Ask the Librarians, Science, Top Picks

Top Picks: More Science

Janet wrote:

I am in need of some ideas for science books for my two boys 12 and 9 .. last year we did Archimedes and the Door to Science and it was so wonderful that I am in search of something similar in the following aspect:

The Archimedes book included hands-on / experiments that were woven right into the story. I didn’t see it coming, but found that it was by far the most wonderful way to read science … so I am looking for books that are similar.


You’ve stumbled on our favorite way to teach science–through biography (stories of men who really lived). Whenever possible we recommend reading a biography of a great scientist in the field that you’re studying. Not only do students connect with a real person, they are glimpsing the scientific process at work: reading how someone was figuring out problems that they (like myself) may never have even considered needed to be figured out! I remember my awe after reading a Michael Faraday biography, just imagining how he thought to ask all those questions, let alone devise experiments to test the answers. Here are a few other options that might fit the bill:

String, Straightedge, and Shadow: The Story of Geometry by Julia Diggins
Yes, mathematics is a science, right? This book REVOLUTIONIZED my life. Well. I’m still not a mathematician, but I do have a much deeper understanding of geometry than I did before, I only wish I had read this book when I was in High School. Diggins, a math teacher, traces the history of how men came to use modern geometrical principles, painting a beautiful picture of the order of creation (though she also references Cave Men as was very popular in 1965 when she wrote the book, the conclusions she draws point to our awesome Creator) and the three tools (hence the title of the book) that men used to discover these principles is fascinating! Helpful diagrams illustrate the practical problems and equations making it easy to reproduce or work through them on your own. Best of all, this formerly rare book is back in print!

Jeanne Bendick did write other books, though I don’t think they have quite as much science interspersed through the text as Archimedes and the Door of Science.  You mentioned Galen and the Gateway to Medicine, but also look for Along Came Galileo.

Mendeleyev and His Periodic Table as well as other Messner Biographies on famous scientists like Isaac Newton, Galileo, Michael Faraday, and more, are excellent biographies that chronicle the discoveries made by great men and women of science. I’ve heard the Mendeleyev book is particularly good, and may be a great accompaniment to The Mystery of the Periodic Table.

If you would like some hands-on or experiments to supplement these biographies, or to test the principles/discoveries, there are a plethora of options, a good series is
Janice VanCleave’s Science Experiment Books
These books are organized topically, making it easy to find experiments to do that prove the principles and concepts you come across in your biographies. Most of the equipment needed is easily found around the house too, making impromptu experiments feasible.

The Wonder Book of Chemistry by the inimitable Jean Henri Fabre Like his other books, Fabre writes as the knowledgeable “Uncle Paul” conversing with his nieces and nephews on the topic of chemical elements. In the pages of the story he describes the characters performing experiments that your students could easily to reproduce.