plan targeted at grades K-3 in which kids learn about the various kids of potatoes, make potato prints, sprout sweet potatoes and keep a potato journal, play a game of “Hot Potato,” and make mashed potatoes.
  From the USDA’s Team Nutrition, Sweet Potato Hill is a preschool lesson booklet on sweet potatoes with projects, worksheets, and recipes.
  From Fordham University’s Modern History Sourcebook, Accounts of the Potato Revolution has a collection of primary sources on potatoes, dated 1695-1845.
  From Smithsonian magazine, How the Potato Changed the World is a reader-friendly history of the potato and how it led to modern industrial agriculture.
Got your potato facts down? Try this potato trivia quiz.
The Potato Museum claims to have the world’s largest collection of all things potato.


  Gaylia Taylor’s George Crum and the Saratoga Chip (Lee & Low Books, 2011) is the picture-book story of the African-American/native American cook at Saratoga’s Moon’s Lake House who – frustrated by a customer who incessantly complained that his French fries weren’t cut thin enough – chopped potatoes paper-thin and invented the now-famous potato chip. For ages 7-11.
  For more on George Crum and his potato chips, visit the Inventor of the Week Archive: George Crum
  The Atlas of Popular Culture has an illustrated history of potato chips with maps, a timeline, and a list of references.
  For a video showing how potato chips are manufactured, see YouTube’s How They Make Potato Chips.
  What do Pringles potato chips have to do with Einstein’s theory of relativity? Find out at The Math of Pringles.
  The Potato Chip Challenge is an annual K-12 engineering contest in which participants design a package that will protect a potato chip sent through the mail such that it arrives intact. Visit the website for information and rules.


  Keith Baker’s Potato Joe (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2008) is a clever take on the traditional “One Potato, Two Potato” counting rhyme, featuring a lot of cheerful potatoes variously playing tic-tac-toe, in the snow, at a rodeo, and in the dirt underground, where potatoes grow. For ages 3-6.
  Cynthia DeFelice’s One Potato, Two Potato (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008) is a charming exercise in magic and math. Mr. and Mrs. O’Grady are so poor that they have just one of everything – until they find a mysterious pot that doubles whatever falls into it. For ages 5-8.
  Though nothing to do with potatoes, a nice connection here is Edward Eager’s Half Magic (Sandpiper, 1999), originally published in 1954, in which four children find a coin that grants them wishes – but only half of every wish. A great impetus for learning how to multiply by two.  For ages 8-12.
  Greg Tang’s Math Potatoes (Scholastic Press, 2005) is one of a creative series of witty illustrated rhyming math picture books – beginning with The Grapes of Math (Scholastic, 2004) – that demonstrate quick tricks for solving arithmetic problems by grouping numbers. For ages 7 and up.
For interactive online math puzzles, printable worksheets, and more information on the books, visit Greg Tang’s World of Math
  In Potato Olympics, a math lesson for grades K-8, kids measure potatoes, invent characters for their potatoes, decorate their potatoes, create literary pieces about their potatoes, and hold a math-based Spuds Sports Festival.


