Category: science

12 Books for Babies and Toddlers and Why They Work

12 Books for Babies and Toddlers and Why They Work

Earlier this month, I Pray Today, my second book for babies and toddler was published. Today is the last day of the blog tour to celebrate.

I’ve been working on book reviews all year, though. Each month I gather up a few books I love and share them with my readers. I call it Kidlit Karma. This month I’m sharing some of my favorite books for babies and toddlers. I’m also going to dive into child development to explain why these books work.

 

Simple Art

Babies can’t see that well. Newborns’ vision is hazy – they like high contrast because it’s easy to see. You’ll often find the youngest babies staring at, say, a black object against a white background. Or a dark ceiling fan moving against a white ceiling.

By a few months old, babies vision has improved a lot but they often have a hard time understanding 2-D representations of objects.

So, books for babies and toddler often have high-contrast, easy-to-interpret pictures. For the youngest, single images on white backgrounds can be a good choice.

Book cover: RhymOceros

Rhymoceros by Janik Coat

 

Even for toddlers, simple graphics are easier for them to understand.

Book Cover: Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard

Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard by Ame Dyckman and Alex Griffiths

 

Faces Are a Fave

Babies love faces for pretty much the same reasons we adults do: they give us a lot of important information. We look at a person’s face to identify them and to tell what that person is feeling. Watching someone’s face while they talk also helps us figure out what they are saying. For babies who are still learning speech, it’s doubly helpful. That’s probably why babies are hardwired to stare at faces.

So books with lots of faces are a winner, especially with the younger babies and toddlers.

Book Cover: Making Faces: A First Book of Emotion

Making Faces: A First Book of Emotions

 

Babytalk and Rhyming Books

Babies love “baby talk” and it’s good for them. Forget what Great Aunt Bertha told you about only talking to your baby like a grown-up. Baby talk exaggerates the sounds of speech which makes it easier for babies to figure out the sounds they’re hearing and put those together into words. So go ahead and talk to babies in whatever way feels natural to you.

The sing-songy cadence of many rhyming books, help capitalize on this tendency. (Writers: be aware that babies are not less discerning than adults. If you write in rhyme, it needs to have PERFECT rhyme and meter.)

Book Cover: Moo Baa La La La

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton

 

Repetition

Babies love repetition. They drop the same toy over and over to see if dad will still pick it up, they never tire of peekaboo, and they will gladly have you read the same book over and over and over. While at times it’s infuriating (like the 5th time the bowl of oatmeal gets dropped to the floor), it has an important purpose: babies and toddlers learn best through repetition.  Like little scientists, they’re testing if the oatmeal really drops every time. They’re also learning social information: “Will dad pick it up every time?” “Why is his mood changing as I keep dropping this?”

So many books use some kind of repetition: like the repeated phrase “Ciao!”

Book Cover: Ciao, Baby! In the Park

Ciao, Baby! In the Park by Carole Lexa Shaefer and Lauren Tobia

Or a repeated action like “besos.” (Kisses.)

Book Cover: Besos for Baby a Little Book of Kisses

Besos for Baby: A Little Book of Kisses by Jen Arena and Blanca Gomez

 

Toddlers Need to Move

Speaking of actions, getting a toddler to sit still is a lost cause. They’re busy little beings. It’s easy to read with an immobile baby – harder to keep a toddler still and focused. So many books for toddlers include some kind invitation to action to help keep them engaged with the book. 

That could be an action built right into the page, such as lifting a flap or holes designed for little fingers to poke into.

Book cover: Do Cows Meow?

Do Cows Meow? by Salina Yoon

Or it could be an invitation to action: mentioning movement is a natural invitation to move.

Book cover: Barnyard Dance!

Barnyard Dance! by Sandra Boynton

 

Sturdy Pages and Rounded Corners

Babies will put pretty much everything into their mouth. It’s a way for them to explore the world by adding the sense of taste and touch (lips and tongues are very sensitive).

Babies and toddlers are also still working on fine motor skills – such as the ability to grasp and flip a book page without tearing. They need to explore the world and practice these fine motor skills – but it can be murder on a book.

So most baby and toddler books are board books – those chunky cardboard-style book pages that can withstand chewing, banging, other forms of baby love. They even have rounded corners to prevent an eye or mouth from being poked.

