The Fun Side of Physics – 2 New Books!

Exciting news for young scientists! Simon & Schuster just published two children’s books I wrote for their new Science of Fun Stuff series.The Thrills and Chills of Amusement Parks and The Innings and Outs of Baseball. Both books are aimed at kids in Grades 1-4, and are filled with silly illustrations, and loads of fascinating facts.

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The Thrills and Chills of Amusement Parks helps kids understand the basic physics behind roller coasters, bumper cars, and “step-right-up” midway games. This book also presents the sweet, sweet chemistry behind cotton candy. (If you check out this link on Amazon, you can peek at the inside the first chapter.) To help readers grasp “the forces behind the fun,” I explain Isaac Newton’s famous laws of motion and ideas about gravity, and show how they relate to the sciences of “Ahhhhhh!” “Whoooa!” and “I think I’m going to be sick!” The last section features amusement park trivia and a quiz.

 

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The Innings and Outs of Baseball explores the physics of homeruns, curveballs, the “sweet spot” of a bat and more. Readers learn such cool facts as the ball’s stitches rub against the air as they hurl through it—which causes friction and helps it fight the pull of gravity. Why is this important? For one thing, if baseballs didn’t have stitches that cause air resistance, then hitting a homerun wouldn’t be possible! A chapter on baseball experiments describes how scientists study superstar hitters, and even created robots that can pitch and hit. The last section features information about the history of baseball and a quiz.

 

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All Creatures Great AND Really, Really Small

The prolific and talented Seymour Simon (“the dean of children’s science writers” – NY Times) invited me to contribute to his blog. My first entry is called “It’s a Small World, After All.” (Hoping I don’t get sued by either Disney or the B.L.C. — Bacteria Litigation Consortium) In honor of Earth Day, I shared some of the dazzling facts I discovered when writing my latest book, MICRO MANIA.

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The Germ-Spangled Banner (it’s the microbes turn to sing!)

Last month, I was asked to be the “visiting author” at a local elementary school, to talk about a new kids science book I wrote — MICRO MANIA: A Really Close-Up Look At Bacteria, Bedbugs & The Zillions Of Other Gross Little Creatures That Live In, On & All Around You!

As part of my talk to the 3rd grade classes, I showed a short music video, featuring a lyric I wrote to the tune of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The song is sung from the point of view of all the invisible critters that surround us, many of which help us survive…May it inspire you to wash your hands regularly — but not turn you into a germaphobe!

So, with apologies to Francis Scott Key, whose remains are probably being devoured by billions of bacteria at this very moment, herewith is my ode to “the little guys.”

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Another Great Review for MICRO MANIA (by someone NOT related to me!)

I hope you (and the trillions of bacteria in your gut) all had a terrific Thanksgiving!

I just wanted to share some fantastic news about a review of my new kids science book MICRO MANIA, published by Imagine Publishing Inc. The following appeared last week on the “NSTA Recommends” Web site (those initials standing for National Science Teachers Association, not Never Skedaddle To Anchorage, as you might have guessed.)

Anyway, here’s the review…

Micro Mania

by Jordan D. Brown

Price at time of review: $19.95
80 pp.
Imagine Publishing, Inc.
Morganville, NJ
2009
ISBN: 9780982306420

Grade Level: 1-8

Reviewed by Daniel Kujawinski
adjunct professor

In his opening acknowledgements, author Jordan D. Brown thanks his editor “for always pushing me to make it ‘grosser.’“ He more than followed her advice. From explaining the nature of bacteria to the flatulence of whales, this extremely readable book will be appreciated by the typical middle school student as well as more mature readers.

Scientific vocabulary is used appropriately and in context. The roles of microbes in real-world environments such as kitchens, bathrooms, playgrounds, and pets are discussed, and practical applications are given. The photography is very good. Hands-on activities for extended, open-ended explorations are suggested with clear directions and safety considerations. I recommend this book for outside reading or as a reference text in a middle school library.

Depending on the student-teacher relationship, this book could also be used in a literacy program for reluctant readers. I would bet that after reading Micro Mania, colorful conversations over dinner, on trips, and at inopportune times would be generated with tidbits like “if a cockroach loses it head, it can survive for a week. Eventually it dies of thirst.”

Review posted on 11/24/2009

If you enjoyed the book, too, please feel free to post your review on Amazon’s web page.

In a couple weeks, I’m doing my first “Author Visit” for this book, at my children’s elementary school. I suspect I’ll be shaking a lot of hands… (to self) “Must not be a germaphobe… must not be a germaphobe…”

Have a great December!

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MICRO MANIA’s 1st Review (Buffalo News)

A few weeks ago, my mother sent a fascinating article from my hometown newspaper, THE BUFFALO NEWS, to my 8-year-old son, Finian. It was about THIS curious creature….

