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Teach your children the chemical composition of a combustion reaction in verse. Really!
on August 19, 2005
Elementary school teachers everywhere knew the wonders of the Scieszka/Lane picture book, "Math Curse" and its use in getting kids to get interested in basic mathematical concepts. Nearly a full ten years after the publication of that well-known title, the infamous writer/illustrator pair have returned with a sequel of sorts. Entitled, "Science Verse", the book is a quick look at a variety of chemical, biological, and physical sciences that introduce kids to common terms and (if they read it enough) may even accidentally teach them a fact or two. Parents be warned: If your five-year-old comes walking up to you with this book clasped in their clammy little hands, they may well ask you something along the lines of, "Mom, what's a carbohydrate?" or "Dad, what's a flavored quark?". Better do your research now before they do.
In this book our young balding child hero (seated in class next to the kid from "Math Curse", no less) listens to his teacher saying, "...if you listen closely enough, you can hear the poetry of science in everything". Without further ado, our narrator explains that, "Mr. Newton has zapped me with a curse of Science Verse". What follows is a series of different poems all discussing various scientific aspects of the kinds of things kids learn about in school. Some of these poems will be bigger hits than others. For kids, they're bound to enjoy the quick section neatly titled, "Why Scientists Don't Write Nursery Rhymes" as well as poems talking about the wonders of viruses, metal things touching electrical sockets, and some cute little four line poems that get the point across pronto. Adults will enjoy Scieszka's mighty original take on Lewis Carroll's, "Jabberwocky" or a play on Poe's, "The Raven" that substitutes the familiar "Nevermore" with "Dinosaur". The books ends, much as its predecessor did, with our hero waking up from his scientifically-inspired dream only to hear such dreaded words in his art class as, "Your art project must be your whole life".
Not everyone, as you can no doubt tell by reading other reviews of this book, is particularly pleased with Scieszka's latest creation. Some complain that the poems fail to scan correctly. This is certainly true from time to time. Once in a while this is intentional, but other times it's simply a matter of childlike laziness. Will your kid throw this book to the floor in a huff over a line reading, "A poem that could make you shiver / Like 3.5 pounds of liver"? Perhaps, but somehow I doubt it. If you don't care much for humor, innovative plays on classic poems, or outstanding original illustrations then I suppose the lack of scan would wreak havoc with your reading experience.
The book comes with a cd of Jon and Lane reading the book themselves. Those songs that absolutely must be sung are done so by 2 mysterious and uncredited children. To be frank, most of these poems should've been sung. It's almost painful to hear a poem made to sound like, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", read and not warbled. The two guys seem to be having a high old time doing the cd though. They rope in their editor at one point (which, as another reviewer noted, really does make them sound a LOT like the guys on "Car Talk") and put the telephone call on the disk. They comment continually on how one poem resembles this famous one by Julie Ward Howe or that one to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Play your cards right and this could lead to your children reading the real poems willingly. Educational, to say the least. There's even a track on the cd where Scieszka talks about (and reads) poems that didn't make it into the book. The short four-liners about various scientists may have kids wondering who the heck Marie Curie or Niels Bohr could have been.
I won't tell you that every kid's gonna love this book because it's just not true. Some kids don't like poetry, no matter how well you spruce it up. Others won't touch anything science related with a ten-foot-pole. But for some kids, those who like the natural sciences and are not opposed to literature as well, this book is a bit of a boon. I would've made some changes to it, sure, but all in all it's a strong addition to any library collection (public or personal). Fine writing, fine illustrations, and a fine fun cd that comes with.