Posts Tagged ‘science’

Living Books on Meteorology

Dear Reader,

I let my high school senior pick his science this year and he chose meteorology. I structured his course around two video series from The Great Courses, An Introduction to the Wonders of Weather and The Science of Extreme Weather. The edginess of the latter balnaces out the more dry factualness of the former. He also read a number of living books. If you are looking for books for younger kids, we also did a year on geology and weather when my kids were in elementary and middle school; you can find that booklist here. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Living Books on Meteorology

What if the Moon Didn’t Exist by Neil F. Comins — All the ways our world wouldn’t exist if conditions weren’t just right.

Why the Sky is Blue by Gotz Hoeppe — Did you know that it’s not blue for the same reason during the day and at the end of the day?

Storm by George R. Stewart — The story of a violent storm which sweeps in from California. Originally published 1941.

Tornado Alley by Howard Bluestein — A professor and storm-chaser tells what he has learned about tornados.

The Children’s Blizzzard by David Laskin — True story of a blizzard in 1888. The kids that tried to get home, those that hid at school.

Divine Wind by Kerry Emanuel –The subtitle says it all: “The History and Science of Hurricanes.”

Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson — It came up  a lot in the news this year too: the Galveston hurricane of 1900.

Visualizing Weather and Climate by Anderson and Strahler — A more textbook-y book to make sure we covered all the bases.

Weather Analysis and Forecasting Handbook by Tim Vasquez — Again, a bit more textbook-y and also seemed rather math-oriented so maybe not for all kids.

Happy forecasting!




Book Review: A Meaningful World

Dear Reader,

I bought A Meaningful World: How the Arts and Sciences Reveal the Genius of Nature by Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt looking for something for my artsy child to read. My son had read some of Wiker’s books when he studied political philosophy and we had found them very accessible and enjoyable, especially given the complexity of the subject. While Meaningful World is not quite what I was looking for when I purchased it, it still gets a definite “must read” recommendation from me.

This book is an amazing amalgamation of literature, philosophy, science, theology and art. Beginning with Shakespeare and moving through chemistry and biology, touching on astrophysics and subatomic physics, this book shows how materialistic reductionism has invaded scholarship across the board and, more importantly, why it ultimately fails. The book ends with what is essentially a plea for the scholarly community to abandon  this approach which the authors see as a once working theory which, though it has yielded some greater insights, has now been disproven.

What is materialistic reductionism? Simply put, it is the assumption that the material world is all there is. Beginning with this presupposition, the authors show, leads to a reductionism in that everything, from Shakespeare to  the cow, is seen as no more than its most basic elements. As Shakespeare is a combination of words which might equally as well have been typed by monkeys given enough time (the real world rebuttal of this oft-quoted theory alone makes this book worth reading), so the cow is nothing more than its DNA, a random sequence of proteins arising without meaning from a chemical soup.

The counterview which Wiker and Witt espouse is stated simply: “the universe is meaning-full” (p. 15). If it were not, there would be no point to science, and the more one delves into it, the more meaning one finds.

There is a lot here and this is a dense book. I am quite in awe of its authors’ breadth of knowledge. It was not what I was looking for simply because it is too dense and packed with scientific info for my artsy high-schooler. I am, however, going to have her and her more mathematically inclined brother read selections from it. A Meaningful World is an enjoyable and challenging read for advanced high shcoolers and up and I would definitely give a copy to any student heading off to college to study sciences (and possibly also literature and mathematics).



Living Books for High School Physics

Dear Reader,

My oldest did physics this year. We were lucky to find a co-op near us that was offering just the labs for physics without is having to do anything else. (In the past we have used Landry Labs for high school science labs. Sadly, they are now out of business.)

I didn’t realize when I signed up for the lab class that it required a textbook as well. They gave a choice between Apologia and Conceptual Physics. Since I’ve never been attracted to Apologia, I chose Conceptual Physics. This is a classic textbook. I tried to have my son do the problems but I didn’t have an answer key so that proved tough. And there were a lot of them for every section.

