Thursday, March 25, 2010

Scientists in the Field

Every so often, I run across a series that just wows me. Scientists in the Field is just such a series. These are rich books -- full of scientific and natural information, as well as information about scientific process.

The series, which is published by Houghten Mifflin Harcourt, has about 15 books in it. It's hard to get an exact number because Houghten Mifflin Harcourt's website doesn't list all their titles and a search by series title on Barnes and Noble or Amazon doesn't bring up all the titles. But, suffice it to say that there are quite a few of them and they are diverse enough to appeal to a wide range of interests.

There were so many possiblilities for us to check out. Tree Kangaroos --so sweet! This was a nice one about the difficulties in tracking this very shy and elusive animal. Stunning photography, too.

Like frogs? Here's one for you that will tell you tons of cool stuff about frogs and how scientists study them.

Here's one for older kids. It's a little more abstract, but highly interesting. If you have an 8-12 year old who is studying pollution or the ocean, this would be a good one.

Now, you may be wondering whether Bookivore has read all of these. The answer is no. I let my children pick one from the library and the one they picked was this:

They did this on purpose because they know I hate spiders and they think it's funny to make me read books to them about spiders. ESPECIALLY books with pictures like this:
Oh my. What I have to do when I read stuff like this is keep my eyes on the text and pretend the other stuff just isn't there. BUT, I will say that the scientific information was so interesting, and so well presented, that I was completely reeled in, in spite of my severe arachnophobia.

The book profiled an Arachnologist from Hiram University in Ohio as he traveled through French Guiana in search of Goliath Birdeater Tarantulas. Not just spiders -- big, hairy spiders. There was lots of detail about how scientists ask questions and frame experiments and I found myself kind of fascinated. I didn't know that spiders molt -- shed their skins -- and that this is kind of a delicate and dangerous procedure for them. Do I enjoy looking at molted spider skins as pictured in the book? No. But it was interesting to learn about it.

If spiders aren't your thing, there are thankfully many other options. Whales, for example. Whales I can really get into.

Or maybe the Great Apes. Love Gorillas.

Yikes! More bugs. Why do people let them crawl on their faces? Makes me shiver. However, this is just the kind of gross-out factor that appeals to my almost-7-year-old son, so this one will be coming home with us soon.

I am not particularly freaked out by snakes, but some people are. These books are loaded with photographs, many of them close ups, so if you tend to flip around snakes, you might want to avoid this one.

It's got pictures in it like this:

The range of interests and habitats is impressive -- there are even books about searching for extra terrestrials and anthropology -- the study of human groups. I find the whole idea of learning about what specific scientists do a refreshing change from all the books we've read about animal species.

The age range for this series is listed as 8-12, and it would be that for independent reading, but my 6 and a half year old was riveted by the tarantula book, which I read aloud. My 8 year old could have read it easily herself.

We borrowed the hardcovers, but they are available in paperback. The hardcovers are $15, the paperbacks are $8. I think they'd be a valuable supplement to a homeschool science curriculum.

They are anywhere from 60-80 pages in length and at the back they include glossaries of the terms used (waaaaayy more spider terms and factoids than I ever wanted to know. I now know what pedipalps are and that spider fangs are white like walrus tusks after they molt --bleah).

These could also be used in the summer as a way to keep those little brain cells working. The way the information is presented really gives kids a model to follow in testing their own hypotheses. They could be used in conjunction with nature hikes or other outdoor experiences. If you're brave, you could let them study spiders in a jar. Or snakes. Or frogs.

We will continue to check these out of our library (because why would I want to own a huge, hairy spider book?). A truly wonderful series -- go give 'em a try.
All pictures courtesy of

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