MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
How old were you when you learned the basics of physics or rocket science? Or maybe you never did. Well, if there's a toddler in your house, you can refresh your memory or maybe learn something new. As part of our series on kids' media, NPR's Lynn Neary takes a look at books that introduce some complex concepts to the very young.
LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: When Kelly Barrales-Saylor was a new mom, she got lots of kids' books as presents.
KELLY BARRALES-SAYLOR: Basic concept books about shapes and colors and alphabet - and I realized that there wasn't really any science available, nothing about math, nothing about science. And my editorial brain lit up and said, there must be a need for this.
NEARY: Barrales-Saylor is an editor at Sourcebooks. She did some research and found Chris Ferrie, who had self-published some math and science books for kids online. Ferrie is a physicist and mathematician at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia. He first created the books for his own children.
CHRIS FERRIE: My children find it easier to pronounce proton and neutron and electron than they do, you know, aardvark.
NEARY: When reading to his children, Ferrie noticed that most books used animals to introduce kids to words. In today's world, that just didn't make sense to him.
FERRIE: You know, we're not surrounded by animals anymore. We're surrounded by technology.
NEARY: Barrales-Saylor worked with Ferrie to design a series of books aimed at toddlers and babies. These are sturdy board books with bright colors and simple shapes that introduce the basics of subjects like rocket science, physics and general relativity.
All right, let me get the books out for you.
HENRY: I want the rocket book.
NEARY: You want the rocket book?
Six-year-old Henry Nathanson and his 2-and-a-half-year-old sister, Sylvie, live in Washington, D.C. Their mom, Rosie Nathanson, agreed to read the books to her kids.
ROSIE NATHANSON: (Reading) This is a ball. This ball is moving. Air can't go through it.
HENRY: I know because it's - because it's aerodynamic.
NEARY: Henry had learned about flight in school and was excited to hear words he knew in a book called "Rocket Science For Babies."
NATHANSON: The upward force is called lift...
NATHANSON: How'd you know that? This is a...
HENRY: ...When I'm learning about flight.
NATHANSON: Exactly. This is the shape of an airplane wing.
HENRY: I knew that.
NEARY: But while Henry plunged through the books, his little sister grew restless.
SYLVIE: I need a water.
NATHANSON: Listen - OK...
NEARY: An ABC book about math momentarily caught her attention.
NATHANSON: F is for focus. Do you know that?
NATHANSON: The focus is the...
NATHANSON: That's good.
NEARY: But not for long.
NATHANSON: Do you want to read more of this?
NEARY: At 2 and a half, Sylvie was clearly having a hard time grasping the concepts in these books. Sourcebooks editor Kelly Barrales-Saylor says the books are really just an introduction to scientific and mathematical words.
BARRALES-SAYLOR: We know toddlers aren't going to pick up the exact high-level concepts we're explaining. We're trying to do - introduce the small seeds of information, meant for them to remember years later.
NEARY: Sylvie's mom, Rosie Nathanson, thinks her daughter might be more interested in the books a year from now. As for 6-year-old Henry, he gave the books a qualified endorsement.
HENRY: I liked it half, and I didn't like it half.
NATHANSON: I have a question for you...
HENRY: ...Half and half.
NATHANSON: OK, half and half. I have a question for you. If I just came up with this book and said, rocket science, and didn't read the, for babies, what do you think?
HENRY: It would probably be better.
NEARY: Henry might shy away from books that he thinks are for babies, but some parents might find these books are at just the right level to start learning about rocket science. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SCIENCE IS REAL")
THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS: (Singing) Science is real, from the Big Bang to DNA. Science is real, from evolution to the Milky Way. I like those stories about...
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