Photo of book: Goodnight Jesus with corner chewed off by toddler
Photo courtesy of Summer Kinard at https://summerkinard.com/2016/11/02/goodnight-jesus-board-book-review/

 

Adults Have to Like Them Too

Since your baby will be asking to reread the same book 10,000 times (and they will), books also have to please the adult doing the reading. A newer trend is to write book series’ that focus on topics of interest to a parent (like science, great literature, etc.), but at a level simplistic enough for a baby. No, your toddler won’t be doing astrophysics calculations in their crib. They’re in it for the baby faces and birdies, but the parent can appreciate the science.

Book Cover: Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering

Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering by Ruth Spiro

Book Cover: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Babylit Colors Primer

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Babylit Colors Primer by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver

Putting It All Together

Most books will have a few of these features. Take my two books, Goodnight Jesus and I Pray Today.

Book Cover: Goodnight Jesus

Goodnight Jesus has:

  • beautiful, but simple art
  • faces on nearly every page (yay, icons!)
  • sing-songy rhymes
  • a repeated action (kissing) that little readers can do
  • sturdy pages

Book Cover: I Pray Today

I Pray Today has:

  • beautiful, simple art
  • faces on every page
  • sing-songy rhymes
  • a repeated phrase (Lord have mercy.)
  • which can be an invitation to a repeated action (saying the prayer and making a cross)
  • sturdy pages

And like a baby book on astrophysics, both of mine have bigger ideas at their core. That gives them a long lifespan for little readers and makes it interesting for the adult readers.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s book tour! I’ve had fun writing on a lot of different topics on a lot of different blogs. If you missed them, you can still find them here:

Blog tour for "I PRAY TODAY"

 

Solar Eclipse 2017 Part 2: See The Eclipse

 

SOLAR ECLIPSE 2017: PART2 - SEE THE SOLAR ECLIPSE

The 2017 Solar Eclipse is fast approaching on August 21st!

In the first post of the series, I covered resources for learning about solar eclipses. There are book and video resources as well.

Today’s post will cover the ins and outs of viewing this eclipse. We’ll also take a small detour through eye anatomy and sunlight experiments along the way.

Next time I’ll share some hands on activities to try.

 

WHERE TO SEE THE ECLIPSE

The 2017 full eclipse will be viewable in the Continental US. As I explained in the last post, a solar eclipse happens when the moon moved between the sun and the Earth. The moon blocks out the light from the sun so it casts a shadow on the Earth. Since the moon is moving, the shadow moves, too.

Map of the solar Eclipse path
Map of the Solar Eclipse Path

That means that people all across the country will have a chance at seeing a full eclipse. 

Being the science geek that I am, my family is making the trek to Carbondale, IL – the official location that NASA is using to study the eclipse.

It’s also only 3 hours from my home in central Illinois. When you live in the cornbelt it’s not often that things are conveniently located to you.

Path of the full eclipse not coming to your town? No problem. Most of the continental US will be able to see a partial eclipse. Check out this interactive map to see what the eclipse will look like in your hometown.

Partial eclipse
Partial Eclipse

If you are traveling to see the Eclipse make sure to check availability of lodgings in advance. Many prime locations are booked up solid. I had to call 5 campgrounds to find a campsite. And I was calling last January. Even I didn’t know people were that passionate about eclipses.

DON’T BE THE TOY SOLDIER!

If you’re going to watch the eclipse, make sure you do it safely. Looking directly at the sun is a bad idea. Here’s why:

Remember that scene in Toy Story where the little boy next door uses a magnifying lens to focus the sun’s light and melt a toy soldier? I’m not sure about the melting point of toy soldiers but you can use a magnifying glass to start a fire:

Starting a fire with a magnifying glass.

It works because the lens changes the path of the sunlight. All the light then comes together at a single point which makes things super bright and super hot. Put something flammable right at that point and it will catch fire. Like this:

Lens bends light

Now let’s take a peek at a normal human eye and see what we find:

Yep. Your eye has a lens in it. Just like the lens in a magnifying glass, it changes the path of light so that it focuses on a single point. If your lens doesn’t focus the light just right, you’ll need even more lenses (glasses or contacts) to help with focus.

