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Cybils Review: The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style!
created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, written by Adrian Dingle
128 pages; for ages 10 and up
Kingfisher Publications (Houghton Mifflin Co.)
Library copy

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book ever since I saw it mentioned on Carol‘s and Rebecca‘s blogs.

Artist Simon Basher and chemistry teacher Adrian Dingle have created a vivid rogues’ gallery of elements guaranteed to bring the periodic table to life and appeal to kids of all ages. I’ll be the first to admit I’m the originally fuddy-duddy, but there’s something about this anime-style, Facebook approach to the periodic table that’s remarkably engaging. Not to mention a sensible approach to making the subject — indeed, the individual elements — memorable for everyone from fourth or fifth graders to college seniors (not to mention home educating parents who majored in, say, history).

And memorable is what you want when it comes to learning about the periodic table. Basher, who came up with the idea for the book, has said, “It’s really been designed to engage you on a gentle level and also to act as a memory trigger. There really is no reason to think of science as boring, as I’ve discovered, and I hope readers will see the fun side of it.” Echoed by Mr. Dingle, who writes, “This is not an academic book by any stretch of the imagination, but it does offer a window or gateway to getting interested in the elements. I see it as a very accessible opportunity to learn a little about some chemistry.” In fact, The Periodic Table takes the “memory trigger” several giant steps further than does another nonfiction book familiar to home schoolers — Yo, Millard Fillmore — because the illustrations and text are all about the elements.

The small book — seven inches square, and 128 pages — opens with an introduction explaining just what an element is and how (and why) the periodic table is arranged. Then nearly every element gets its own double-page spread, with an illustration and first-person narrative, accompanied by symbol, atomic number and weight, color, standard state, classification, etc. Here’s the write-up for Bad Boy lead, depicted as a Roman gladiator:

Don’t let my heavyweight status fool you — at heart I’m a completely malleable softy. I am so easy to work with that the ancient Romans used me for their water pipes. My chemical symbol (and the word “plumbing”) comes from by Latin name, plumbum.Over the years, I’ve gained a bad rep. People say that I build up in bones as a slow poison and that I have damaged childrens’ [sic] development. It’s true that I have an unfortunate ability to slip easily into the food chain — from pipes and cookware, leaded gasoline, and paints to fisherman’s weights. I have also been blamed for ending the ancient Roman civilization. Not fair! These days, I am closely regulated. But I am still used as a shield against x-rays, for roofing, and in stained glass.

Adding to the delight is a removable periodic table poster — definitely stylish, more cool than geeky — accompanying the book. Just the right thing for your young scientist to hang over the desk (or bed, depending on how much he or she really likes this stuff); though I realize, aside from the home educating crowd, who’ll be tempted to post it in the kitchen, most families will be content to borrow the book from the local or school library. Besides the poster, the book also includes an index and a glossary.

For more on the writer and illustrator, see interviews with each at Houghton Mifflin’s website. Asked, “Were you good at chemistry as a student? Would a book like this have helped you?” and “Did you have any inspirational teachers who got you excited about science or art?”, Basher replies,

I liked the idea of chemistry but found the textbook really unstimulating. I always had more of an interest in art and music.I was lucky enough to have a great high school art teacher who really encouraged me to look at new art and also introduced me to a lot of great music. My passion for science and math came much later in life. While working on the book I did meet a materials scientist from MIT who really gave me some fantastic ideas and tips for the book. He had a real passion for art as well and he loved the idea.

And my favorite bit, from Mr. Dingle the chemistry teacher,

Science is a serious business, and I think the way to get people engaged is to make it accessible while still presenting hard facts and knowledge. Also, I don’t believe that science is “for all.” Some people will have an academic bent for it, others will not — that’s fine, but the answer is not to dumb down science so that everyone can “get it.”

Now there’s something everyone can get.

* * *

More Periodic Table Fun

Further reading, for the younger set:

The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin D. Wiker, with charming illustrations by Jeanne Bendick; a delightful living book, published in 2003 by Bethlehem Books as part of their “Living History Library”.

Dawn‘s favorite chemistry book, It’s Elementary: Put the Crackle in Chemistry (look inside the book here)

Further reading, for older children and adults:

Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements by John Emsley (and if you liked that, just for fun don’t miss his entertaining — and “sordid” — history of phosphorus)

A Guide to the Elements by Albert Stwertka (Oxford University Press)

Mastering the Periodic Table: 50 Activities on the Elements by Linda Trombley and Faye Williams

The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey Into The Land Of The Chemical Elements (Science Masters Series) by P. W. Atkins

NEW The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray (see below)

More periodic tables:

The animated version of Tom Lehrer’s ditty on The Elements (don’t forget to turn your sound up); many thanks to the generous and creative Mike Stanfill

The Periodic Table of Videos, from the University of Nottingham; more videos featuring the University’s Prof. Poliakoff are over at Test Tube.

