These books, movies and experiences are some of my family's favorites from the last year. All are gettable by Christmas at either Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, or at your local bookstore and aquarium. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, these will help you pass the time before school starts up again in January. Happy New Year!
Face Bug, by J. Patrick Lewis, grades 1 to 5
Science and poetry come together in this picture book by former U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Lewis, photographer Frederic B. Siskind and illustrator Kelly Murphy. Each of 14 bugs, including butterflies, caterpillars, moths, bees and spiders, earns an ode and close-up portrait. My 8-year-old-daughter, Eliza, says, “It’s good, but it doesn’t give a lot of information.” It’s true that the book is not a fact-filled science guide, but it offers an imaginative new way to celebrate some of the littlest forms of wildlife.
Far From Shore: Chronicles of an Open Ocean Voyage, by Sophie Webb, grades 4 to 7
I first read about “Far From Shore” in this blog post by Michelle Nijhuis, a fellow science writer who was hunting for good books for her own daughter. Though “Far From Shore” is intended for middle-school children, younger readers – and even not-yet-readers --will appreciate Webb’s illustrations of the creatures she encounters on her expeditions as a field biologist.
The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe: The Tell-Tale Start, by Gordon McAlpine, grades 3 and up
McAlpine weaves physics into this spooky tale of imaginary twin brothers descended from the famous American poet. The twins, 12-year-old pranksters of advanced intelligence, are kidnapped by an evil genius who wants to use their psychic connection to demonstrate quantum entanglement. Though the macabre story line, which includes a plan by the villain to kill off one of the twins, is not for everyone, my daughter couldn’t put it down after the first few pages.
“Frozen Planet: The Original UK Series Narrated by David Attenborough” on DVD or Blu-ray.
We’ve watched this 7-part BBC documentary many times, and it is still among our favorites. The film has awe-inspiring imagery of life at the top and bottom of the Earth, including close-up footage of killer whales, polar bears and penguins, accompanied by Attenborough’s informative and stylish commentary. Read about the BBC’s other series in “A Biology Teacher’s Ode to David Attenborough.”
On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein, by Jennifer Berne; illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky, grades 1 to 4)
This picture book about Albert Einstein emphasizes the physicist’s curiosity about the universe and encourages kids to help solve the many mysteries that remain. It describes atoms and the mutability of space and time, but not in a didactic way. It’s just enough to whet the appetite for a lifetime of learning.
Many aquariums, including the New England Aquarium and the Georgia Aquarium, have rolled out programs that allow children and adults to schedule private, behind-the-scenes visits with animals, trainers and researchers. They are not cheap – prices are in the range of $65 to $75 per person, on top of admission – and the minimum age tends to be around 7, but they make for last-minute gifts that can leave lasting memories.
Image credits: Eliza Lamster
More gift recommendations:
The National Science Teachers Association's Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
Dear Santa: Please Send Owl Puke
Kids’ Books for Stormy Weather