Wait - I must be honest with you. My library isn't that far away. The two books I'm sharing this week would have been worth a little interstellar travel, though. Just be sure you skirt around the edges of any event horizon you may encounter on your way.
In all seriousness, these are books I would have killed for as a kid. Both have concrete, clear explanations of some of the most amazing parts of our universe. Let's begin with the older of the two.
The Mysterious Universe:
Supernovae, Dark Energy, and Black Holes
author: Ellen Jackson
photographer: Nic Bishop
Hardcover, 64 pages
Published May 5th 2008 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
The universe is rapidly expanding. Of that much scientists are certain. But how fast? And with what implications regarding the fate of the universe?
Ellen Jackson and Nic Bishop follow Dr. Alex Fillippenko and his High-Z Supernova Search Team to Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii, where they will study space phenomena and look for supernovae, dying stars that explode with the power of billions of hydrogen bombs. Dr. Fillippenko looks for black holes--areas in space with such a strong gravitational pull that no matter or energy can escape from them--with his robotic telescope. And they study the effects of dark energy, the mysterious force that scientists believe is pushing the universe apart, causing its constant and accelerating expansion. (Goodreads Summary)
I had heard raves about the "Scientists in the Field" series, but hadn't experienced any yet. Based on this selection, I'm sold. There were concrete, clear explanations. There were mind-blowing astronomical photographs and illustrations. There were great images that showed the fun and silly side of the scientist, both in his lectures and in his real life. I also enjoyed the "How This Book Was Researched" section at the end. Having a piece like this is a valuable tool to help students understand how nonfiction is crafted.
What I liked best about it was the combination of explanations of the science with descriptions of what the scientist actually does with his time. So many students are fascinated with things like black holes (at least the students I encounter are!) but they have no idea how this fascination could turn into an actual career. I want my students to find a passion in the world around them, but I also want them to start to be intrigued by paths their lives could take if they pursue these passions. It's just too bad that the author couldn't have also found some female and/or scientists of color to spotlight along with Dr. Fillippenko.
In a moment of pure serendipity, this next book hit my radar AND was available to read at my library during the same week that I read Mysterious Universe. A perfect pairing, indeed.
A Black Hole is Not a Hole
author: Carolyn Cinami DeCristofano
illustrator: Michael Carroll
Hardcover, 80 pages
Published February 1st 2012 by Charlesbridge Publishing
A Black Hole focused on... well... black holes. Filled with clever illustrations and silly humor, this is a book I can't wait to hand my students. The author's voice is humorous, yet the science is detailed and clearly explained.
Black holes aren't holes... but they are. They are like whirlpools... but not exactly. Newtonian physics starts off the explanation, but the Einstein relativity theories that help explain black holes more clearly are also introduced.
With lots of pictures and plenty of white space, this is an excellent Black Hole primer. It even includes a timeline in the back that shows the history of the milestones along the way to uncovering the reality of black holes. The author also explains how she did her research, and mentions many of the primary and secondary sources she used.
I'm starting a space unit this coming week, and one of my goals was to have some great books out on the table to help spark my students' curiosity. During my introduction this week, several students mentioned being interested in black holes. Boy, are they in for a treat!