Theodore Gray’s Wooden Periodic Table Table (no, that second “Table” isn’t a typo), and his very stylish periodic table posters. And don’t miss his fun columns at Popular Science. And new from Theodore Gray, as of October 2009, is his book The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe

The Royal Society of Chemistry’s Visual Elements Periodic Table, available in Flash or HTML versions, and which you can buy as a wall chart or CD-ROM

The Los Alamos National Laboratory Periodic Table

The Comic Book Periodic Table of the Elements

Rader’s Chem4Kids Periodic Table and clickable Element List

Prof. Mokeur’s interactive and printable periodic tables, and his game of Elementary Hangman

An interactive periodic table. And another one.

Chemicool’s periodic table

John Pratt’s Periodic Table Memory Pages

A handmade crocheted periodic table, made by a 15-year-old for a school project

UPDATED to add: From the comments below, Crissy at Soliloquy‘s favorite periodic table is here. (If you have trouble with that link for some reason, try this one.) She downloaded the PDF and printed a 20″ x 30″ poster for each of her sons. Many thanks for sharing that one, Crissy!

UPDATED further to include The Periodic Table of Periodic Tables!

From Adrian Dingle:

His website, especially handy for AP chem students; don’t miss the links page, which includes some other Periodic Tables
His blog, Chemistry Pages

Learning more about the Periodic Table of Elements:

The Resource Room

Mrs. Gibson’s Periodic Table Adventure website, with information on the history of the periodic table and how to read a periodic table

We haven’t used Ellen McHenry’s chemistry curriculum for grades 4-8, The Elements: Ingredients of the Universe (also available from the McHenry website), but I’ve heard very good things about it. Also from the website, you can download a free periodic table game, the Quick Six card game about elements, organic molecules card game, and pattern for your own periodic table pillowcase,

Dawn gave me the idea about using Lego in connection with learning about elements and the periodic table. Here is her post with the photo of her son building elements; he’s taking a Lego chemistry class for middle schoolers at MIT, where the curriculum includes using Lego bricks to model the elements. And then I found this this Lego periodic table, as well as this Lego advertisement featuring another Lego periodic table.

“It’s Elemental”, science education resources from Jefferson Lab, including math, bingo, word search, flash cards, word scramble, and crossword puzzle.

The five-disc “Periodic Table for Students” DVD series from Schlessinger.

Articles on the Periodic Table:

It’s Elemental, “Chemical & Engineering News celebrates the Periodic Table of the Elements on the magazine’s 80th anniversary” in 2003

Periodic Table stocking stuffers, or, you’ll never believe what home schoolers will buy:

Periodic Table of Fruits and Nuts, and of Vegetables, and of Desserts

Periodic Table place mats

Periodic Table coffee mugs, to go on the place mats

And Period Table playing cards

ElementO, the board game, for ages 10 and up; also available at Carolina Biological Supply

How about a Periodic Table fridge magnet, where each element is a separate magnet?

Or would you believe a Periodic Table shower curtain? Which I suppose you can swap around with your Metamorphosis shower curtain

And for those who appreciate the mysteries of science, Dr. Camille Minichino, who has a Ph.D. in physics from Fordham University, is the author of the eight volumes in the Periodic Table Mysteries: hydrogen, helium, lithium, beryllium, boric acid, carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen are all accounted for so far.

And don’t forget the gumdrops and marshmallows

(Let me know if I’ve goofed up any of the links. I’m just about cross-eyed now.)

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4 Responses

  1. Really good helped with gcses

  2. I was disappointed to discover another book featuring personified chemical elements, the author of which has been
    lucky enough to get published by conventional publisher. My own book “Elements Unleashed” which I devised back in 1996 was rejected by over 50 different publishers until I gave up and self-published it in 2007 with online publisher Lulu. Mr Dingle’s book is a credit to him of course, but it’s incredibly demoralising for unpublished authors who are unable to gain recognition or earn anything from their work.

  3. Nikki, the creator of the book (and in fact the entire science series), is English graphic designer/artist Simon Basher. Authors such as Adrian Dingle (chemistry) and Dan Green (biology, physics, etc) were just brought in to write the text. Perhaps it was the appeal of an entire series that appealed to Kingfisher…

  4. I’m looking for a good list of science and chemistry words to make available on SpellingCity.com.

    I find your post, and this discussion, incredibly interesting.

    I’m also interested in doing some online science curriculum and interactive games.

    Any ideas?

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