Gift Books for Secular Families

by Mindy Rhiger

Thanksgiving is over, and the holiday season has officially begun.  In another week or so, we will put up our Christmas tree, and I’ve already started thinking about gifts for my friends and family.  To be honest, I’m a predictable gift-giver.  The librarian in me can’t help but use these occasions to share my favorite books with people I think will love them.  Here are a few books that just might make good gifts for your freethinking family (or one you know), along with a peek inside a couple of them.

I’ll start with one of my favorite picture books of 2012.  You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey is a beautiful look at the natural world beginning with the idea that every atom in our bodies came from a star that exploded long before we were born.  This is a book that will connect kids to our world, introduce them to science facts, and build a sense of wonder at it all.  The poetry of the text is accompanied by intricate diorama illustrations that are quite stunning.  I wanted to pore over the pages again and again for the art and the ideas.  Check out the teacher’s guide for some ideas on how to use this book to talk about science with your kids.

Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors begins with bacteria.  Nearly 4 billion years ago, it was the first life on a newly formed earth, and it is still with us today.  Sidman introduces 13 other survivors in chronological order from when they first appeared in this book of poems.  We learn about beetles, mollusks, ants, and others in poetry, prose, and art.  It is hard to put an age-range on this book because it really is an all-ages look at life on earth that will engage anyone with an interest in science, poetry, or art, but it will probably be best received by kids ages 7-10.

I guess  I’m revealing my love of poetry because I have another science poetry pick for you with The Tree That Time Built.  It is appropriate, of course, since “both poets and scientists wonder at and about the world” as the book says.  This collection of poems draws from a wide range of poets old and new, and the poems are grouped by themes that relate to science and nature.  The book is aimed at kids in elementary and middle school, but it will be a gift for the whole family.

You want science without poetry?  Okay, okay. I have something for you too.  The Really, Really Big Questions series introduces science, philosophy, and skepticism in a question and answer format that will will appeal to curious kids ages 8-12.  Start with the first book, Really, Really Big Questions About Life, The Universe, and Everything, for an overview of some pretty heavy topics that author Stephen Law manages to make fun (and funny).  The “answers” are designed to lead to more questions and help kids come to their own conclusions.  Other books in the series take on space and time, God and faith, and existence and identity.  Fascinating information in a hip-looking package.  Any of these would make great gifts on their own, or give the whole set!

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention The Magic of Reality by Richard Dawkins.  This book is for an older audience that the others I’ve mentioned, but it should not be overlooked.  It is a remarkable introduction to science questions and concepts that will engage readers who may not even be interested in science.  The connections to history, mythology, and culture are fascinating, and the illustrations by Dave McKean are striking.  It will have a place on most freethinking family bookshelves.

These are just a few of the many, many possibilities for giving books this year.  Whether you choose these or something completely different, I hope you’ll choose to share books with the people in your life this year.

Mindy Rhiger is a librarian specializing in children’s books.  She blogs about books and family life at Proper Noun Blog.

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2 Responses to Gift Books for Secular Families

  1. Pingback: You Are Stardust « Proper Noun Blog

  2. jh9153 says:

    I will check all these out! Virginia Lee Burton’s Life Story is also great for children. From Amazon.com: “Earth takes center stage in this updated version of Virginia Lee Burton’s 1962 classic Life Story. Told through five acts, Burton’s art and text tell the history of earth from beginning to present day. Readers will gain an in-depth understanding of the planet’s history and their leading roles in it today. The book has been updated with cutting-edge science, including up-to-the-minute information on fossil records and the geologic principles. We are thrilled to provide this updated artistic and visionary work in time for the anniversary of Virginia Lee Burton’s 100th birthday.”

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