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It's Elementary!: Putting the Crackle into Chemistry - Robert Winston

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Genre: Junior Books - Education / Author: Robert Winston / Hardcover / 96 Pages / Book is published 2007-06-07 by Dorling Kindersley

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      24.03.2012 16:41
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      A book to ignite a child's curiosity about the world around them.

      No we aren't planning to cook our family pet, but this book does include the ingredients list for a dog. I'm afraid the instructions are not included - that's down to DNA. My son couldn't quite believe a dog - as well as a human could be made of such simple things as carbon, calcium, iron, and other simple elements as well as plenty of oxygen and hydrogen of course. It actually took some convincing - and I'm still not entirely sure he believes me, but I managed to explain that all living things are pretty much made up of the same ingredients, it's how you put them together that makes the difference. No scientist can build a dog, but somehow a dogs DNA manages to take all the right bits and put them together just right. And of course without the spark of life, it wouldn't be much use even if we could build a dog. Life is whole different mystery which is up to your beliefs to explain.

      'It's Elementary' is published by DK books, and like most of their publications it is full of detailed colour photographs and illustrations which really go a long way towards explaining a fairly complex subject. This is a large book, with 96 glossy pages, and absolutely packed from cover to cover with interesting facts.

      The book is written by Robert Winston, whom I find a very interesting person. He is not only a medical doctor, a scientist, and TV personality, he is also an English professor and even a politician. It is the talent for both English and science that combine to make this such a brilliant book. It is extremely well written and takes very complex subjects and makes them simple enough that a young child can easily understand.

      This book begins with the elements, and gives us brief history lesson concerning the Greeks and their belief that everything was made of earth, water, fire , air and later Quintessence or space. Next comes alchemy. This section is an absolute must for Harry Potter fans, with mention of the philosopher's stone, spells and secrets. The most interesting part of this section for my son though was the part about a German alchemist who made phosphorus using urine aged for several months with sand and water. Fascinating - in fact I've been trying to find a recipe for this using ammonia which I assume must be the key ingredient - but whatever possessed him to start saving and playing with pee?

      The book moves along with more history of alchemy, moving into the modern science of chemistry. There is an excellent section showing how hydrogen and oxygen combine to create water and how the letters of the elements are used to describe substances. The sections on Marie Curie and atoms are brilliant as well, and my son loved these parts. The table of elements was a bit over his head though as he is only just 7.

      The next section 'We are Stardust' ( which has caused a stupid song to keep repeating in my brain) begins with the big bang theory, includes the recipe for a dog and detailed information on a great many common elements, like hydrogen, oxygen, helium, and carbon. There is also some basic information on how some of these combine to make drinking water, elements in food and my sons very favourite of all - explosive elements. This shows all the elements used in fireworks and my sons both loved this.

      My son really enjoyed this book, but there were sections that were a bit too advanced for him, and a lot of this needed explaining. He has learned from it, and I am glad we bought in now rather than waiting until he was a bit older. True there are some sections he will not fully grasp, but this is a book we can come back to again, with him learning new things each time. He is especially interesting in explosions and nuclear reactions and we've looked these things up online so often I'm beginning to worry about appearing on terrorist watch lists. There aren't many books for very young children that cover these things, but this book does have some interesting sections on it. He was also fascinated to learn that the same elements can take so many forms - such as calcium in our bones, or on my kettle; iron being used to make a fry pan or a nail, but also as our blood; and especially how all the bits are to put together to make those essentials of life as we know it - electronics.

      I really enjoyed the book myself. I did learn things from it, but this is usually the case when I am teaching my son. I think it is clear, well put together and easy to read. We spent £5.84 for this new ( used copies actually cost more) from Amazon. I think it was money well spent and a great addition to our bookshelf.

      My 3 year old enjoyed looking at the pictures, but I feel the minimum age for this would be perhaps 5, with parents reading and simplifying things. At age 7, I feel my oldest is really learning a lot from this, but I don't think he would get much from this on his own. I think a younger child really needs an adult reading this with them who can explain parts they do not understand. If you would prefer for the child to read this alone, I would suggest an age level of 9-10. As to an upper age level - I don't really think there is one. I still enjoyed this myself, and I honestly think it might makes things simpler and easier to understand even for a teenage taking chemistry in school.

      I did buy this book primarily as a home education resource. I think it is perfect for families teaching at home and a wonderful starting point for a child to begin to understand this area of science. This is so much more fun than the old text books I learned from. I also think it would be a very valuable resource for a primary, or even secondary school classroom. I think the main value in this book is just for children to enjoy science, and I would highly recommend this book just for the family bookshelf as well.

      I really can not find any flaws in this book. I can understand that few very strict creationists may object to the pages on the big bang, but you are hardly going to find a science book that does not mention this. It's easy enough to explain your own beliefs when reading this to a child, if they differ from this, and it is only 2 pages.

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