Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Space Books - Some of Our Favorites

On Monday I shared about two of my boys' current favorite books: How to Catch a Star and When the Moon Forgot. These whimsical stories speak to a common childhood fantasy of being able to capture a piece of the sky. My younger son, especially, is still at the age where he really wants to believe (even though he knows better) that he can have a star or the moon as a friend.

Those fictional stories are a good jumping off point for further discussions about the night sky and outer space. My kids have been fascinated with outer space for a long time. Last year my six year old even had an outer space themed birthday party at the local science center. My kids enjoy perusing the outer space/astronomy section of our local library and checking out books about planets and space exploration. Since this is a frequently read about topic in our household, I've decided to share some of our family's favorite non-fiction outer space books.

My Book of Space by Ian Graham

My Book of Space

Though a bit out of date (this book was published in 2001) this book provides a good overview of the solar system, the phases of the moon and space exploration.

Our Solar System by Seymour Simon

Our Solar System (revised edition)

If you have children who, like mine, love non-fiction and you haven't seen Seymour Simon's books, you must check them out immediately. Simon's books are notable for the magnificent photographs and accessible information. They can be a little long as read alouds--we often have to read them over two or three reading sessions--but can be enjoyed for the pictures alone. Our Solar System is the book that kicked off my six year old's interest in outer space. Simon has many, many books (including easy readers) out there about outer space and the individual planets (and the sun and the moon). My kids like all of them.

The aforementioned Our Solar System also kicked off my older son's obsession with Pluto. The first time we read this book it was the original edition from our old library in the Chicago suburbs. While reading through the updated (2007) edition he checked out of our current library, he was shocked and dismayed to discover--gasp!--Pluto was missing. Shock. Outrage. "What happened to PLUTO!" he bellowed from the back of the car. Thus I was tasked with explaining what had happened to Pluto to result in its demotion as a planet. Fortunately, my mother-in-law heard about the crisis and sent a helpful book to help explain it to him...

The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto by Elizabeth Rusch

The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto

Hands down one of the best non-fiction picture books we own, The Planet Hunter: The Story Behind What Happened to Pluto is (like The Day-Glo Brothers) a non-fiction book presented in story form. It's the story of astronomer Mike Brown, his childhood interest in outer space and his discovery that led to the reclassification of Pluto. The choice to begin the story in Browns' early childhood makes it especially accessible to young readers, who may recognize themselves in the space-obsessed young boy.

In one of those cases where my child's interest in something piqued my own curiosity, I purchased a book about Pluto for myself. It was an entirely unexpected purchase, as I had not  read about space for my own edification since taking an astronomy course in college. (Full disclosure: I first heard about the book on The Daily Show.) Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson's The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet is a great book for non-scientists. Never overwhelming in its science-y talk, it tells the story of Pluto from its discovery to its eventual demotion. Humorous anecdotes, photographs, cartoons and poems about Pluto are also included. While it definitely does contain some decidedly adult humor and language, I have read sections of this book aloud to my six year old. He actually very much enjoyed it and wasn't bored at all, which says a lot about the author's style and accessibility. Also: he Twitters.

Here's his Daily Show interview with Jon Stewart. How can you not want to read about Pluto after listening to this guy? (Parental advisory: This is The Daily Show. There is a bleeped out word near the very end of the interview. I mean, it's bleeped, but since this is a family-friendly blog I thought I'd put that out there so there are no surprises if you're watching this with your kids.)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Neil deGrasse Tyson
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Boy, Were We Wrong About the Solar System

This is a great overview of how the way we see the world changes as science becomes more sophisticated. As the book says, " took a long time and a lot of wrong guesses to learn what we know today." Yes, Pluto gets a shoutout, as do gravity and the configuration of the solar system. The text--though a bit lengthy (I was surprised my four year old was able to sit still for the entire book)--is conversational and playful.

The Magic School Bus Lost in the Solar System

My kids love The Magic School Bus series. I love that they present science in a fun and engaging manner. I do not love reading every single caption, sidebar and dialogue bubble in these books. And there are several. On every page. Even so, you can't deny that the format of factual information contained within the fantastical fictional story appeals to kids. As the young students and their teacher, Miss Frizzle, travel from planet to planet in their spaceshipified school bus we learn about each planet's properties and position in the solar system. Much to my six year old's consternation, this book has not been updated to reflect current information about Pluto. Nonetheless, it is a library favorite--and not, apparently, just of my kids. According to our county library's online database, their 31 (system-wide) copies have been checked out a total of 2006 times.

***UPDATE 7/4/2010*** Apparently they have updated this book to include Pluto's new status. I saw the more recent copy in a museum gift shop last week.

Stargazers by Gail Gibbons


Gail Gibbons is another of those extremely prolific authors who has covered just about every non-fiction topic out there, it seems. Stargazers is an introduction to stars and the night sky. We learn about what stars are and how astronomers study them. Some discussion is given to constellations. Gibbons' prose is straightforward and informative, perfect for young readers.

These are but a few of the many non-fiction books about outer space written for a juvenile audience. Check the shelves of your local library or bookstore and you are sure to find more titles worthy of inclusion on this list. What are your kids' favorite books about space? Please share in the comments. I'm sure my kids would love some new title recommendations.

*Disclosure: As an Amazon Affiliate, I receive a small commission when books are purchased via the links in this post.


sandhya said...

"The Planet Hunter:..." sounds like something A might enjoy, and I will look out for it. Hope our library has it.
A book I can recommend here is Bill Bryson's "A really short history of nearly everything," which is exactly what it says it is, and has wonderful original photographs and illustrations. It is probably for a slightly older audience, maybe 8+, but you could keep it in mind for later reference.

Katie Fries said...

Sandhya, I just saw the Bryson book at the bookstore yesterday and yes, it definitely looks like something my older son will enjoy. I will keep it in mind!