  Allen Kurzweil’s Potato Chip Science (Workman Publishing Company, 2010) is a book-and-kit combo that uses everything potato – including potatoes, potato chips, and potato chip containers – for 29 “incredible” experiments and projects, ranging from building a bird feeder to making potato-based fingerprint powder and a potato shrunken head. For ages 8-12.
Also see the accompanying Potato Chip Science website.
  From Science Buddies, How Greasy Is Your Potato Chip? is a science project on fats in chips, with a list of questions, background information, experimental procedure, and forms for collecting data and plotting graphs.
  Steve Spangler’s Naked Eggs and Flying Potatoes (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2010) is a collection of marvelous, messy, and irresistible science experiments, variously categorized under “The Power of Air,” “Kitchen Chemistry,” “Dry Ice,” “Gooey Wonders,” and “Don’t Try This at Home…Try It at a Friend’s Home!” The book is illustrated with color photographs and has complete instructions and explanations. The experiments are great, and at least two of them involve potatoes. For ages 8 and up.
For instructions for individual Spangler experiments, see Straw Through Potato (a great trick) and Launching Potatoes (make your own spud gun).
  Robert Gurstelle’s Backyard Ballistics (Chicago Review Press, 2001) has step-by-step instructions for building thirteen cheap, but thrilling, ballistic devices, from match rockets and tabletop catapults to fire kites and potato cannons. Included are explanations of the physics behind each device and profiles of such ballistic-savvy scientists as Robert Goddard and Sir Isaac Newton. With caution, for ages 9 and up.
For the science of spud guns (several kinds), see How Spud Guns Work.
  Test for starch! And all you need is iodine. The Do It Yourself Starch Test has instructions, explanations, and some great pictures of starch-positive potatoes.
  From Kidzworld, find out how a potato battery works and learn how to make one of your own. Also see Food Batteries, which adds some chemistry and lists questions to investigate.
  A Potato Clock Kit (4M) – powered by potatoes – is available from a number of online suppiers, among them (about $9). Everything supplied but the potatoes.
  Scientists have sequenced the potato genome – and found that it has some 39,000 genes (about 10,000 more than you).  Read about it here and here
  From Penn State, Potato Mountain is a middle-grade lesson in reading and understanding topographic maps using a potato. Also with potatoes, see Visualizing Topographic Maps and Contour Lines.
  Potato Earth? A satellite-based image of how gravity varies over the surface of the Earth makes our planet look like a giant potato. Read about it here


  Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Black Potatoes: The Story of the Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 (Sandpiper, 2005) is a compelling history of the horrific 19th-century Irish potato famine, a disaster with global implications. The book is 192 pages long, illustrated with period prints, maps, and a timeline, and including first-person anecdotes and accounts. For ages 12 and up.
  Patricia Reilly Giff’s Nory Ryan’s Song (Yearling, 2002) is a fictionalized tale of the Irish potato famine, through the eyes of 12-year-old Nory Ryan, whose family has farmed and fished for generations on Ireland’s Maidin Bay. Then the famine strikes. Nory’s older sister leaves Ireland for New York; her father fails to return home from the sea; and Nory struggles to survive and ultimately to find her family a home in America. For ages 9 and up.
  Nory’s story continues in Maggie’s Door (Yearling, 2005), in which Nory and her friend Sean Red Mallon, in alternating voices, tell the harrowing stories of their respective journeys to America; and Water Street (Yearling, 2008), set in 1875, and told in the alternating voices of Bird Mallon, Nory and Sean’s daughter, and her neighbor, young Thomas Neary.
Nory Ryan’s Song at Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site has discussion questions and activities to accompany Nory Ryan’s Song, along with a list of related books.
  Cecil Woodham-Smith’s The Great Hunger (Penguin Books, 1991) is an excellent history of a terrible event. For older teenagers and adults.
At The History Place, Irish Potato Famine has a reader-friendly chronological history of the  Famine with an extensive bibliography. For ages 12 and up.
From The Free Market, What Caused the Irish Potato Famine? discusses the economic and political forces behind the disaster.
  The Irish Famine is a world history exercise for high-school-level students, in which Irish and English perspectives on the famine are compared using primary sources.
From the BBC, The Irish Famine covers the history and causes of the Irish potato famine.


