One of my main missions in life is to entice kids into the earth sciences. As part of this agenda, I found a book about Surtsey and bought it. Even for kids who may be ho-hum about science, this is going to be an easy hook: it's a volcano that suddenly appeared and became a brand-new island!
It's things exactly like this that distracted your own humble author from unicorns and fairies and got her real interested in how the earth works. So, if you're wanting to reel a kid in to the earth sciences, this is basically bait and hook in one easy package.
Surtsey: The Newest Place on Earth by Kathryn Lasky is everything you ever needed or wanted to get a child's eyes popping. It's listed for kids 8-12, but the photos should easily hook younger kids, and the writing, while simple and clear enough for middling wee ones, won't insult the intelligence of older kids. And each chapter starts with a quote from the Prose Edda, so everyone can have a hefty dose of mythology with their science. Kathryn uses a really nice translation of it: it sounds epic and ancient without sounding stuffy. She herself writes beautifully, so all around, this book is a joy to read aloud.
Scientific terms such as tephra and pumice are effortlessly slipped in and defined. I do wish she hadn't relied so much on "fire" as a way to describe an eruption - magma is rather extremely different from a wood fire, and it's gasses and ash, not a lack of oxygen, that makes it hard to breathe when you're close to a volcano. But it's not such a bad metaphor when it comes to kids.
The Midgard Serpent becomes the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in Chapter Three, which is awesome. And most of the chapter is good on earth science, explaining why mid-ocean ridges form. Unfortunately, there's a glaring mistake where Kathryn thinks the mid-ocean ridge in the Pacific is caused by collision. It's not - it's a spreading center just like the one in the Atlantic. So this will be a good example to kids to not believe everything they read.
Kathryn uses Norse mythology to punch up the geologic explanation of how Surtsey survived the sea to become an island, and it's done well. Most of the drama comes from the actual physics of water interacting with magma, with mythology just adding a pinch of spice. And then we get a sprinkle of linguistics as the new island is named, which is delightful.
We meet Arne Jonsson, who lived on the newborn island while it was still erupting in order to protect it from visitors and monitor the experiments. If kids ever thought science wasn't exciting, this should put paid to that notion.
The chapter on lava introduces us to hellu and apal lava - the Icelandic terms for pahoehoe and aa. The magnificent variety of ways basalt erupts are described in delightful detail. Kids also get to learn what palagonite is, and that it's called moberg in Icelandic. I don't ever recall a children's book that has talked about palagonite! This is one of the reasons I am loving this book so much.
Several of the chapters talk about life coming to Surtsey. Please do note they mention animal death - small children might get sad and need some hugs. It's fascinating stuff, though, watching the wildlife lay claim to a barren volcano before plants could even consider relocating there. The role of birds in establishing plant life is explored far more thoroughly than I've ever seen: it turns out it's not just seeds hitching rides in guano and on feet, but in gizzards, too!
The book ends by noting that Surtsey will not last forever; eventually, wind and sea will reclaim it. But it also closes with the promise that a new island will rise from the mid-Atlantic Ridge, which gives a reader tingles.
Despite some errors, this is an excellent book for kids who need a little more earth science in their lives, which is basically all the kids. And adults will enjoy this one, too, so don't be afraid to pick up a copy for your own self! The photos alone are worth the price.