But the human eye is not really designed for the super brightness of direct sunlight. So let’s look at what happens when you look directly at the sun:

Eye da

OUCH. No, your eye won’t actually catch fire but you can cause permanent blindness.

Be safe. Do not be the toy soldier.

BE SAFE

So hopefully I have convinced you not to look directly at the solar eclipse. Luckily, there’s a simple solutions.

Regular sunglasses won’t do. You’ll need eclipse glasses like these to protect you. Luckily they’re fairly cheap and easy to get. Get a pair for the whole family!

All the eclipse viewing wonder without the ouch.

 

Next time I’ll post about other fun activities you can do for the eclipse.

 

Solar Eclipse 2017 Part 1: Learn About Solar Eclipses

If you’re not living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the upcoming solar eclipse. Which I like to call eclipsapocalypse. (If you do live under a rock, I don’t judge.)

I’ve gathered together some resources so the children (and inner children) in your life can have enjoy the eclipsapocalyse in style. In this first post, we’ll look at resources for learning about solar eclipses. Scroll down for videos and book recommendations.

Later posts will cover viewing the eclipse and hands-on eclipse activities.

LEARN ABOUT SOLAR ECLIPSES

Solar Eclipse diagram

A solar eclipse happens when the moon moves between the Sun and the Earth. The moon blocks the sun’s light and casts a shadow on the Earth. If you’re standing on the part of the Earth where the shadow falls, you’ll see the moon move in front of the Sun and block out the light.

It’s a big deal because full solar eclipses are rare. It’s been nearly a 100 years in In a full eclipse the moon lines up exactly with the sun to completely cover it. Around the area of the full eclipse there’s a much bigger area that will see a partial eclipse. The sun and moon don’t line up exactly, but part of the sun’s light will still be blocked.

Partial eclipse
Partial Eclipse

BOOKS:

You knew there would be books, right?

Eclipses

Eclipses: The Night Sky and other Amazing Sights in Space by Nick Hunter

This book all about eclipses is perfect for younger children.

Looking Up! The Science of Stargazing

Looking Up! The Science of Stargazing by Joe Rao and Mark Borgions

This fun book has a short chapter on eclipses. Perfect for newer readers or as a read aloud to a younger child.

Space Encyclopedia

Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of Our Solar System and Beyond by David A. Aguilar 

My favorite space encyclopedia has sections on eclipses, too.

 

VIDEOS:

This NASA video explains how it works and what it will look like. (Appropriate for young kids to the young at heart.):

If you want to dive deeper into the science of eclipses, this video from Crash Course is great (Appropriate for Adolescents+ (or really nerdy little kids)):

 

Tune in next time to learn how you can see the 2017 Solar Eclipse.

 

 

 

One Year After New Horizons Visited Pluto

Yesterday marked one year since the New Horizons space probe made it’s flyby of Pluto. That also means it’s been over a year that I’ve been working on writing a book about the mission. Uhm, wow.

It’s been quite a year.  The New Horizons mission was historic. It was the first mission to Pluto and the first to visit anything that far away in our solar system.

Pluto Has a Heart

Scientists made many amazing discoveries. First off, Pluto has a heart. And it has a heartbeat! (Ok, not really, but it makes a good headline.) The heart is known as Sputnik Planum and it’s made of nitrogen ice. On Earth nitrogen exists as a gas in our atmosphere, but Pluto is cold enough for it to freeze into ice. Nitrogen periodically bubbles up out of the planets crust and spreads out over the heart. The rest of the planet may be roughed up with craters and mountains, but the heart is nice and smooth. These “heartbeats” are like spreading a layer of frosting over a cake – it gives it a nice smooth finish.  A frigid, icy heart would be a bad thing for a person, but for a planet it’s just plain cool.

 

We also found out that Pluto is bigger than we thought. That’s a big deal. In 2006 the International Astronomical Union ruled that Pluto wasn’t a real planet – it is part of a new class called dwarf planets. The decision was spurred when a researcher discovered something out past Neptune that was bigger than Pluto. Many such things had been found but this was the first that was bigger than Pluto. If Pluto was a planet, so was this new thing. And it might not end there; one estimate is that there are hundreds of these things. Rather than let new members to the planet club, Pluto got demoted. Not all scientists agree with the decision. The head of the New Horizons mission has been particularly vocal in his disagreement with the decision. So you can imagine how he felt when it turned out Pluto was the biggest dwarf planet after all.