  Selected by Neil Phillip, Hot Potato: Mealtime Rhymes (Clarion, 2004) is a collection of 18 cheerful poems about food by such poets as Edward Lear, Mary Ann Hoberman, Douglas Florian, Lewis Carroll, and A.A. Milne.
  Spud Songs: An Anthology of Potato Poems (Helicon Nine Editions, 1999), edited by Gloria Vando and Robert Stewart, is a nearly 200-page collection of potato poems by – among many others – X.J. Kennedy, Joyce Carol Oates, Seamus Heaney, and Denise Levertov. It’s currently out of print, but is available in inexpensive used editions – or check your local library. For teenagers and adults.
  Kenn Nesbit’s Mashed Potatoes on the Ceiling is a must for vegetable avoiders.
  See Pablo Neruda’s potato-loving Ode to Fried Potatoes.
  Daniel Nyikos’s Potato Soup begins “I set up my computer and webcam in the kitchen/So I can ask my mother’s and aunt’s advice/As I cook soup for the first time alone.”
  Joseph Stroud’s The Potato is set in the Andes, original home of the potato.
  Dancing potatoes. Read The Potato’s Dance by Vachel Lindsay.
  Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney’s Digging makes a wonderful connection between potatoes and poetry.
  A poem for gardeners: Amy King’s Digging Potatoes, Sebago, Maine.
  See Leonard Nathan’s The Potato Eaters.


  The Potato Eaters, finished in 1885, is considered by many critics to be Vincent Van Gogh’s first great work of art. The Van Gogh Gallery has a brief history and analysis of the painting.
  From the WAH Center in Brooklyn, NY, the Potato Revolution is an exhibition of contemporary potato art, of which there is a surprising amount.
  For some impressively creative potatoes, see Potato Art and Sculptures.
  Peter Pink’s Potato Revolution features installation displays of very cool potatoes in pink sunglasses.
  TeacherVision’s Potato Print Wrapping Paper and Family Education’s Potato Prints have instructions for fun and simple potato art projects.
  For a dot art tiny-potato-print project suitable for preschoolers, see Potato Art.
  For step-by-step instructions and more projects involving potato stamps and prints, see Easy Crafts for Kids


Mr. Potato Head, who first went on the market in 1952, is still going strong – and in many permutations, among them Darth Tater, complete with helmet and light saber. Back in the day, Mr. Potato Head was the first toy to be advertised on TV.

  Funny Face! by Mark Rich and Jeff Potocsnak (Krause Publications, 2002) is a fascinating and heavily illustrated short history of potato heads and related toys. For teenagers and adults, but the pictures are great for all ages.
  Owners of the original Mr. Potato Head had to supply their own (real) potatoes. Read all about it here.
  Don Wulffson’s Toys! Amazing Stories Behind Some Great Inventions (Henry Holt and Company, 2000) is a catchy history of such classic toys as slinkies, seesaws, silly putty, bicycles, checkers, kites, and Trivial Pursuit – and, of course, Mr. Potato Head. With black-and-white cartoon illustrations, for ages 9 and up.
  Templates and instructions for making a felt Mr. Potato Head Quiet Book can be found at Oopsey Daisy Quiet Book Templates.
  The Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head Craft has templates and instructions for a papercraft potato-head project.
  For a breakfast version of Mr. Potato Head (with a pancake), see Kitchen Fun with My Three Sons.
  Make a steampunk Mr. Potato Head. You’ll need, among other things, Sculpey clay, metal dohickeys, and copper-colored acrylic paint.


  Ouch. Dan Quayle’s fatal potato spelling mistake can be viewed in this YouTube clip.
Posted in Food/Cooking, Plants | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mars: Curiosity to Barsoom


  Kids Discover has a terrific infographic detailing the NASA Curiosity rover’s spectacular “seven minutes of terror” landing in the Gale Crater on Mars.
  National Geographic has information, images, and video clips on the 2012 Curiosity rover landing on Mars. Included at the site is a downloadable ebook by Marc Kaufman, Mars Landing 2012.
  Rebrickable has free DIY instructions for building your own LEGO model Curiosity Rover.


