Extremes of Scientific Children's Literature

The two children's books I received were Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure by A.J. Wood and Clint Twist and Galileo Galilei: First Physicist by James MacLachlan. These two books could not get any more different if they tried - and not just because of their different subjects.

Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure is more how I imagine a children's book to be. It is the kind of book I would have picked up as a child and enjoyed. Galileo Galilei: First Physicist is a book I would have loathed and probably only used for a rudimentary research project. For starters, the Beagle Adventure has pictures. This is much more appealing to children than solely words like in First Physicist. The Darwin book is set up as if the reader has found someone's journal from an adventure. There are old-looking sepia pictures, sketches as if someone had been drawing newly discovered organisms and interesting titles that make it sound like someone had been on a journey. There are also pullouts and flaps that house the information that is not as pertinent to the "adventure" aspect of Darwin's voyage. In the Galileo book, there are pictures every two or three pages, but they are gray-scaled, and frankly, not very appealing or interesting. I found myself flipping past them even though they were pictures. They felt more in the way than helpful for comprehension.

As for material, the two books are very different as well. The Darwin book basically only covers how he found his discoveries, and it does so in a way that emphasizes the adventure of the unknown - something that is appealing to children. The Galileo book, however, seems to be a more basic version of Galileo in Rome. If First Physicist had been a children's book more in the realm of Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure, only one or two aspects of Galileo, such as his inventions or his trials, would have been covered.

Speaking of the trials, conflict is openly discussed in First Physicist. In the Darwin book, I can only find one spot about a controversial topic, and it is in the form of one of the flaps of not as important material that I mentioned earlier called "Darwin and the Bible". I find it interesting that the book that is intended for younger children (Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure) avoids controversy and only really hits the highlights of Darwin. The opposite is true for the Galileo book which reads more like a textbook than a children's book.

If I were to write a children's book, I definitely would not write one like Galileo Galilei: First Physicist. I am a firm believer in if you want to engage an audience in a way that makes your important information stick, you have to make them enjoy what they're doing. If they feel like what they are doing is monotonous or work (First Physicist), they're not going to absorb anything because they don't want to be doing it in the first place. Children's literature can be (and is) an important vessel for infusing our scientific culture into our youth, but it needs to be done in a visually and informationally pleasing way to successfully pass such complex thoughts on to the next generation.