Midway through the year, I decided to see if I could find any other way to get him physics problems to do, which does seem necessary as physics is so math-based. The best source of such problems seemed to be AP material so in January I decided that the poor bot might as well do the AP Physics 1 test. I had him watch Khan Academy videos and use an AP practice book to prepare. Scores are still pending. I do think he has a shot at a 3 (out of 5) which will get him some college credit at most schools he is looking at. I know 3 is not top-tier but given that I sprung this on him mid-year, I will be happy if that’s what he gets.

So much for the other stuff — let’s get to the Living Books on High School Physics:

Six Easy Pieces by Richard Feynman — A series of lectures on physics of noted professor Feynman

Russell Stannard’s Uncle Albert Books: The Time and Space of Uncle Albert, Black Holes and Uncle Albert, and Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest — These books could be done earlier, even in middle school. My son really enjoyed them and found them easy reading.

Physics for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines by Richard Muller — This is the last one my son will be getting to for the year. It covers topics like terrorism and global warming. He has an interest in politics as well so I think it will be very good for him. I love how it applies physics to our world.

How Things Work: The Physics of Everyday Life by Louis Bloomfield —  I purchased this book but did not end up using it for my son when I found out he was expected to sue the textbook instead. This book is very much like a textbook but seems a bit more accessible. It seems to cover all the basic concepts. I plan to have subsequent children use it.

For the Love of Physics by Walter Lewin — I only ran across this book recently. I purchased it but have not looked at it much. It looks very good and I suspect I will use it in the future.


Lastly, I want to mention Paul Fleisher’s books. He has wonderful short but well-written introductions to various science concepts. They are really middle school level but if you have a child who is not quote so science-y I think you could sue them in high school too.

Happy reading!



Living Books on Anatomy and Medicine

Dear Reader,

Rather inadvertently, my 7th grader has ended up reading a number of books this year on anatomy and medicine so I thought I would share what he has read this year as well as some books we used in the past. You can find all my lists of living books here.

Though not the first book he read, John Hudson Tiner’s History of Medicine would be a good place to start.


Tiner’s books are generally middle school level though I have used them in high school as well (especially for non-science kids). Though they have lists of questions at the end of each chapter, we just use them as we would any other living book — read and narrate, read and narrate. Though they may appear textbook-y, they really are quite readable. I like the history of science approach of this one.

Another middle school age book — I am Joe’s Body by J. D. Ratcliff — goes through the body systems one by one. Though older (and perhaps harder to find), it is quite detailed. There may be some things which have changed in our understanding over the years though I think it’s always nice to be able to point these out and show that science is not static.  I would not use this book for elementary but you could use it in high school as well.

One of my favorite books was a use book find from a number of years ago: Spare Parts: From Peg Legs to Gene Splices by Wendy B. Murphy (pic below) is about all the ways we alter the human body, from ancient prosthetic noses to modern genetic engineering. Middle school level again though I use it as part of my high school biology reading list.


Another winner: Phineas Gage by John Fleischman. This is the true story of a New Hampshire man who got (I think) a railroad spike through his head, the problems he faced and what his doctors learned about the brain from him. It is not long and is engaging reading.

Albert Marrin is one of our favorite authors. Many of his books are on history, but he has a couple on science. One I’ve used for high school biology is Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster, a book about smallpox. Another to consider is Little Monsters: The Creatures that Live in Us and on Us. I may have my son do this one next.


Again, probably a high school level book: Mr. Tompkins Inside Himself by George Gamow. My Tompkins literally goes inside himself and explores all his bodily systems.