  Fly Me to Mars (ProStar Publications, 2007) by Catherine Weitz, a geologist at the Planetary Science Institute, is a picture-book “visit” to Mars, covering major Martian features – tallest volcano, largest canyon, chilly polar regions, and two potato-shaped moons – and showing how Mars compares to Earth. For ages 3-7.
  In Franklyn M. Branley’s chatty Mission to Mars (HarperCollins, 2002) in the Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science series, astronauts from the International Space Station establish a base on Mars, cope with such Martian challenges as dust, cold, and low gravity, and explore their surroundings. The book is illustrated with drawings and photographs; included is a great map of named Mars rocks (among them Warthog, Turtle, Barnacle Bill, Dragon, and Flipper). For ages 4-8.
  Seymour Simon’s Destination Mars (HarperCollins, 2004), spectacularly illustrated with maps, diagrams, and full-page color photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Mars Orbiter Camera, and the Pathfinder lander, is an excellent introduction to the history and science of the planet for ages 5-8.
  Patrick O’Brien’s You Are the First Kid on Mars (Putnam Juvenile, 2009) stars a little boy in an orange space suit traveling to Mars via space elevator, space station, and Nuclear Thermal Rocket (which last travels at a thrilling 75,000 miles per hour), and finally arriving at a Martian colony populated by scientists and engineers. The book is illustrated with wonderful photorealistic paintings, peppered with interesting facts, and written in the second person, which gives the text a feel of you-are-there immediacy. For ages 5-8.
  Alexandra Sly’s Cars on Mars (Charlesbridge Publishing, 2011) is the story of Spirit and Opportunity, the two golf-cart-sized rovers sent to Mars in 2003 and still gamely transmitting data. To date, they’ve sent home over 200,000 photographs, the most famous of which indicated the presence of water on the planet. The book is filled with intriguing and catchily presented information  – for example, the cruising speed of the rovers is “ten times slower than that of a wood turtle” – and illustrations include great color photographs of the Martian surface. For ages 9 and up.
  In the Scientist in the Field series, Steven Squyres’s The Mighty Mars Rovers (Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2012) is the story of Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity (“the greatest space robot adventure of all time”), told by the lead scientist on the mission. For ages 10 and up.
  Elaine Scott’s Mars and the Search for Life (Clarion Books, 2008) is an attractively presented history of speculations about and explorations of the planet Mars, from Percival Lowell’s apocryphal canals and Orson Welles’s panic-inducing War of the Worlds broadcast through the Mariner flybys, Viking landers, and Spirit and Opportunity rovers. Sidebars provide interesting facts and supplementary explanations. The book is illustrated with photos, drawings, and diagrams. For ages 10-14.
  From Astrobiology magazine, Tracing the Canals of Mars is short illustrated account of Percival Lowell’s (mistaken) sightings of “canals” on the Martian surface.
  From NASA Science News, learn the truth about the famous giant Face on Mars at Unmasking the Face on Mars.
  The Search for Life on Mars is an annotated photo timeline extending from Percival Lowell’s sighting of Martian “canals” in the 1880s to the 2012 Curiosity rover.
  In Robert Zubrin’s How to Live on Mars: A Trusty Guidebook to Surviving and Thriving on the Red Planet (Three Rivers Press, 2008), the Martian narrator – born there in 2071 – provides hopeful immigrants with helpful hints and lots of information. Chapters include “How to Choose a Spacesuit,” “How to Choose Your First Ground Rover,” and “How to Stay Alive in the Desert.” Factual and fun. For teenagers and adults.
  Robert Zubrin’s The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must (Free Press, 2011) argues convincingly for Mars colonization. For older teenagers and adults.
  From the Symphony of Science musical video series, see Robert Zubrin, Carl Sagan, and others in The Case for Mars.
  William K. Hartmann’s A Traveler’s Guide to Mars (Workman Publishing, 2003) is just what you’d stuff in your spacepack if you were a Mars-bound tourist. The history and geography of Mars, in detail, illustrated with photographs. For teenagers and adults.
  As a child, Mary Roach would certainly have sympathized with Beverly Cleary’s Ramona who – in Ramona the Pest (HarperCollins, 1992) – upsets her kindergarten class by demanding to know how Mike Mulligan went to the bathroom.  It’s just such details that propel Roach’s scientific tell-all books, among them Packing for Mars (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), which deals with the biology, psychology, and technology of space travel. Find out about sex, baths, and bathroom behavior in space. For older teenagers and adults.
  Learn all about Mars with many cool links at the Nine Planets website.
  Mars Rising is a six-part documentary about a manned mission to Mars, including interviews with experts and film footage from such Mars-like Earth locations as Chile’s bone-dry Atacama Desert and the Arctic’s Devon Island. The website has an episode guide and interactive activities.
  Return to Mars from the San Francisco Exploratorium has webcasts on the Mars missions, activities for kids, informational articles, and a video archive.
  From the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Exploring the Planets: Mars has historical info, up-to-date data on Mars and its moons, and a large database of Martian images.
  Mars: The International Journal of Mars Science and Exploration has scholarly papers and online data for seriously committed Mars students.


