Monday, August 18, 2014

Pluto's Secret by Margaret A. Weitekamp with David DeVorkin

Pluto's Secret: An Icy World's Tale of Discovery by Margaret A. Weitekamp with David DeVorkin

Rating: 5 stars

Yesterday, on the way to the pool, Lorelei read Pluto's Secret.  When we got there, it was break time, so I asked her what she thought of it.  I interrupted her reading of a different book with my question.  Like me, she's not so fond of having her reading interrupted.

"It's nonfiction.  And it's funny nonfiction.  You don't see a lot of that.  Usually nonfiction is so serious.  But if you're so curious about it, why don't you read it?" was her full answer.

I told her the last part was a bit rude but she did have a point.  I shuffled to the car, got the book, and sat down to read it.  I interrupted her one last time before I really began to read: "Do you think someone is going to laugh at me, an adult reading a big picture book, without a kid on my lap?" My remark got no response.

But I kid you not: 30 seconds later a lady walked by and laughed out loud. And not in a very nice way.  I turned and looked at her and she apologized, "Sorry! I couldn't help it!  You just don't see that every day!"

I smiled, held back the long explanation, and went back to my book.

The icy world...was busy dancing with its moons.
I'm sure you heard, as even stuck-in-my-own-world-me heard, that Pluto is no longer a planet.  When my kids read an older science book, I am the one to break it to them or remind them that Pluto is no longer a planet.  This book provides a longer and better explanation than this mom usually provides.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has helped out parents and teachers with this book.  And it is a great book not just for learning Pluto's story (Pluto interjects many parts of it himself in a very fun way) but also to inform kids of how discoveries are made, and how older "facts" need to be reexamined with a fresh eye and a curious mind.

Here are the facts, in case you have to do some explaining before you check out this book (which you really should if you hang around any kid older than five):

  • Pluto was declared a planet on 13 March 1930 after the small dot Clyde Tombaugh, through his telescopic camera, moved in the two pictures a few days apart.  This was what planets do: move.  Ergo, that dot must be a planet.
  • Eleven-year-old Venetia Burney from England suggested the name "Pluto" because "Pluto is the Roman god of the dark underworld.  The new little planet is so far from the sun that it must be a cold, dark place, too."
  • Astronomers soon learned that Pluto didn't always stay in its place.  In fact, it orbited waaaay out past the other planets in the solar system, with other small planet-like things, and in a different path than the other planets.
  • This new area where planets--or, maybe they weren't planets--orbited was named the Kuiper belt.
  • There was no clear definition of what a planet was, so astronomers voted on a definition: they must orbit the sun, must be round like a ball, and it has to be alone in its orbit. (As the daughter of a guy who was constantly saying "Well, it depends on how you define X," I like that the authors included this in the book. Because you can bet I encourage my kids to define things, too.)
  • Therefore, Pluto was recategorized as an icy world--a "something new"--and we have a whole lot more to learn about it.

This book pairs nicely with a field trip to the Air and Space Museum--either downtown D.C. or the one out by us, Udvar Hazy Center.  That's where we're off to tomorrow...

Suggested reading:
A Penguin Story for a simple tale of curiosity, one of Kiefer's favorites (ages 2-5)...
Clouds and other easy reader books in that series for simple explanations of weather (ages 3-6)...
Meet Einstein for simple introduction of Einstein and his major discoveries (ages 4-7)

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