Lastly, a few books for younger kids: The Brain: What it is, What it does –well, you can guess what that’s about and Your Insides by Joanna Cole (oh she of Magic School Bus fame; I won’t even begin to list Magic School Bus books; you can look them up on your own if you like them). The latter is one of these flip and see inside books. Both are elementary level. Blood and Guts which is from The Brown Paper School has text and simple experiments. We used it a few years ago. I would call it upper elementary to middle school level. Not perhaps a true living book but it is written in an engaging manner. There is one illustration of mammals and their brain sizes that I can still picture in my head. Lastly, if you have a boy resistant to reading, you might try the Andrew Lost series by J.C. Greenburg. My oldest enjoyed them for a time. They are chapter books on about the level of Magus Treehouse. I am sure they will strike some as not real living books. A boy and his friend (cousin? It’s been a while and I’m not sure) get shrunk and go on some gross adventures — but at least they are gross in a finding out about anatomy and plumbing sort of way.

Happy reading!



Living Books for High School Biology

Dear Reader,

My oldest is finishing up his 9th grade year, that first year of the dreaded high school which seems to throw us homeschooling parents into such a dither. While I expect him to take outside classes at some point, for this year we were still doing everything at home (well, almost; see the bit about labs below). Never one to take any curriculum as I find it, I ended up piecing together different bits for his first year of high school science for which the topic was biology. To see the initial plan, refer to this post from the beginning of the year.

There were three parts to his biology course this year: a video based curriculum from DIVE Science, a lab component through Landry Academy, and a number of living books. Though he has done not the lab yet (that’s in about a month), I will say the living books have been the treasure of this year. I am really glad I decided to use them rather than just taking the readings assigned by the DIVE curriculum, which on a brief perusal I had found deadly dull and quite one-sided, and I am recommitted to including living books in future years.

I would like to give you reviews of both DIVE and Landry, but I will save that for a future post (or two). For now, let me share with you the books I had him read and how each of them worked out for us.

Living Books for High School Biology:


Here is the schedule he used. It’s not very fancy, I know, and I am not sure in this picture how much you can read. If you can see at the top I wrote in “Narrate daily – written 1x/week.” I realize in high school he should perhaps be doing written narrations for everything, but I thought this might still be a bit burdensome for him. He’s a great narrator but has always struggled some with the physicality of writing too much. In other words, it slows him down a lot and he holds his pencil in such a way that his hand aches. Maybe next year we’ll up the quota on that. I’d also like to point out that in true Charlotte Mason style, this is a pretty simple, straightforward approach. Yes, I felt the need to add in the video component to make sure we weren’t missing key points and to give more of a method of evaluation (I made him do the tests from DIVE) and to add labs as well because I know colleges like to see those, but to me the core of it all is the living books. There is not a lot of busy work here, no worksheets and reading comprehension questions — just read and narrate, read and narrate. And it is effective. I really feel like he learned a lot this year and took a real interest in his studies as well.

But I know you are waiting for the main course so here it is:

Evolution by Paul Fleisher – To start off with the most controversial, I had my son read this book on evolution. The DIVE curriculum is unabashedly literal 6-day creationist and I wanted him to get a sense of all sides of the issue. You can read my own thoughts on the topic, which are quite rambling and ambivalent, here. Fleishman has a number of books on science topics. Not all are so controversial (not much is, after all). They are all slim volumes and we have found them well-written. He is good at taking what could be complicated topics and explaining them simply. In general I’d say his books are a middle school level.

Not part of his schedule, but I also had my son read part of one of my favorite internet articles on evolution and creationism, ….

To balance things out, I then had him read The Great Dinosaur Mystery: Solved! by Ken Ham. As the title suggests, this book seeks to explain (or explain away, depending on your point of view) the scientific evidence regarding dinosaurs in the light of that literal 6-day creationist understanding. Though intended for adults, it is written at a fairly simple level and is quite accessible to a younger reader as well. The edition I have is perhaps a bit dated but my impression is that the basic arguments remain the same. I do not find this book  convincing myself. As a biblical scholar of sorts (I almost got a PhD in Biblical Hebrew but for a little thing called a dissertation), this book irked me. The whole topic led to a number of good in-the-car-type discussions and also led me to write this post on the evidence (or lack thereof) of dinosaurs in the Bible.

