May 26, 2017

Science in the playground and the amusement park

Roller Coaster Science: 50 Wet, Wacky, Wild, Dizzy Experiments about Things Kids Like Best
by Jim Wiese

Wiese takes science out of the lab and into the playground in this optimistic book. He aims to get kids to ask questions about how things work and hopefully shows how science can give them the answers. So he's put together a bunch of activities that can be done on slides, swings, seesaws, and merry-go-rounds. 

These are real multitasking tests! He somehow thinks that kids can remember if they're sliding down the outer or inner curve of a slide and keep track of how many times they swing back and forth. Similarly, he challenges kids to note the size of the hills and the circles while riding a roller coaster, figure out their direction of travel while on the scrambler, and when in a bumper car, know which collisions cause them to move forward or backward. These observations are meant to demonstrate things like pendulums, centripetal force, impulse, and velocity. These lessons will, however, be undoubtedly lost during the thrill of the moment.

Wiese has more success in explaining how toys like paper planes, slinkies, and paddleballs work, why popcorn pops, and how cotton candy is made. Instructions for making a g-force meter, a paper helicopter, and a solar hotdog cooker are included.

May 24, 2017

Engineer and toy inventor

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson's Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions
by Chris Barton
illustrated by Don Tate

As a kid, Lonnie Johnson loved to build rockets and robots. He grew up to become an engineer who built a backup power system for the NASA orbiter Galileo. But his claim to fame was a super-powered water gun! 

The Super Soaker is a hit toy, but its path to production was a rocky one. A story of persistence and faith, Johnson's biography is filled with zest and exhilarating whooshes! that stream over double pages and a fold-out wow! Be sure to check out the end pages, which are filled with drawings of Johnson's other inventions.

Very entertaining.

May 22, 2017

The ferris wheel

Now that summer is almost here, amusement parks are preparing for business. Their roller coasters are the prime attraction, but for a more leisurely experience, you still can't beat the ferris wheel. A peaceful ride, it offers an excellent view as well! 

The ferris wheel is named after its inventor, George Ferris. His story is told in the following picture books.

The Fantastic Ferris Wheel: The Story of Inventor George Ferris
by Betsy Harvey Kraft
illustrated by Steven Salerno

The organizers of Chicago's 1893 World's Fair needed an attraction that would dazzle visitors. Inspired by the success of the Eiffel Tower, engineers submitted plans for look-alike towers. Only George Ferris thought up something different. Concerned about safety, the fair  organizers were leery of Ferris' giant observation wheel, but eventually gave the go ahead. The rest, as they say, was history.

Kraft tells the story in dramatic fashion, detailing the wheel's challenging construction and its eventual success. An account of the wheel withstanding a tornado adds even more excitement. 

Salerno's pictures are an especial standout, showcasing to excellent effect the wheel's size and perspectives.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel
by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
illustrated by Gilbert Ford

More simply told, Davis' story about George Ferris empathizes his financing difficulties, some of the construction problems, and the opening day's festivities. The text flows quite well, nicely encapsulating the main events. Similarly, Ford's pictures capture period details very well, though his palette is a bit on the dark side.

May 19, 2017

Be a balloon maker

The Hot Air Balloon Book: Build and Launch Kongming Lanterns, Solar Tetroons, and More
by Clive Catterall

Inventor and author Clive Catterall provides detailed, step-by-step instructions for making eight different hot air balloons out of trash bags, wire, tissue paper, tea candles, cotton balls, and cardboard. Since open flames are often appropriate for many of the balloons, important safety guidelines preface the launching directions.

The how-to parts of the book seem easy enough, if done with care and in a space large enough to accommodate oversized trash bags. After all, the larger the balloon, the better it flies! Catterall explains why this is so, as well as the science behind lift and flight. He even shows you how to make a solar power meter and a balloon that measures air density. The book begins with an interesting history of ballooning and its uses. 

Catterall's writing can be a bit dry, but those who are into math and physics will find it very adequate. A good book for any aspiring maker.

May 17, 2017

Flying in a hot air balloon

Flying in a Hot Air Balloon
by Cheryl Walsh Bellville

A recreational pilot, Cheryl Walsh Bellville describes what it's like to fly in a hot air balloon. She explains how the balloon is prepared for flight and how it is maneuvered during flight. Later, she becomes a member of a balloon chase crew, and describes how the balloon is tracked from the ground and how the balloon is packed up after landing. She also provides a brief history of ballooning and an overview of an American balloon rally. Illustrated with her own photos, this is a good book for anyone interested in hot air ballooning.

May 15, 2017

Sophie Blanchard, woman aeronaut

Lighter than Air: Sophie Blanchard, the First Woman Pilot
by Matthew Clark Smith
illustrated by Matt Tavares

Words and pictures work harmoniously together in this magical picture book, which ably captures the incomparable sensation of flight. Smith writes with a light, expressive touch which, when combined with Tavares' soaring bright or dark-hued pictures, wonderfully convey ballooning's joys and dangers. Sophie herself is depicted with verve and bravery; her love of flight evident in her expressive features.


May 12, 2017

Dragonfly experiments

Nature Close-up: Dragonflies and Damselflies
by Elaine Pascoe
photographs by Dwight Kuhn

Kids who are lucky enough to live near a body of water would get the most out of this book. The first chapter provides a wealth of information about dragonflies and their damselfly cousins. It even takes a brief look at mayflies. However, the majority of the book is devoted to the care and observation of dragonfly nymphs. 

Catching dragonfly larvae is potentially hazardous, while raising them could be challenging. They require room-temperature non-chlorinated water, pond plants, and a continuous supply of live prey. The experiments, while easy, depend on healthy, living nymphs. Therefore, I would recommend this book for conscientious kids who prefer scientific, hands-on learning.