Astronomy: Out of this World! created by Basher, written by Dan Green

19 Jul

Astronomy: Out of this World! created by Basher, written by Dan Green

Many of my students love non-fiction books with a lot of facts that they can memorize and impress people with. One of my own children loved to read the periodic table for her bedtime story. Thus, a new series of books for kids on science subjects caught my attention recently at the ALA conference. I picked up a copy of Astronomy: Out of this World! for review. The diminutive book is brightly colored and illustrated with cartoon characters depicting extraterrestrial objects, planets, and stars.  The book is laid out with text on each left-hand facing page and a cartoon character depicted on the right.  The sequence begins with the sun and commences through the solar system and moves outward into space. Each chapter is color-coded by distance from the sun with tabs along the side of the page. Starred factoids begin the text, and then the character tells its own story in the first person. The characters are depicted with emotion and personality. For example the sun is a “seething mass of anger” and the solar system is “big, happy family.” Each page of text finishes off with a few more bulleted facts. The volume includes an index, a short glossary and a pull-out poster.

Other books in the series include The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! and Rocks and Minerals: A Gem of a Book! and several more similar titles. I notice also that Basherbooks has a few non-science volumes, as well, such as Math: a Book you can Count on! and Punctuation: The Write Stuff!.

Let me just say it right out: I just don’t like these books. The cartoon characters annoy me. I am willing to admit that I just don’t get the appeal of Pokemon either, so I may be wrong (and I think that coupling these books with cute little plushy toys would probably be genius marketing, if only for the grandparent-gift-giving potential.) With the new telescopes such as the Hubble, we have amazing, gorgeous photographs of space, and I would enjoy the book so much more with photos rather than these anthropomorphized drawings.

I have yet to try them out on any kids because it is summer break, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my students will not like them much either. I suspect that children who think literally such as children on the aspergers/autism spectrum will not enjoy the cartoons or the cloying voice of the space characters. These kinds of kids, typically, do not need any gimmicks to get them to read and enjoy non-fiction books. If no children’s books are available they are just as likely to pick up an encyclopedia. Gifted kids will likely find them condescending. I don’t even think that kids who don’t generally like or read non-fiction books will be lured in by the cartoons enough to develop an interest in the text.

There is one population of kids that I think these books might well work for. Strongly visual-spacial kids for whom a lot of text is overwhelming may find the organization along the colored spectrum and bulleted facts will aid memory of important information. Some of the cartoon characters contain a good amount of clever symbolism, such as a belt with a large buckle on each rock in the asteroid belt and Neptune holding a triton in his hand.  I would use these as a jumping off point for visual kids to create their own drawings. I’d show them the best examples of the drawings in the book and challenge them to include even more symbolism to help them remember key information. Alexandra Shires Golon recommends this technique of note-taking in Visual-Spatial Learners: Differentiation Strategies for Creating a Successful Classroom published by Prufrock Press Inc.

Basherbooks are created by Basher, written by Dan Green, and published by Kingfisher. Recommended for ages 10 and up.

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