Sharing Space for the Holidays
It's almost December. Last weekend, my local newspaper arrived with a couple of pounds of colorful advertising. As I paged through this virtual mall of holiday gifts, I was surprised to find that the old-time favorite, Monopoly, is now a training ground for credit card purchases. No more calculations for real estate purchases and rents required; just swipe your plastic card through the game board reader to credit or debit your account. No mental math needed; batteries not included.
Electronics permeate holiday advertising: DVDs, games, robots, toys, tools, computers, and flat-screen TVs. Sitting here in Silicon Valley, I should not be surprised, but I am. I saw only a handful of children's books advertised, usually as a part of a package that included a talking stuffed character from the story. Batteries not included.
In the era of "Leave No Child Behind," I wonder when children find the time for their imaginations to spark and grow. In the classroom, often it's all about basics and test preparation. During out-of-school time, video games, television and earplug media leave little quiet time for mental exploration and development. When I consider gifts for children, I look for something that is both entertaining and mind expanding. I look for a good book; batteries not required.
I especially like to give books to children. The children in my extended family predict easily what's in the flat package that arrives from my husband and me. It's a book. That doesn't mean it's dull and boring, nor full of information getting them ready for the next required test. Rather, a good children's book is like a passport to another world, opening a window onto a new vista.
As the science educator in the family, I share my interest in astronomy and space sciences through these gifts. What are some of my favorites? The biography of Dr. Jill Tarter and the story of SETI, "Looking for Life in the Universe," by Ellen Jackson (2002) is just right for upper elementary and middle school children. Likewise, Gloria Skurzynski's story of astrobiology, "Are We Alone? Scientists Search for Life in Space," (2004) takes children into the field with scientists exploring Earth and space. These award-winning books have been out for a few years, but continue to be available from online bookstores.
This year, my pick for a holiday children's book is a new, fun astronomy book, "Wonderful World of Space." The well-known astronomy educator, Andrew Fraknoi, penned this delightful compendium of astronomy and space science. Among his many professional activities, Fraknoi is a member of the SETI Institute's Board of Trustees, and teaches astronomy at Foothill College. This month, Fraknoi was selected as the 2007 California Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement & Support of Education. He's a consummate astronomy educator, which is readily apparent in "Wonderful World of Space."
Fraknoi teamed with Disney Learning to produce this up-to-date, well-illustrated book. It features beautiful images and explanations that are complemented by engaging Disney characters to entertain young readers with funny little asides. (Mickey Mouse explains, "There IS life on Pluto! He's got fleas!") The question and answer style of the text suits readers who go page by page, and those who like to browse randomly. Both will be drawn into a mind-expanding adventure through the natural universe. And, the best part? No batteries required just a curious mind.
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