In a recent online conversation about great “living books” for science, I saw lots of people mention older texts. I was curious so I went and sought one out that would have nicely fit our study this year, called Stories of Rocks and Minerals for the Grammar Stage by Harold Wellman Fairbanks. There’s a classical education title if ever there was one. You can also read the book for free on Google Books if you’re interested. It was published in 1903.
On the one hand, it has some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever seen in a children’s science book.
“Beneath our feet is the soil which has had such a strange history. Yonder the men are quarrying blocks of stone to make some one a house. Down by the brook, you can fill your pockets with all sorts of pretty pebbles, each one of which has a different story. Upon your finger there is a ring made of gold dug out of the earth by some miner. In your homes there are dishes of silver, copper, iron and porcelain, the materials for which came from different parts of the earth.”
Nice, right? I didn’t read the whole book but what I found was imaginative but informative, getting the reader or listener to think about things. Other chapters guide kids into a volcano, through the formation of fossil fuels, and into a vein of quartz, among many other things. It’s an incredibly detailed book.
But… I also immediately spotted some issues. Seventy elements? Mother Nature did this and that and… formed pretty much everything? Somehow I don’t think secular or Christian readers would think much of that poetic licence. Plus, explanations are often missing some key components. Plate tectonics, for example, wasn’t even proposed as a theory for nearly a decade after the publication of this book.
There may be many parts you could use (and it’s possible I’ll dig through it and find some) but it mostly made me mourn the state of today’s science books for kids, when things are more accurate, but poorly written. Even more than other subjects, science books have to be updated to be of use. Yet there’s very little out there with such strong sense of narrative.
If those two sorts of books could only meet and become one book, then I might be happy.