Illustrated by Jeila Gueramian
Brotman Marsh-Field Curriculums, Biddeford, ME (USA)
Reviewed by Angie Burke
“You are part of a wonderful web of life.”
The Kids’ Book of Awesome Stuff is filled with information, ideas, and activities to develop awareness in children that they are “…part of a wonderful web of life.” Grounded in scientific facts – including explanations of the Big Bang, nuclear fusion, evolution, photosynthesis – the book is engaging and inspiring and should leave any receptive young reader enthralled and sparkling with enthusiasm. Charlene Brotman’s accessible style and creative use of activity-based, interactive learning techniques combine with Jelia Gueramian’s friendly illustrations to make this book a treasure for children and adults alike.
The book consists of six chapters: Star Stuff (exploding stars, chemical elements and recycled matter); Saved by Something Green (how trees breathe, what would happen if every plant disappeared); Poop and Pee and Dead Stuff that Rots (sure to be a favorite!); If There Were No Bugs (Did you know millions of years ago dung beetles cleaned up after dinosaurs?); Ancestors (why your hand has five fingers, evolution and invisible bacteria); Spinning Spiral (the galaxy and our place within it).
Each chapter delves into the subject with a mixture of facts and cartoons providing quirky questions and commentary – a picture of a dandelion leaf with a speech bubble “I’m just a dandelion leaf, but I can split water!” to illustrate how plants convert water into hydrogen and oxygen, or the “How fish are saved from poisoning themselves” fishy conversation about the toxic qualities of fish poo and the bacteria that save them!
There are star journals to keep, word puzzles, leaf hunts, mirror messages, and even yoga. My personal favorite being ‘The Dizzy Rounds’ where you make your body spin around and circle at the same time as if you were the earth circling the sun. Guaranteed to make you dizzy. Your friend, the sun, stands in the centre, now tilt your head (the earth is tilted), turn like a top (that’s the earth rotating), and move in a circle around your friend – tilting, rotating and revolving as you go! Certainly one for younger children to enjoy and perhaps a new party game?
The book encourages children to engage with the natural environment with suggestions for simple, readily achievable activities (you don’t have to live in the countryside for any of them). “Try this some nice day…Breathing with trees: Lie on the ground under a tree. Look up at the leaves. Breathe in deep breaths…The air you breathe in is breathed out by the tree. The air you breathe out is breathed in by the tree. From the tree to you, from you to the tree…Over and over…the Breath of Life.” An initiation ceremony for future eco-warriors?
The book contains gems of wisdom from the Desiderata You are a child of the Universe: Lakota Native American sayings Mitakuye O Yasin – We are all related: Thich Nhat Hanh In the garbage I see a rose. In the rose, I see the garbage. Without one the other cannot be: and Rabindranath Tagore.
There is an account of Rachel Carson’s life and pioneering work to raise awareness about the dangers of chemical use in farming to ourselves and to the Earth, aptly called No Peace in Keeping Silent, and A Strange Tale of what happened in Borneo when the WHO sprayed the island with DDT.
Charlene Brotman envisioned The Kids Book of Awesome Stuff (in collaboration with Ann Fields and Barbara Marshman – neither of whom lived to develop the book) as a tool for teaching the seventh principle in the Unitarian Universalist faith: ‘Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part’. The book was written and designed for children aged nine to eleven to nurture a sense of wonder through science-based puzzles, activities and stories. There are also blank pages at the end for children to use for their own drawings, poems, thoughts and wonderings.
As a workbook for home or school-based environmental education, this book is a valuable resource for developing children’s ‘knowledge and understanding of the world’ (that’s National Curriculum speak!) and may well prove to be more ‘successful’ (certainly more relevant, thorough and fun) than the current strictly subject-based approach in many of our schools.
Rather than testing children on their ‘knowledge and understanding of the world’, perhaps schools should ask parents to participate with their children in some ‘Star travel’ on a clear and starry night – “It’s easy! Bring blankets or sleeping bags, so that all of you can lie on your backs and look up at the splendor above.” Share stories and ideas and think about what you would have called the Milky Way had you discovered it!
As well as providing a holistic basis for learning, this book gently guides children to develop an awareness and appreciation of the sacred. It ends with the words “I pledge to take care of Planet Earth.”
If children can develop a connection with the natural world, as adults they will surely embrace Chief Seattle’s words and perhaps be entrusted to take more care of the Earth than we have.
“People did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” – attributed to Chief Seattle, 1854