What?!? 11 Planets!

July 6, 2010 at 7:32 pm Leave a comment

11 Planets: A New View of the Solar System written and illustrated by David A. Aguilar; published by the National Geographic Society, Washington DC; 2008.

According to the author information provided on the book flap, “David A. Aguilar is Director of Science Information at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and past director of the Fiske Planetarium and Science Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder.”  The flap also mentions that he likes to write about and draw pictures of the solar system.  Truth be told, I didn’t have high hopes for the book based on the author information–this was going to be too technical and hard to grasp, especially for the third through fifth graders who need to read this type of book for book reports and mandated research projects.  I admit I was grossly wrong.  This book is concisely written but does not condescend or overreach.  In fact, the author includes sidebars about mythology inspired by each planet.  Photos and illustrations have meaty captions that provide extra morsels of information.  The large font, and extra space between the lines (kerning), make the bulk of the text quick and easy to read.  But don’t get me wrong–the body of the work is interesting and informative.  Black end pages lure us into deep space, and the use of black in the illustrations is a nice reminder about how very far away most of this is taking place.

Aside from the accessible information, my favorite part of the book is “The Solar System in a Grocery Bag” activity at the back of the book.  Nestled in with a glossary, a couple of tables with interesting comparisons, and a list of Web resources, is an activity which lays out a shopping list of items to create a scale depiction of our solar system.  Without giving too much away, I will say the sun is a large yellow grapefruit and Pluto is a speck of baking soda; there is a distance of 2,400 miles between the grapefruit and the nearest star to the Sun.  Now that is a science fair project third graders can wrap their brains around!

Can you hear me sigh?  I thought there were nine planets.  Then Pluto was bumped off the list, so there were eight.  Then the term “dwarf planet” was coined and three planets, including Pluto, joined the eight.  So now there are 11 planets.  Rumor is that Aguilar is publishing a book in 2011 about the 13 planets in our solar system…how will we keep our library collections current?!  Well, no matter; this book is a keeper and will be off the shelves more than it will be checked in, especially in elementary school libraries.

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