  The Mars Exploration Program website has a wealth of Mars-based information, including updates and images from the Curiosity rover, help for finding Mars in the night sky, downloadable curriculum materials, lesson plans for a range of ages, and hands-on projects and activities. One feature: a “Be a Martian” virtual exploration of the planet.
  Arizona State University’s Mars Education Program has detailed information, lesson plans, activities, and collaborative student-scientist projects for a range of ages.
See Mars Activities for an excellent downloadable 128-page booklet of projects, games, and activities for grades K-12. Included are background information, instructions, and extension suggestions for 24 different activities, among them Rover Races, Volcano Mapping and Lava Layering, Searching for Life on Mars, Edible Mars Rover, and Mars Meteorites’ Fingerprints.
  Athena: Mars Exploration Rovers has Mars facts and images, a “Did You Know?” archive for kids, information on the Marsdial – the sundial carried by the rovers – and instructions for building and experimenting with sundials of your own, and a list of creative Mars-themed lesson plans.
  From Discovery Education, The Path to Mars has projects, discussion questions, and extension activities on Mars exploration for grades K-5. A similar lesson plan, Destination Mars, is targeted at grades 6-8.
  From the Lunar and Planetary Institute, Mars Inside and Out has background information, a book list, and multi-part activities for kids ages 8-13. For example, kids model a Martian landscape and create a Martian board game.
  Mars, of course, is named for the Roman god of war. Learn all about Mars and his Greek alter-ego, Ares, from history teacher Mr. Donn.
  Rovers on Mars is a science- and math-based lesson plan for high-school-level students. Included at the website are student handouts, teacher keys, informational links, and an Online Newshour transcript of a report on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity.