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A star-nosed mole (as I’m sure you knew, right?) Anyway, the article was written by Gerry Rising, whom I’ve known since I was a little boy growing up in Buffalo. Gerry was a colleague of my father’s at the University of Buffalo. One of Gerry’s many pursuits is writing a weekly nature column for the Buffalo News. I contacted Gerry to tell him how much Finian and I enjoyed his star-nosed mole piece — and happened to mention that I had a new kids science book coming out, MICRO MANIA. Gerry not only expressed interest in the book – but reviewed it in his column on Sunday, November 8.

Review of Micro Mania / Buffalo News / Nov 8 2009

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I was very pleased to read that Gerry liked it, and learned from it. I appreciated that he understood my goal was not only to tantalize with gross details and irreverent humor, but to educate children of all ages about “the little guys” with which we share the planet.

Any science enthusiasts who’d like to read more of Gerry nature columns (he’s written hundreds), should check out this archive.

“Nature Watch” Column Archive

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You’ll Laugh, You’ll Cry, You’ll Wash Your Hands…

Don’t you just love that new book smell? I do. Especially when the new book is one written by me!

It’s a new science book for children 6 and up, and is filled with fascinating facts, irreverent humor, and loads of disgusting photographs of creepy, crawly critters, many of which are invisible to the eye. When I was writing the book, I was urged by my editor to “make it grosser.” And so I did. In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting some of the tidbits from this book here, and invite any of you to post fascinating facts about the “little guys.” My goal was to both inspire children to appreciate the many tiny creatures that inhabit the world, and to remind folks that many of the little animals play a critical role to life on Earth. Yes, yes, when I was writing the book, I became somewhat of an obsessive hand-washer. But now that phase has passed, much to my relief.

Neat perk of this book for me — my son Finian, age 8, got to take the “Author Photo” on the book jacket:

You can read more about this book at my publisher’s web site: Micro Mania

I also noticed that it’s now on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com etc… and Halloween is just around the corner…perhaps just the right gift for any kids who enjoy reading enGROSSing books.

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Black Holes at Bedtime

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about “black holes.” As fellow space geeks probably know, a black hole is formed when a massive star burns out and collapses on itself. These mysterious cosmic vacuum cleaners have so much gravitational sucking power that even light can’t escape them. (To learn some cool things about black holes, and help you visualize how something very small could have gobs of gravity, I’d recommend this well-made video.)

Normally, I don’t devote much thought to “black holes,” except, of course as a useful metaphor for my career or life, when things go horribly wrong. Anyway, black holes play an important role in a bedtime story I recently read to my kids, Finian (age 7) and Olivia (age 3). This delightful blend of fact and fiction is called George’s Secret Key to the Universe, written by Lucy Hawking, and her famous physicist father, Stephen Hawking (seen here in his cameo on The Simpsons.)

The fictional part of this book is the story of a boy named George who meets his new neighbor, a girl named Annie, and discovers that her scientist father has the world’s most advanced, superintelligent computer, named Cosmos. Of course, this sci-fi thriller features a villain who wants to get his hands on this computer, and use it for his own nefarious purposes. Interspersed throughout the story, are plenty of full-color photos of planets, moons, galaxies, exploding stars and more. There are also fact-pages woven through the text, which give statistics about various planets and other astronomy topics. The writer and editors of George’s Key were wise to not cram too many facts into the dialogue. This kind of approach rarely works as the tone becomes less about characters and conflict, and more about facts that are “good for you.” My kids really were gripped by George’s adventures, and appreciated the whimsical illustrations by Garry Parsons. They were less enthusiastic about the factual sidebars. I’d be reading along and say, “Hey, do you want to learn more about real asteroid belts before we continue?” Invariably, they responded, “Just read the story, Daddy.”

Without giving away too much of the plot, one of the adult characters has vanished—and the heroes suspect that he is trapped in a black hole. George and Annie have to read Annie’s father’s notes about black holes in order to save the day. One chapter answers, in kid-friendly terms, questions like: What is a black hole? How is a black hole made? What happens if you fall into a black hole? Can you ever get out of a black hole? Most of the simplified explanation of black holes went over my children’s heads. My son Finian, who loves doing water experiments in the bathtub, did make an insightful comparison between his homemade whirlpools and the black holes way out in space. (Hey, did you know that there’s a massive black hole in the middle of our Milky Way galaxy?)

I’ll leave you with one of the more surprising things about black holes. Astronomers knew about black holes probably 50 years before they became known by the general public. Why? For decades, “black holes” lacked a catchy name. They were known instead as “gravitationally completely collapsed objects.” (Can you say that three times fast?)

The “black hole” got an enormous marketing boost from the distinguished American physicist John Wheeler, who frequently wrote and lectured about this phenomenon. Based on some quick research, I learned that Wheeler didn’t coin the term “black hole” himself, but was one of its champions.

Hope the rest of your summer is a “big bang”!

JDB

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