What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this series is a good introduction to scientific subjects for children who are already curious about the material. The books read a bit like textbooks, with challenging vocabulary and concepts, but engaged kids will get a lot out of them.
What's the story?
Former educator Seymour Simon has written more than 250 books for children, and the breadth of his experience shows in these introductory books developed in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution. This series has 26 titles as of June 2001: Snakes, The Universe, Stars, Our Solar System, Weather, Volcanoes, Tropical Rain Forests, Oceans, Lightning, Hurricanes, Global Warming, Earthquakes, Lungs, The Human Body, Wolves, Whales, Spiders, Sharks, Penguins, The Heart, Gorillas, Dolphins, Dogs, Cats, Space, and The Brain. Three titles are focused on below.
Is it any good?
While kids will find lots of detailed information here, the presentation is strangely lacking. Photographs, while beautiful, aren't well captioned, informational graphics are rare and uninspired, and the text is presented in large, dense blocks with no headings. The language is matter-of-fact and challenging, which bright kids will appreciate, but the lack of display type, graphics, and sidebars make it especially difficult to draw in less enthusiastic readers. That's a shame, because there's much to learn and marvel at in this series. Older children will get more out of these; all but the most curious younger kids will enjoy the pictures and lose interest in the text.
Our Solar System
Simon paints a beautiful portrait of each planet, comparing and contrasting with Earth to help kids get a solid grasp of the information. This tour of our solar system is one of his meatiest books, touching on ancient beliefs, current science, and the question of whether life exists elsewhere.
Simon focuses on how human activity is affecting global climate (though he notes that the planet might be in a natural warming cycle), and explains how small changes in climate can have major impacts on people and wildlife. He closes by touching on ways people -- from families to nations -- might be able to slow the trend.
These personable creatures are a fascinating subject, and Simon explores their social behavior, communication, and hunting and feeding techniques before detailing several species. He leaves readers with some tips for helping to protect dolphins and porpoises.
Vibrant images -- predominantly full-page photographs -- are visually arresting and complement the text, though the addition of captions would make them more useful.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about scientific curiosity. Why do we want to learn about other planets in our solar system? What do we gain by learning how dolphins communicate and interact?
A recurring theme in Seymour Simon's books is how humans affect -- and are affected by -- the world around them. Do you feel like you can make a difference when it comes to global warming or protecting dolphins?