  In Chris Gall’s There’s Nothing to Do on Mars (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2008), Davey Martin’s parents have moved to Mars and Davey shares the plight of all bored kids: “There’s nothing to do!” His parents send him and his robot dog, Polaris, out to play, but nothing solves the problem – not the mysterious giant face, the peculiar fossils, or the hordes of leaping pop-eyed Martians (smelly from lack of baths). Finally Davey and dog dig for buried treasure on top of Olympus Mons and unleash a massive eruption of water. This exciting find causes more and more people to move to Mars – and at the end of the book, Davey’s parents, feeling cramped, are considering a relocation to Saturn. The illustrations have a bright retro-comic-book look. (Polaris is particularly adorable.) A Kirkus Best Children’s Book of the Year. For ages 5-8.
  In Walter R. Brooks’s Freddy and the Men from Mars (Overlook Juvenile Books, 2011), the local newspaper reports that six little creatures with red whiskers, believed to be visiting Martians, have been captured by Mr. Herbert Garble, and are now on display at the Boomschmidt Circus. Freddy, the never-at-a-loss pig, rightly suspects a hoax, and prepares, with help from the Animal Bureau of Investigation, to track down the culprit. A lot of hilarious Freddy-esque confusion and complications ensue, including the arrival of real (pear-shaped, three-eyed) Martians. For ages 8 and up.
  In a sequel, Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars (Overlook Juvenile, 2011), the (real) Martians have stayed on Earth with the Boomschmidt Circus, but one of them has been kidnapped. As Freddy and friends attempt to track the kidnapper, Mr. Boom decides to attract more people to the circus by having the Martians form a baseball team.
  For synopses of the 24 Freddy books, information on Freddy and Walter R. Brooks, a selection of poems by Freddy, and to become an official “Friend of Freddy,” see Freddy the Pig’s home page.
  The main character of Daniel Manus Pinkwater’s Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, originally published in 1979, is pudgy Leonard Neeble who is being tormented at school. His only friend is Alan Mendelsohn, a new kid ostensibly from the Bronx, who claims to be a Martian. The zany classic-Pinkwater plot involves a child psychologist who encourages Leonard to smoke cigars; Samuel Klugarsh, occult bookstore owner, who offers courses in Klugarsh Mind Control and Hyperstellar Archaeology; Clarence Yojimbo (from Venus), traveling with a biker gang visiting the Bermuda Triangle Chili Parlor; and Waka-Waka, an alternative plane of existence. Alan, in case you’re wondering, really is a Martian. The book is no longer available in a single edition, but can be found in Pinkwater’s collected 5 Novels (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997). For ages 9 and up.
  For fans of Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series, A Wizard of Mars (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2010), has teenage wizards Nita and Kit investigating a message in a mysterious Martian artifact and re-opening an ancient conflict on that long-dormant world. This is Book Nine in the series; readers might want to work up to it by way of the first eight. (Book One: So You Want to Be a Wizard.) For ages 11 and up.
  Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles (Simon & Schuster, 2012), originally published in 1950, is a collection of linked short stories that comprise a chronological “future history” covering the exploration of Mars, colonization of the planet by humans fleeing a war-torn Earth, and conflicts with the native Martians. There are 28 stories in all, among them “Rocket Summer,” “And the Moon Be Still as Bright,” “The Fire Balloons,” and “The Million-Year Picnic.” For ages 13 and up.
  The Martian Chronicles is a detailed study guide to accompany the book from Washington State University.
  The Martian Chronicles was made into a five-hour TV miniseries in 1980, with Rock Hudson and Gayle Hunnicutt. It’s now available on DVD (2004). About $9 from
  There’s a digital copy of The Martian Chronicles on the planet Mars – it was delivered to the Martian North Pole by NASA’s Phoenix spacecraft in 2007. Read about it here
  Edgar Rice Burroughs, though better known for his Tarzan series, also produced, in the first half of the 20th century, eleven novels featuring Barsoom – the planet we know as Mars. The books star Civil War veteran John Carter, originally transported to Barsoom from a cave in the American Southwest. In the first book of the series, A Princess of Mars, he encounters the various races (four-armed green Martians, humanoid red Martians) and creatures (six-legged thoats) of Mars, becomes embroiled in war, wins the hand of the Martian princess Dejah Thoris, and finally – after a catastrophic failure of the planet’s Atmosphere Plant – collapses of asphyxiation and wakes up back on Earth. For a complete list of the books in order, see The Barsoom Glossary. Modern editions (Del Rey, 1985) are available through bookstores and from Amazon
  Texts of the first five Barsoom novels are available for free online.
  The recent movie version of Burroughs’s Barsoom, Disney’s John Carter (2012), stars Taylor Kitsch as Carter and Lynne Collins as Dejah Thoris, with a supporting cast of 12-foot-tall four-armed Martians. Now available on DVD, Blu-Ray, or as an Amazon Instant Video. Rated PG-13.
  Sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein wrote several books set on (or related to) Mars. Specifically targeted at young readers is Heinlein’s Podkayne of Mars (Ace Trade Books, 2010), in which teenager Podkayne Fries and her brilliant but annoyingly mischievous younger brother, Clark, set off with their uncle on a spaceliner cruise to Earth. During a stopover on Venus, Clark is kidnapped and it turns out that the uncle is on a dangerous diplomatic mission. For ages 12 and up.
  In Heinlein’s Red Planet (Del Rey, 2006), main characters Jim Marlowe and Frank Sutton, along with Jim’s volleyball-sized fuzzy Martian pet, Willis, have just started the school year at the Lowell Academy boarding school. When the school headmaster, Mr. Howe, and the colonial administrator of Mars, Mr. Beecher, confiscate Willis and plan to sell him to a London zoo – and to block the annual migration of the Martian colonists during the winter months, in a move to save money – Jim, Frank, and Willis run away to sound the alarm. Eventually they take part in a battle in which the colonists defeat the restrictive administration and declare independence from Earth. They also help forge bonds between the native Martians and the colonists, largely through Jim’s close friendship with Willis. For ages 12 and up.
  C.S. Lewis, famed for the world of Narnia, accessible through the back wall of a wardrobe, also wrote science fiction. In Out of the Silent Planet (HarperCollins, 2005), originally published in 1938, Elwin Ransom, a Cambridge professor of philology, is kidnapped by the criminals Weston and Devine and taken by spaceship to Malacandra, the planet we know as Mars. There he escapes; makes friends with the local inhabitants, the hrossa – his linguistic skills come in handy here; is introduced to the nearly invisible spirit-like eldil; and meets Oyarsa, the great eldil who rules the planet. From Oyarsa, he learns that there is such an eldil for each of the four planets that have life, but Earth’s has turned evil and “bent” – thus Earth is known as Thulcandra, the “Silent Planet.”
  Sequels are Perelandra, a version of the Adam and Eve story, set on Venus, and That Hideous Strength, in which the conflict between good and evil continues on Earth. Complex and discussion-provoking. For ages 14 and up.
  In Ben Bova’s 500+-page Mars (Bantam Spectra, 1993), Jamie Waterman, a Navajo geologist, is the last person to join the first manned expedition to Mars. The book is crammed with detail, human interest, intrigue, and adventure. (Try lethal meteor showers and mysterious cliff cities.) For older teenagers and adults.
  Is Ben Bova’s Mars based on hard science? Check it out – it’s interesting – here
  From SciFan (“books & links for the science fiction fan”), the Mars in Science Fiction Bibliography is an annotated alphabetized list of dozens of Mars-based titles.


