One of my favourite authors of children’s books is Pamela Allen.
She’s lyrical, dreams up fantastic onomatopoeia, and creates her own simple coloured drawings. She’s also not afraid of tackling difficult subjects, like lonliness, the pain of love, the unwritten rules of friendship and imaginary monster pals.
What’s also brilliant – from a learning point of view – is that many of Pamela’s stories have a strong foundation in science.
In Mr Archimedes Bath, poor old Archimedes tries to work out which of his animal friends is causing his bath to overflow. In a ‘Eureka!’ moment mirroring that experienced by the ancient Greek scholar by the same name, he realises it’s the cumulative upwards movement of water with the addition of each bath-sharing creature which results in the water line reaching the top and then overflowing. Sounds trivial, but it was this discovery which purpurtedly led to a method for accurate measurement of the volume of irregular solid objects (see here to read more).
In Who Sank the Boat? and Alexander’s Outing, water movement is also covered. This time, the stories are based around whether items float or sink: described in science-y language as ‘the buoyant force is equal to the weight of the displaced water’. The details don’t matter – from the perspective of Pamela Allen, all you need to understand is that:
- There are only so many animals you can add to a small wooden boat before it will sink; and
- A baby duck floats, and hence can be miraculously rescued from a deep, dark hole by the gradual addition of water.
Now, dipping and tipping, dipping and tipping, skipping and dripping, quacking and flapping, dripping and skipping, from the fountain to the hole and back again they danced.
Slowly the water rose….up and up and up…until….
Out popped Alexander like the cork out of a bottle.
[excerpt from Alexander’s Outing]
Moving on to another concept in science, Newton’s 2nd Law of Motion states: The acceleration of an object as produced by a net force is directly proportional to the magnitude of the net force, in the same direction as the net force, and inversely proportional to the mass of the object. It’s a mouthful at the best of times – can I recommend you read Allen’s The Pear in the Pear Tree to get the general gist instead? It basically boils down to a transfer of energy; in this case, a child is flung through the air and displaces water in a pond. This triggers the catapulting of a bird onto the fruit-laden branch of a pear tree, and delivery of a pear to the children at ground level below.
A final taste of science-by-Pamela-Allen can be found in Brown Bread and Honey. While as adults we’re all well-aware of our expanding waistlines, and the ‘kilojoules in’ versus ‘kilojoules out’ rule for maintaining healthy body weight, it can be hard to teach children the message without it boiling down to the ugly mantra,
‘If you eat too much, you will get fat!’
Instead, in this beautiful tale we see how the king’s friendship with the stable boy and his appreciation of a sandwich teaches him to love simple food and learn the pleasures of creating it himself.
Conclusion: if you’ve got a kid or two, or even if you don’t, do yourself a favour and get some Pamela. You’ll learn some science and not even know it.
[image taken from Brown Bread and Honey]
[this is an edited version of a blog post I wrote in July 2012 for another site]