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Science for Babies: these books distil scientific subjects for toddlers

Colourful thick pages and covers bedecked with pictures of wide-eyed babies and pacifiers; on the surface these look like any other books for babies. But the squiggly letters spell quarks, deoxyribonucleic acid, aerospace engineering, and coding: words more suited in the library of your neighbourhood boy feverishly preparing for his entrance exam.

A new breed of authors worldwide are writing board books that distil complex scientific subjects for toddlers. Dressing up nerdy science in the more fashionable garbs of fiction — akin to the geek makeover trope — is common enough; any children’s library worth its salt has an Asimov collection. And these books introduce pure sciences as others do animals and colours. They take the saying “Never too old to learn something new” and turn it on its head.

For Ruth Spiro, author of the Baby Loves series, inspiration struck when she read an article which said that parents were dropping picture books in favour of more sophisticated reading material. ‘What do they want, quantum physics for their babies?!’ she thought. But what started out as a joke, has today become a beloved series which introduces children to the concept of subjects like quarks, coding and aerospace engineering.

Science for Babies: these books distil scientific subjects for toddlers

Others like Chris Ferrie, author of the Baby University series and Cara Florance of the Baby Medical School and Baby Biochemistry series, found inspiration closer home: their children. Father of four children, the eldest being eight and the youngest 18 months, Ferrie realised there were no books on physics that he could read out to his kids. The research associate, a PhD in applied mathematics who has written and illustrated books on General Relativity and Quantum Computing, wanted to pique his children’s curiosity about his world. A few of Ferrie’s books such as Goodnight Lab are parodies of popular children’s books. His latest Scientist, Scientist, What Do You See — also a parody — teaches children about scientists all over the world including the Indian meteorologist Anna Mani. Over Skype, he explains his reasoning, “Books like these help people get over their fear of science. It’s surprising that the stereotypical image of a scientist is detached and not emotionally warm. I wanted to change this.”

Science for Babies: these books distil scientific subjects for toddlers

Interested in the inaccessible

Spiro explains that it takes special techniques to hold a child’s attention. “You have to build upon what a child already knows and loves; it’s called scaffolding. A baby sees a bird flying, you explain that the shape of its wings helps it fly. Then you correlate the idea with an aeroplane and you’ve already given the baby its first taste of aerodynamic engineering.”

Science for Babies: these books distil scientific subjects for toddlers

The other important factor is illustrations. According to Spiro, whose books have been illustrated by Irene Chan, research has shown that babies follow best when they watch other babies doing the same thing.

The response to these books has been mostly positive, with parents eager to give their children a head-start in science. “I once got an Instagram text by a parent who said that her two-year-old related to my Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering book so much that she picked up the book and said, ‘Mommy, this is me’. Even parents learn something new; I have had scientists tell me my books actually helped them explain their jobs to their non-scientist partners!”

On the other hand, the books have received some flak with people claiming that the subjects were too difficult for babies to grasp and in explaining it to them, they were oversimplifying the theories. Florance brushes it off, “Gaining knowledge is a layered experience. Learning about these concepts now will only give them confidence and foundation to approach them with increasing complexity later in life.”

Science for Babies: these books distil scientific subjects for toddlers

Spiro agrees, “What we are doing now is luring them in, giving them a bait to get them interested in these subjects generally thought of as inaccessible.” Ferrie agrees, claiming that most of the gripes about oversimplification come from cocky ‘undergrad students who think that they know everything.’ “Sure, your child is not going to walk into a research lab and understand everything that’s going on, but then how many adults know how even a refrigerator functions?,” he quips. “

So what are you waiting for? For the next bedtime, instead of a classic bedtime story, maybe you should pick up a Baby Loves Quarks or The Baby Biochemist: DNA. At best, you’ll be moulding the next scientist. At worst, you’ll put your baby to sleep.

Baby Loves Science series, Baby University series and Baby Medical School series are available on amazon.in


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Printable version | Nov 28, 2021 3:16:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/baby-books-on-science/article23760796.ece

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