  In H.G. Wells’s classic The War of the Worlds, originally published in 1898, Martians in Tripods (three-legged fighting machines) invade and devastate southern England, before succumbing to Earth bacteria. Available in many editions including War of the Worlds (New York Review of Books, 2005), illustrated by Edward Gorey, and an abridged Great Classics Illustrated version for ages 7-9. (Great Illustrated Classics has a complete list of available titles.)
  The complete text of War of the Worlds is available online
War of the Worlds is available as a free downloadable audiobook from LibriVox.
From Washington State University, War of the Worlds is a detailed study guide to accompany the book.
  War of the Worlds Invasion has information, articles, book lists, links, and a timeline pertaining to the H.G. Wells book and the Orson Welles radio broadcast that set off a panic in 1938.
To listen to Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast, visit Mercury Theatre on the Air or Our Media: The War of the Worlds
  In Virginia Hamilton’s Willie Bea and the Time the Martians Landed (Aladdin Books, 1989), Willie Bea’s extended family is caught up in the hysteria that surrounds Orson Welles’s scarily realistic broadcast of The War of the Worlds. For ages 9 and up.
  Howard Koch’s The Panic Broadcast (Avon Books, 1973) is a complete account of Orson Welles’s famous radio show, by the man who wrote the radio play version of War of the Worlds. Koch details events before, during, and after the broadcast, and describes his trip to Grover’s Mill, NJ, where the action (supposedly) took place. The book is out of print, but inexpensive used copies are available. For teenagers and adults.
  Robert Rankin’s The Japanese Devil Fish Girl and Other Unnatural Attractions (Gollancz, 2011) is a zany comedic sequel to War of the Worlds, set in 1895, ten years post-invasion, by which time Victorian England, after a clever feat of back-engineering, has expanded its empire to Mars. Characters include Charles Darwin, Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Nikola Tesla, Winston Churchill, and Adolf Hitler, as well as the unfortunate showman Professor Coffin, whose audience has lost interest in his pickled Martian specimen – necessitating a search for the Devil Fish Girl. For quirky teenagers and adults. (Rankin, incidentally, is also the author of The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse.)
  Movie versions of War of the Worlds include a black-and-white 1953 adaptation with Gene Barry and Ann Robinson, and a 2005 PG-13-rated adaptation, starring Tom Cruise, Tim Robbins, and an extremely shrill Dakota Fanning. In both cases, the book is better.
For more Mars-based movies, of which there are many of widely varying quality, see Best Movies Set on Mars  and/or the Mars Movie Guide.


