STEM Friday review: WHY IS MILK WHITE?

Why Is Milk White cover

by Alexa Coel­ho & Simon Quellen Field
Chica­go Review Press
Jan­u­ary 1, 2013
288 pages

Did you (or any chil­dren in your life) ever won­der how soap works, why onions make you cry, or how bad it is for you to breathe in hair­spray? 11-year-old Alexa Coel­ho did, so she pulled togeth­er these and almost 200 oth­er ques­tions about her favorite sub­ject, chem­istry, and asked sci­ence writer Simon Quellen Field to write up the answers. This book is the result.
Alexa did a great job of com­ing up with a huge col­lec­tion of spe­cif­ic, rel­e­vant ques­tions that today’s kids (and adults) are sure to be inter­est­ed in, and Simon did an equal­ly great job answer­ing them in clear, easy-to-under­stand expla­na­tions. It’s fun to read straight through or to use as a ref­er­ence when­ev­er you come across some­thing inter­est­ing that you want to know more about. The book also has some nice non­fic­tion fea­tures like a detailed table of con­tents, spe­cial sec­tions with hands-on projects for young chemists (and often an adult helper), and a glos­sary of terms.
Unfor­tu­nate­ly, there are a few things miss­ing here. First, I would real­ly love to see an index in a book like this. It’s near­ly impos­si­ble to find the answer to the tit­u­lar ques­tion, for exam­ple. I only found ref­er­ence to it in a dif­fer­ent ques­tion about why hair con­di­tion­er is white, which, obvi­ous­ly, isn’t in the food sec­tion. Sec­ond, I would have liked to have seen some advice about where to find the ingre­di­ents for some of the projects. Have you pur­chased any muri­at­ic acid late­ly? Final­ly, I wish it had clear­ly stuck to chem­istry ques­tions, or at least acknowl­edged when it was depart­ing from them. Some, such as “Why is the sky blue?”, stray pret­ty far afield into oth­er areas of science.
Still, I think the good­ness here far out­weighs the flaws, and mid­dle-school sci­en­tists all the way through curi­ous adults will learn a lot about sci­ence while enjoy­ing this book.

It’s STEM Fri­day! Check out the STEM Fri­day blog for more STEM book reviews.
(STEM is Science, Tech­nol­o­gy, Engi­neer­ing, and Math­e­mat­ics)

Dis­claimer: I received a review copy from the pub­lish­er in exchange for a fair and hon­est review.

Review: Amazing Kitchen Chemistry

Amazing Kitchen Chemistry cover

Amazing Kitchen Chemistry cover
Amaz­ing Kitchen Chem­istry Projects You Can Make Yourself
by Cyn­thia Light Brown (Author)
Nomad Press (May 1, 2008)
122 pages
Ages: 9–12
From the pub­lish­er’s web page:

“In Amaz­ing Kitchen Chem­istry Projects You Can Build Your­self, kids ages 9 and up will exper­i­ment with kitchen mate­ri­als to dis­cov­er chem­istry. Read­ers will learn about atoms, mol­e­cules, solids, liq­uids, gas­es, poly­mers, the peri­od­ic table, the impor­tant his­to­ry of sci­ence, and much more. Along the way, they’ll make goop, cause chem­i­cal reac­tions, and cre­ate deli­cious treats, and all of it will illus­trate impor­tant chem­istry con­cepts. Amaz­ing Kitchen Chem­istry Projects is a fun and excit­ing way for young read­ers to learn all about chem­istry and become sci­en­tists right in the kitchen.”

My son has always loved sci­ence, so we’ve gone through many books like this over the years. As a par­ent, I have to say this is my favorite one so far. Why? First, all the sup­plies and ingre­di­ents are already in my house or read­i­ly avail­able. Yay! He can pick a project and we can DO it, rather than make a shop­ping list and get back to it when I’ve col­lect­ed all the hard-to-find neces­si­ties. Sec­ond, the sci­ence con­cepts behind the projects and any spe­cial­ized vocab­u­lary words are explained in a clear, acces­si­ble way. Final­ly, the projects them­selves as well as the lay­out, fun facts, side­bars, and illus­tra­tions, are just plain FUN!
Top­ics include atoms and mol­e­cules, mix­tures, reac­tions, acids and bases, solids, liq­uids, gas­es, state changes, poly­mers, and water. Some of things you can make are a buck­y­ball, a chro­ma-col­or book­mark, an Alka-Seltzer rock­et, invis­i­ble mes­sages, crys­tals, rock can­dy, a wave tank, a Men­tos explo­sion, taffy, ice cream, oobleck, meringue cook­ies, paper, bub­ble solu­tion, and more!
I think this is a book that young sci­en­tists, as well as their par­ents and teach­ers, will appreciate.
In the inter­ests of “keep­ing it real,” though, I have to share my son’s one and only com­plaint: “It’s not even in col­or!” With so much great stuff hap­pen­ing on every page, I hon­est­ly hadn’t even noticed. He’s very visu­al, so it was a big draw­back for him. I don’t know if oth­er kids would be as sen­si­tive, and I’m sure most adults will appre­ci­ate the cost savings.
This book also includes a table of con­tents, an intro­duc­tion, a glos­sary, rec­om­mend­ed resources, and index.
FAVORITE FUN FACT: On page 18, I learned that Alfred Hitch­cock­’s The Birds was based on a real event! In 1961, birds start­ed crash­ing into hous­es in the mid­dle of the night in a coastal Cal­i­for­nia town. Peo­ple went out with flash­lights to inves­ti­gate, and the birds flew toward the lights and pecked at the peo­ple, who ran back inside for cov­er. The next day, they found the streets full of dead and con­fused birds. 26 years lat­er, sci­en­tists final­ly dis­cov­ered it was caused by a neu­ro­tox­in that can build up in sea crea­tures that eat a dan­ger­ous type of phy­to­plank­ton, and the birds–or people–that in turn eat those sea crea­tures! Who knew? 
To check out the rest of today’s roundup of books for kids about top­ics in sci­ence, tech­nol­o­gy, engi­neer­ing, and math­e­mat­ics, head on over to this week’s STEM Fri­day host, Wrapped in Foil!
STEM Friday logo
(Dis­claimer: I received this copy for free direct­ly from the pub­lish­er for review.)