It'salmost December. Last weekend, my local newspaper arrived with a couple ofpounds of colorful advertising. As I paged through this virtual mall of holidaygifts, I was surprised to find that the old-time favorite, Monopoly, is now atraining ground for credit card purchases. No more calculations for real estatepurchases and rents required; just swipe your plastic card through the gameboard reader to credit or debit your account. No mental math needed; batteriesnot included.
Electronicspermeate holiday advertising: DVDs, games, robots, toys, tools, computers, andflat-screen TVs. Sitting here in Silicon Valley, I should not be surprised, butI am. I saw only a handful of children's books advertised, usually as a part ofa package that included a talking stuffed character from the story. Batteriesnot included.
Inthe era of "LeaveNo Child Behind," I wonder when children find the time for theirimaginations to spark and grow. In the classroom, often it's all about basicsand test preparation. During out-of-schooltime, video games, television and earplug media leave little quiet time formental exploration and development. When I consider gifts for children, I lookfor something that is both entertaining and mind expanding. I look for a goodbook; batteries not required.
Iespecially like to give books to children. The children in my extended familypredict easily what's in the flat package that arrives from my husband and me. It'sa book. That doesn't mean it's dull and boring, nor full of information gettingthem ready for the next required test. Rather, a good children's book is like apassport to another world, opening a window onto a new vista.
Asthe science educator in the family, I share my interest in astronomy and spacesciences 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 schoolchildren. Likewise, Gloria Skurzynski's story of astrobiology, "Are We Alone? Scientists Searchfor Life in Space," (2004) takes children into the field withscientists exploring Earth and space. These award-winning books have been out for a few years, but continue to be availablefrom online bookstores.
Thisyear, my pick for a holiday children's book is a new, fun astronomy book, "WonderfulWorld of Space." The well-known astronomy educator, Andrew Fraknoi,penned this delightful compendium of astronomy and space science. Among hismany professional activities, Fraknoi is a member of the SETI Institute's Boardof Trustees, and teaches astronomy at Foothill College. This month, Fraknoi wasselected as the 2007California Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for theAdvancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement & Support ofEducation. He's a consummate astronomy educator, which is readily apparent in "WonderfulWorld of Space."
Fraknoiteamed with Disney Learning to produce this up-to-date, well-illustrated book.It features beautiful images and explanations that are complemented by engagingDisney characters to entertain young readers with funny little asides. (MickeyMouse explains, "There IS life on Pluto! He's got fleas!") Thequestion and answer style of the text suits readers who go page by page, andthose who like to browse randomly. Both will be drawn into a mind-expandingadventure through the natural universe. And, the best part? No batteriesrequired – just a curious mind.