Did you know that your house or apartment is just a big -physics lab waiting for you to get with the nerdy program? In Junk Drawer Physics, high school physics teacher Bobby Mercer gives you 50 Awesome Experiments That Don’t Cost a Thing, and they’re sure to rock your children’s world—sometimes literally, as in the case of the “Ball Blaster” or “Clothespin Catapult.” Mercer’s categorization of types of experiment—force, energy, momentum, light, magnetism and pressure—also describes his educational outlook. There’s no teaching more forceful or energetic—no pedagogical principle more suffused with light or magnetic force—than the one in Junk Drawer Physics. Look around you. Open up any drawer, turn on the closet light, peek under the bed: You’ve got everything you need to construct your own telephone, camera, telescope, spinning top and perpetual motion machine along with a wealth of scientific instruments. Who knew that learning could be just a bunch of junk?

BIG PROJECTS, SMALL HANDS
Rachelle Doorley ups the ante in Tinkerlab: A Hands-On Guide for Little Inventors. Where Bobby Mercer finds beauty in how the world around us works (that’s physics), Doorley stresses the artful pleasures of making beautiful things out of what the world offers (that’s aesthetics). Everything about this book is on a grand scale, from the glossy color photos to the interludes of philosophical reflection by various experts, who show us how to help our children “see mistakes as gifts” or “set up a discovery area.” The names of her projects— “Gumdrop Structures” and “Glittery Egg Geodes”—give you a good idea of Doorley’s ambition to transform a child’s environment into a fairyland of unexpected pleasures, all created by the child herself, with the patient help of a generous mom or dad. 

TOP PICK IN LIFESTYLES
In The Living Landscape, ecology professor Doug Tallamy and photographer Rick Darke present—in clear words and beautiful images—an entire pragmatic philosophy for how to live our lives and build our living environments from day to day, even as the light changes from hour to hour. Wherever you are, whatever sort of dwelling you inhabit, there is already an indigenous there there—especially in New Jersey, where Gertrude Stein famously said there wasn’t any. (The authors use their own mid-Atlantic region as the model for every ecological region of the U.S.) Native plants and animals—insects, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals—that coevolved are at the heart of every functioning bed, garden, yard and larger landscape. This book highlights many of the astonishing (and crucial) interconnections of species in a healthy ecosystem and teaches readers how to accommodate them in multiple layers, such as below ground, herbacious, shrub and vine, “edges” and canopy. The 77 pages of charts show the ecological and landscape functions of plants by region, proving we truly can have it all: a gorgeous garden that helps, not hurts, the Earth.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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