Dwarf Planets
Named dwarf planets. Pluto narrowly beat out Eris as the biggest

 

It’s not over, though. A year out from the New Horizons flyby of Pluto and we’re still getting data back from the probe. It’s so far away and uses so little power that sending information back to Earth is slower than a turtle in molasses. We’ll still be getting new data until October. It also takes scientists awhile to make sense of all that information. We’ve learned a lot, but we will still be making new discoveries for years to come. 

New Horizons path. Next stop Kuiper Belt Object MU69
New Horizons path. Next stop Kuiper Belt Object 2014 MU69

In 2019, New Horizons will make another historic first. It will be the first to flyby a Kuiper Belt Object. The Kuiper belt is a band of icy, rocky objects far out past Neptune in our solar system. Some dwarf planets orbit out in the Kuiper belt but mostly Kuiper belt objects are just lumpy rocks covered in ice. That might not sounds that interesting, but scientists would disagree. Those lumpy rocks haven’t changed since our solar system formed. Studying one of these Kuiper belt objects up close will tell us a lot about the early solar system. New Horizons could unlock secrets of our early solar system.

As exciting as this year has been for science, its not over yet.

Happy Flyby-versary, New Horizons! Here’s to many more.

Happy 1 year Flyby-iversary Pluto

5 Spectacular Space Books for 4th – 8th Graders

5 Spectacular Space Books for 4th - 8th Grade

It’s no secret I’m a space lover. If you follow we on Facebook and Twitter you know that half my posts are about space. Lots of kids love space, too. There are oodles of lists of space picture books. There are even whole lists of Pluto picture books. While picture books aren’t just for little kids, older kids crave more. More information, more depth, more excitement. There are lots of great books for the 4th-8th graders but there aren’t many lists to help you find them. This post goes out to my fellow space-lovers just looking for a good book to read.

These books are my top picks for 4th-8th graders.  I love a true story told well. All of these books are nonfiction but most are written as engaging stories, rather than textbooks. They’ll let you experience what it’s like to roam the red planet, Mars, or sit on Earth sweating bullets when things go wrong far out in space.

 

The Might Mars Rovers by Elizabeth Rusch 

The tale of the Mars Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, two rovers that were only supposed to work for a couple of months but kept going for years. (Mighty, indeed.) Along the way they taught us a lot about Mars and about problem solving.

 

Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet by Buzz Aldrin and Marianne Dyson

Buzz Aldrin wasn’t just the second man on the moon, he’s also a space researcher who is helping to plan the first mission to put people on Mars. This book will tell you all about what it will be like to be one of those first few Martian pioneers.

 

A Black Hole is Not A Hole by Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano and Michael Carroll

This book is a fascinating read about black holes, quite possibly some of the coolest (and scariest) things in our universe. Black holes hold our galaxy together and have such strong gravity that they can even bend light.

 

Team Moon: How 400,000 people landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

Lots of books will tell you about the astronauts that went to the moon. This is the only book that tells you about the seamstresses that sewed their suits or the photographer than taught them to take those amazing photos. This book is all about the people who made it possible for the astronauts to go to the moon.

 

Mission Control, This is Apollo: The Story of the First Voyages to the Moon by Andrew Chaikin and astronaut Alan Bean

This beautifully illustrated books tells the story of every mission that took men to the moon. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to go to the moon, this is the book for you.

 

There you have it. Five of my favorite space books written just for middle grade students.Do you have a favorite one to add?

Happiness is a Good Youtube Channel

It’s true, counting your blessings does make you happier. I try to always keep this in mind when things go wrong. With a little practice you can find the silver lining in almost any situation.

  • My washing machine broke a couple of days ago giving me a break from laundry.
  • When the dishwasher broke last week, we got to eat out.
  • And the 5 inches of water that flooded our basement between Christmas and New Years…. Ok, I got nothing on that one.

The last few days I’ve been ill. Not wretchedly ill. Just I’m-going-to-stay-in-bed-all-day ill. The bright side of illness is that you get a free pass to be as lazy as you like.

Sometimes, happiness is staying in bed and watching a really good YouTube channel.