For our recent train trip from Providence, RI to Washington D.C., I packed an enticing selection of books with which to entertain the boys. The winner, for most times read (coming and going) and depth of interest sustained, was Fluorine (Tom Jackson, 2004), one of a series called The Elements published by Benchmark Books (Marshall Cavendish). We poured over the diagram showing what happens when fluorine gas is added to uranium tetrafloride, were intrigued to learn that fluorine might become an ingrediant in artificial blood (sounds risky), and studied, as is our wont, the Periodic Table of Elements.
Being less scientifically minded than I might be, I posed challenging questions along the lines of "If you were an element, which element would you like to be?" I want to be one of the Nobel Gases, possibly Argon, in as much as I'm an introvert and don't react with others as much as more extroverted elements. Fluorine, for instance, is an incredibly pushy element--"It gets the girls," said my son, which led to a brisk discussion on the dangers of metaphors that incorporate gender stereotypes. And anyway, "Fluorine" sounds like a girl's name to me.
The Elements is a a fine series for non-fiction loving children, with human interest galore alongside the straight chemistry. It was not my idea to start checking them out, but my 8 year old has always had a passion for chemistry, and my 6 year old is happy to go along for the ride, so there we are (one of their most bitter public fights occurred at a library booksale, when they were 5 and 2, and both wanted a chemistry textbook--one because it was chemistry, the other because it was red). We are now reading Gold.
I feel very lucky to have children who like to learn, because it means I get to learn too, and no one is more aware of how much I don't know than I myself. The depth of my chemical ignorance was made clear to me when I first read The Uplift War, by David Brin, many years ago. In this book (an excellent story, incidentally), an "uplifted" female chimpanzee, who isn't considered especially intelligent or worthy of reproduction, manages to recognize the chemical formula for hemoglobin--C738H1166N812O203S2Fe--and saves the day. Not me. I can do H2O and CO2, but that's about it. I vaguely wonder if one reason I like fantasy better than science fiction is that it takes a lot more technological and scientific know-how to succeed as a science fiction character...Sigh. But if we keep on checking those element books out of the library, perhaps my children will be spared their mother's shame.
The Non-fiction Monday Roundup is at In Need of Chocolate today!