  In Glory St. John’s How to Count Like a Martian (Random House, 1975), a mysterious beeping signal from Mars leads to a discussion of number systems used on Earth, among them Babylonian, Egyptian, Mayan, Greek, Chinese, and Arabic. The (four-fingered?) Martians apparently count in base 4. For ages 8-12. It’s out of print, but definitely worth tracking down. Check your local library.
  Inner Planet Math has printable sheets of planet-based word problems for elementary-level students.
  Space Math @ NASA is a collection of math problems featuring planetary topics for a range of age groups. At “Launch of the Mars Science Laboratory,” for example, kids use a sequence of launch images to determine launch speed and acceleration.
  The Geometry in Space Project is an investigation of orbits – including that of Mars – for high-school-level students.
  Everyone makes mistakes. Wired magazine’s This Day in Tech  has an account of the fatal metric conversion error that resulted in the 1999 loss of NASA’s Mars Climate Orbiter.
  Find out how much you’d weigh on Mars (and all the other planets) with this interactive calculator from the San Francisco Exploratorium.


  Kids’ Art Project on the Planet Mars has instructions for making a papier mache planet and a solar system mobile, and designing a Martian city. Also see Make a Planet Mars out of Papier Mache.
  The Mars Art Gallery has abstract art pertaining to Mars, photographic images (categorized in Orbital, Crater, Moon, and Surface Galleries), and resource links. Check out the Andy-Warhol-style Face on Mars.
  From Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” listen to the first movement – Mars, the Bringer of War – performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
  Let’s put on a play! In Victoria Twead’s Morgan and the Martians (, 2012), mischief-making Morgan is given a Shimmer Suit by visiting Martians that makes him invisible. He promptly uses it with disastrous results. For an expanding cast of Earthlings and Martians, ages 8-12 (or so).


  Douglas Florian’s Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars (Harcourt Children’s Books, 2007) is a fun collection of space-themed poems and paintings, including one about the planet Mars. A “Galactic Glossary” provides brief background info on each poem. For ages 4-10.
  Stephen Whiteside’s poem for children, Dad Meets the Martians involves an unlikely vehicle trade.
  My favorite: the Martian astronomer of John Hall Wheelock’s poem Earth. Also found in the wonderful poetry collection Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle (HarperTeen, 1967).
  Nikki Giovanni’s Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea (We’re Going to Mars) is the title poem from Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea: Poems and Not Quite Poems (William Morrow, 2002). (“We are going to Mars for the same reason Marco Polo rocketed to China/For the same reason Columbus trimmed his sails on a dream of spices…”)
See Albert Bigelow Paine’s The Planet Mars.
From the Academy of American Poets, see Marvin Bell’s Mars Being Red.
  John Updike’s Duet on Mars is a dialogue between rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
  According to Wikipedia, Martian poetry was a British poetry movement of the 1970s and 80s, characterized by “curious, exotic and humorous visual metaphors” – that is, viewing ordinary things as if through the eyes of a Martian. An example is Craig Raine’s A Martian Sends a Postcard Home.(Cool project. Try some of your own.)
Posted in Astronomy, Science | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Response