For a little bit of a lighter take, the next book I had my son read was The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. This classic is about a scientist on an isolated island who is operating on live animals to alter them. The results are grotesque and disturbing. It’s a good book.


The World of Biology by John Hudson Tiner — This volume does not on the surface look like a living book. It is laid out more like a textbook and its content would make a good, if slim, middle school biology course. But it is relatively interesting in how it is written. My son after reading a chapter told me not just how food is digested in the various parts of the body but the story of how they found out that chemical reactions happen in the stomach. It was pretty interesting and I learned something as well from his narration. And he seemed genuinely interested and eager to tell me. If that doesn’t make  a living book. I don’t know what does. The content here might be a bit simple for a high school level class which is why I am calling it “Middle School” but combined with others, I think Tiner’s book made a wonderful addition to our curriculum. And he has many others as well that I look forward to using. In fact my 8th grade daughter has been reading his History of Medicine and though she does not tend to be as enthused about her studies, she too seems pleased with her book.


The next book was a treasure: Mr. Tompkins Inside Himself by George Gamow. Gamow is an older writer who has written a number of volumes which teach science in a narrative format. Most of his books are on physics but this one is biology. The premise of the book is that Mr. Tompkins goes about his day, starting with a visit to his doctor’s office, and falls asleep a lot and dreams of, for instance, traveling inside himself with his own blood cells. This is a fairly dense book and I would say it is high school level. My son really took to it and it didn’t seem to go over his head at all. FYI, the book Mr. Tompkins Learns the Facts of Life seems to be a subset of this book and could be worth using if you have less time to spend on it. But if you have time, do the whole thing.


Next up is Dr. Jenner and the Speckled Monster: The Search for the Smallpox Vaccine by Albert Marrin. Marrin is a favorite author and we get his books whenever they are relevant. He has more on history and I suppose this one is history too in a way but it is medical history. When I asked my son which was his favorite book this year, this is the first one he mentioned. Marrin does a wonderful job of making a story of things, even things one might not expect to be interesting like oil. This is not too long a book and is an upper middle-early high school level.


Lastly, there is Spare Parts :  From Peg Legs to Gene Splices by Wendy B. Murphy. My son has actually not gotten to this one yet but I read it myself and am excited for it. It is the history of what we do to our bodies from ancient prosthetic noses (kind of gross and with pictures!) to modern genetic engineering. The modern stuff is a bit more scanty but the whole thing is pretty interesting. My sister-in-law has a fake leg and I found the part of prosthetics, of which there is quite a bit, fascinating. It really made me realize how much she goes through or has been through that she never complains about.

And that’s the list. Next year will be chemistry and I am excited to use the Life of Fred Chemistry book (we love all things LOF) ut am also looking for living book suggestions.



A Wacky Idea

Dear Reader,

So I has kind of a wacky idea. I don’t really know what conclusions to draw from it and I think it is probably better if I don’t try.

I was reading how scientists now think, based on DNA evidence, that early humans interbred with Neanderthals. Now I don’t quite know where I stand on the whole creation thing (though I have done a lot of posts on it; see the most recent example which includes many links here). One aspect I am not willing to let go of is that people are not just highly evolved animals. There is something fundamentally different about us — we are spiritual creatures, which they are not, and we are made in the image of God which means a whole host of things including that we are relational, have authority, and are creative among others. These are concepts I can’t give up for theological reasons. So my tendency is to think that whatever natural selection may have occurred in the earth’s history, people themselves probably did not evolve from animals.

