Science Books from my Childhood

David Ng of Science Fair is asking an informal AskThe ScienceBlogger question:

Are there any children’s books that are dear to you, either as a child or a parent, and especially ones that perhaps strike a chord with those from a science sensibility? Just curious really. And it doesn’t have to be a picture book, doesn’t even have to be a children’s book – just a book that, for whatever reason, worked for the younger mind set.

MarkCC and Janet have responded with their choices. And you should definitely look up David’s reviews of several science-related children’s books here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
Here is my list of childhood favourites, the books that turned me on to science – a list that reflects the time and place where I grew up:

As a little kid, I have practically memorized the 1971 translation of the 1968 book The new golden treasury of natural historyby Bertha Morris Parker (under the title of Riznica Prirode). This is where I learned all the names of prehistoric creatures like Dynichtys, trilobites, dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals. This is where I learned about the Solar system and about evolution. And everything else. This is the book that started it all.
At about the same time (very early childhood), I also had and read repeatedly Our Friend the Atom by Heinz Haber, where I learned the basic physics.
I have already written about the importance to my naturalist development of The prince and his ants (Ciondolino) by Ricardo Vamba aka Luigi Bertelli.
I also had a couple of books by Alfred Edmund Brehm, including his most famous, Brehm’s Life of animals: A complete natural history for popular home instruction and for the use of schools, which I used, later in school, as a source for some early papers/reports about animals.
Then, I swallowed a number of translated books by Gerald Durrell and his Russian counterpart, Vera Caplina.
Later, I graduated to works by Konrad Lorenz and, at the age of 13, my first attempt at reading Darwin’s Origin Of Species.
Finally, probably the most important kids’ books I had were a trilogy by Dr.Zivko Kostic (which I see has been reissued): “Between Play and Physics”, “Between Play and Chemistry” and “Between Play and Mathematics”. Each of the books had a story – a bunch of kids (mostly boys!!!!) having a club, meeting regularly and doing experiments or, even more often, using their knowledge to pull pranks on each other and the rest of the community.
But the story was restricted to just a few places scattered around the book. Most of each book was devoted to about 150 “experiments”. I have not just read each of the books many times, but I have also tried to do many of the things described within. Math was easy – paper and pencil was all one needed for most of it. Chemistry was great fun, but it was hard to come up with chemicals (probably impossible in the here and now). So, I mostly did the physics stuff, using materials easily found around the house. That was great fun.
But the greatest fun was when I got to meet the author when I was about 10 years old or so. For a kid in Yugoslavia at the time, it was equivalent of you getting to meet Carl Sagan or Isaak Asimov. My idol, in flesh and blood! And not just for a few seconds at a book signing – he came to visit us for lunch and coffee at my grandparents’ summer cottage.
So I listened with awe to his stories and he answered about a zillion questions I had for him. He is still alive and my mother said she was in touch with him recently. I’ll try to get the new editions of the books and see if they are applicable today – they may be fun to translate. Or, I can do something that I wanted to do for decades now – write the fourth volume: “Between Play and Biology”.
Update I just got an e-mail from my mother. She bought me the three-book set of Kostic’s books. They were re-issued about three years ago and are now in EVERY school library in Serbia, as well as favourite prizes to give to good students at end-of-the-year ceremonies.


4 responses to “Science Books from my Childhood

  1. The Between Play books sound wonderful. I wonder how the translation area works in the children’s publishing stage. I’ll be following up some of my own stuff down the road (with publishers and what not), and will ask when I get a chance.

  2. As we know the author, and I used to be good friends with the person who serves as his lawyer, translation rights may be quite easy to obtain. My mom also says that the representative of the publishing house she talked to was really very nice and forthocoming and helpful which is a good sign.

  3. Bora, You’re the greatest at doing these round-ups. I also loved learning more about your interest in science even as a child. Your enthusiasm is absolutely infectious! 🙂
    PS Linked to you at my Play Library blog.

  4. The Row-Peterson pamphlets turned me on to science. If any book was actually required. These little paperback booklets, each on a different topic, presented the latest scientific thought about a variety of subjects. I have one, for instance, published probably in the early 50s, that says that habitat destruction is the greatest threat facing many species. I heard it there first! And apparently way before everyone else. (What, was no one else actually reading them?) My school had them, and I had a huge pile of them at home as well.
    Some of my favorites from that and earlier eras are less rigorous however. In “Elaine and the Little People of Spring” we learn that the reason it’s so hard to get rid of dandelions is that the little people of spring are pushing replacements up throught the grass. (Aha!) And in “Mopsa the Fairy” we learn that fairies are actually social insects. (That’s why you hear a lot about fairy princesses and queens, but not so much about kings.)