I have the sort of child who says, "Mama, can you tell me the story about Rachel Carson and DDT again?" I've got the DDT story down pat, but I'm a bit chagrined about how few other science stories like that I know. Hence my great pleasure in finding at the library a very fun book called Science Detectives: how scientists solved six real-life mysteries. It's written by the editors of YES magazine, illustrated by Rose Cowles, 2006, 48 pages, recommended for ages 9-12, but good for reading out loud.
There's more in this book than the title would have you believe-although there are six main stories, that get told in several pages, there are also quite a few smaller one page stories, extra explanatory paragraphs, and science activities to do at home. The science stories include the story of Typhoid Mary, the vanishing vultures of India (almost as good as the DDT story, but without, as yet, the happy ending), the Ice Man, and others. They are illustrated with mainly with cartoonish paintings, which keeps the tone light, although some real photos are included. Both male and female scientists are represented, although there are more men.
I've sometimes felt that non-fiction books for kids have a tendancy to go overboard on the "fact-bite" sidebars etc., making the books tricky to read out loud. Although there are sidebars in this book, there is a great deal of narrative cohesion to the stories themselves, so that they are, in fact, stories--they can be read aloud very nicely.
I like this book lots-- the story telling is crisp, the material very, very interesting, and the pictures are harmless enough to me, amusing to the children. We started reading it last night, and I was begged to finish it in the car on the way to school.
Two negative notes:
1. The book would have been improved by a bibliography, or at least suggestions for further reading.
2. A while ago there was a bit of chat in various blogs about the image kid's have of "the scientist"--the majority draw a white man in a white lab coat in a lab with test tubes. The cover of this book shows that guy, but also a dark skinned woman in a lab coat etc. which I suppose is something. What pictures there are of scientists inside the book show them outside of a lab (although one guy is wearing surgical scrubs--he's working with the ice man), but the one photo of a woman scientist is a posed formal portrait, so this book isn't going to dispel many visual stereotypes.