Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: Some books grow on you in surprising ways. I read On a Beam of Light (Chronicle 2013), liked it, and set it aside to take to school to show my 6th grade science teachers but I wasn’t planning to write a blog post about it. But overnight its messages haunted me. One of my favorite Einstein quotes is about his curious nature:
“I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.”
The gift of a compass from his father sparked his curiosity about the wonder of unseen mysteries and he became a passionate reader and asker of questions. The reading did not answer all of his questions, though, so he “kept on reading. Wondering. And learning.”
Our fast-paced, time-on-task, tweet-filled, noisy lifestyle leaves little time for contemplation…and if someone is sitting quietly thinking… they are surely presumed to be “doing nothing.” Berne begins the book with several pages highlighting Einstein’s delay in talking as a child. He was three and still not speaking much.
I’m far from a Luddite, but I do wonder how our current preoccupation with talking when we have little or nothing to say is impacting our ability to think and reflect. Our instant access to information has to be impacting our curiousity. Years ago when we had a question we would contemplate the possible answers…to reason them out…to narrow down the best choices and perhaps it would be a few days before we were able to look up the answer. Meanwhile the possibilities stewed and sifted in our brains. Now, we whip out a smart phone and have the answer before we engage our curiosity to any serious degree. It gives me pause. And books like this one reinforce the importance of asking questions, of wondering, of reading and learning. On a Beam of Light is a quiet gem and the illustrations of Vladimir Radunsky shine with Einstein’s spirit.
Lynn: I found On a Beam of Light wonderful for many reasons but I too especially loved the theme of curiosity. Being around my young grandchildren and volunteering with several elementary classes puts curiosity right in front of my nose and one of the things I often ponder is where does that curiosity go? It seems to often disappear when kids get to middle school and I wonder about whether our education system or our culture kills it off or whether it just gets buried too deeply to see it easily. For all our sakes, I think it critical that we fan the flames of wonder, curiosity and imagination wherever we find it!
Here is another new picture book that celebrates imagination and is just plain fun besides. Reading How to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers: a Simple But Brilliant Plan in 24 Easy Steps by Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook 2013) is a little like eavesdropping at our house – especially in the summer when plans and schemes have time to be hatched, elaborated upon and even attempted.
Nathan notices that the full moon seems sad and thinks it might be lonely. He suggests planting sunflowers to cheer the moon up and his parents giggled. “How would you get there? On your bicycle?” Nathan thinks, “Why not on my bicycle?” The wheels turn inside Nathan’s head and his plan is rolled out step by step in hilarious detail. A huge slingshot made of the garden hose, a bicycle rigged with special clamps? Easy peasy! Little details like zero atmosphere are handled with a letter to NASA asking for a spare space suit and the hose you rode up on will provide water for the seeds. Nothing to it – Nathan has it all figured out including the parental opposition.
Gerstein’s wonderful illustrations are rife with details that make careful reading a special pleasure. The humor is delightful and kid-pleasing and parents of small dreamers and schemers will be captivated too. The older members of the focus group loved this book which I somewhat reluctantly showed them. I was a tad nervous they’d try this scheme out as last summer’s endeavors included an elaborate treehouse, a lot-sized zipline and their own zoo. What was I saying about the joys of curiosity and imagination?
Common Core Connections:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.2.3 Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.2.3 Write narratives in which they recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure.
Read aloud How to Bicycle to the Moon to Plant Sunflowers and have the students describe or write the steps in accomplishing this feat of engineering. Or brainstorm a new challenge and have the students create the steps in sequence needed to accomplish the challenge.