Nonetheless, I found this idea — that there is evidence of other races in the human genome intriguing. (Of course, I don’t mean “races” in the sense we usually use it, to distinguish different people groups. But I don’t want to say “species” either because different species by definition can’t interbreed and these clearly could since it is evidence of interbreeding we are looking at.) Something started resonating in my brain when I read this. Where do we hear of humans interbreeding with other kinds of creatures? The beginning of Genesis 6 leaps to mind. We are told here that the “sons of God” came down and intermarried with “the daughters of men.” It is hard to know how to take this passage. I have never really heard a satisfying explanation. Some say that this simply means that good, godly men married ungodly women. Others look for a more extraterrestrial (if you will) explanation. Fallen angels seems to be the most common one. Though in other places it seems like it is implied that angels are not sexual creatures. Though  we are not given a lot of info on it, it does seem like there are various kinds of heavenly creatures so perhaps this is true of some but not others. Still, it is not a very satisfying answer. There are also other peoples in the Bible whose identity is vague. Their common characteristic seems to be that they are big. The Anakim and Rephaim are two such groups. Goliath and his family were perhaps their descendents.

What does all this mean? Again, I don’t know and am hesitant to try to say. Only there is this: science tells us that at some point in human history people interbred with other closely related creatures. The Bible also tells us that there was a time when people interbred with non-people (but creatures who were nonetheless genetically compatible with them).


Geology Books

Dear Reader,

We have been studying earth science this year in our homeschool. I posted previously on the books we used to study weather, and now I would like to share the books we have been using to study geology. Personally, I find it takes some work to find living books that are at the right level for my kids so hopefully others can make use of this and save themselves some time in hunting around.

Geology Books

Beneath Our Feet by Ron Vernon — This book covers a lot of ground (so to speak) and I used it as our spine book for much of our time on geology, reading it aloud to all the kids. The unique part of this book is that the author has taken microscope photos of many rocks and minerals and shows them through the book. There are many other, life-size photos as well so that one can see the patterns in rocks really well. The text was at times hard for my kids (ages 8-13) to follow, especially the younger ones, but I think for the most part they got the gist of things. I liked that this was not textbook-y at all. That is  hard to find in science books these days.

Be Your Own Rock and Mineral Expert by Michele Pinet and Alain Korkos — This book is more textbook-y. Well, maybe that’s not quite the right word for it but it is one of those books with lots of little boxes of disjointed text. It also contains experiments and things to do. I had my 10-year-old read this and the level was fine for him. I skipped over the practical, hands-on parts. I think it gave a nice introduction to the kinds of rocks and how they are formed, but it is not a living book.

Rocks in His Head by Carol Otis Hurst and James Stevenson — This is a picture book about a man who collected rocks. I had my 8-year-old read it. It is a nice story if you have younger kids. I am not sure she learned much about rocks from it but maybe it will inspire some kid with a love of rocks themselves.

Pebble in My Pocket: A History of Our Earth by Meredith Hooper — I also had my 8-year-old read this one. It is a little tougher. Basically, it follows the life of a pebble through time showing the changes in the earth. For her narration, I had her make a timeline of the earth as given in the book (I should confess here that I am not a young earth creationist [I did a long series on that too; you can see some of the posts here, here, and here]; if you are, this book is not for you). It was a bit of a challenge for her and she certainly could not have read this book in one sitting, but I was pleased enough with it.

How to Dig a Hole to the Other Side of the World by Faith McNulty — This was one for my 10-year-old. As with the previous book, I had him narrate by making a chart; this one was of the layers of the earth. He did well with this and I think it was a book that was well-suited to his level (he is close to an on-level reader; if anything a little behind for his age). I don’t recall that there was anything young earth people would object too but I couldn’t say for sure since it’s been a few months now.

The Rock Book by Carol Lane Fenton and Mildred Adams Fenton — This is an older book but a living one (mostly) on rocks. I had my 11 and 13-year-old read it. I will say they didn’t seem to love it but they did  a decent job on their narrations so I think they understood it. I talks about how a kind of rocks are formed and then will have  a chapter describing all of that kind. I skipped those descriptive chapters and just stuck to the ones on how they were formed. At times it is quite detailed. I would recommend this book, though I am not sure my kids would. It is upper middle school to high school level.

Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne — We did this classic as a read aloud at lunch times. It took quite a while and at times, as all Verne’s books, can drag when it gets too descriptive. I am sure there were times the kids were tuning out but by the end, I do think they cared about the characters and the ending. This seems to happen a lot with classic books which stretch their level of understanding; they don’t get everything but it is basically a good story so they end up caring. If you are looking for an accurate description of the earth’s interior though, this is not the book for you. It is quite fanciful.

Geology of the Eastern Coast by Kathleen Brown and Cynthia Light Brown — This is part of a series of books which treat different areas of the US. We are on the east coast so I chose this volume. I really liked the idea of this book, looking at the formations where we are and how they came to be. Even after I got the book and opened it and saw how textbook-y it looked (with vocab words in bold even) I still really wanted it to be a good book. I had my 8-year-old read it and it was probably too tough a choice for her. And in the end it was just too textbook-y for me. There were periodic experiments, some of which we did, and she really liked that part.

Birth of an Island  by Millicent Selsam — This one my 8-year-old liked. It is basically about how an island formed and how plants and animals came to be on it. I think it took her 2 or 3 sittings to read but it is not  a hard book. Pleasant is what I would call it.

Storybook of Earth’s Treasures  by — This was a used book store find, I can’t even find it on Amazon. It tells the story of gold, coal, oil, and iron. My 10-year-old read it easily and did well narrating it so I think it was well suited to him. If you run across it, I would recommend it.

The Story of Diamonds by Jean Milne — I used this as a read aloud, mostly because we ran out of time to do it otherwise. This is a nice book which covers a lot, how diamonds are formed, how and where they are mined, and stories of some famous diamonds. Perhaps it was the subject matter but the kids seemed genuinely interested and asked good questions.

The Story of Salt by Mark Kurlansky — I am having my 10yo read this one. He hasn’t startde it yet but it looks good to me.

Black Gold: The Story of Oil in Our LIves by Albert Marrin —  This is a find, a real treasure. It is a living book as evidenced by the fact that my two older kids narrated it very well and often seemed excited to tell me bits of it. It could also be read by older kids but my middle schoolers did well with it.

Bedrock by Lauret E. Savoy, — This is another book I was really pleased to find. It is a collection of poems, essays, and excerpts on things geological. They are arranged by topic and really do come from a wide variety of sources. They also vary in value. It takes some looking through to find the ones you will like but I really enjoyed looking through this book and ended up reading a number of the selections to my kids. There were, for instance, some very vivid descriptions of what it was like to live through an earthquake or a volcano.

And finally, my younger two kids went through a selection of shorter books on individual subjects. If your library is like ours, it has a ton of these books, of varying value. Most are not true living books but some are better than others. Here are ones my kids read:

Earthquakes by Ellen Prager — My 8yo read this and as I recall it was not too tough but was a decent enough book.

Earth Alive! by Sandra Markle — I think my 10yo read this and that it was decent. We got it from the library; we did not pay the $95+ that Amazon wants for it!

Volcanoes by David L.Harrison — Read by my 8yo. I honestly don’t remember much about it.

Cracking Up: A Story about Erosion by Jacqui Bailey — Read by my 8yo. She seemed to genuinely learn things from it and to be pleased that she did.

Avalanches by John Hamilton — My 10yo read this one. He is interested in anything dangerous, it seems.

Geysers by Roy A. Gallant — My 10yo read this and did well with it. Gallant is one of those prolific authors but based on this book, he does a decent job of making his subject interesting.

Caves and Caverns by Gail Gibbons – Another prolific kids’ author. She seem to have books on everything. They tend to be fairly simple. My 8yo read this one.

Icebergs and Glaciers by Seymour Simon — And yet another prolific one. I am not crazy about this sort of book but he seems to do a decent job. It seems like a fairly easy book though I am under the impression that some of his are a bit more difficult.

And that’s our geology list. We are going to do fossils and dinosaurs next and I have a couple of books that I am really excited about. When we have finished, I will post on them.


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