Oscar and the Bird: A Book About Electricity
Candlewick Press, 2008
“Will you show me something, Daddy?” asked my three year old son as he padded down the basement stairs and scampered to my workbench. Forever wanting to know how things work, he likes to sit on my lap and look through my magnifier lamp at whatever is on hand.
On hand that day was my NorCal 40A. I popped open the clasps on the lid and opened it up, and the questions began.
“What’s that, Daddy?” He pointed to an LM393 op amp.
“It’s an amplifier. It makes things louder.”
Then we got into dangerous territory.
“What are those, Daddy?”
“What are what?”
“The blue things.”
“Oh! Those are capacitors.”
“What do they do?”
I was stuck. How do I explain decoupling capacitors to someone who doesn’t know yet what electricity is? I said something garbled about getting rid of the part of the electricity we don’t want. He accepted my explanation, but it bothered me. He wanted to know about electronics, but I didn’t know where to start.
When I was four and similarly inquisitive, my mother found a picture book about electricity for me. The book explained batteries, switches, and series and parallel circuits, and I was fascinated. Finding that book again was hopeless, since that was decades ago on another continent. Maybe, though, I could find something similar.
After several wrong turns while searching online, I found Oscar and the Bird, by Geoff Waring. I was able to request a copy from the Toledo libraries through the excellent SearchOhio network. The book was perfect for us.
Oscar, an inquisitive kitten, is surprised one day when he accidentally turns on the windshield wipers in a tractor he is exploring. His friend, Bird, flies down and explains how electricity makes the wipers work. Using simple language and clear illustrations, the book introduces batteries and switches and shows how the electricity flows to turn on the wipers. It moves on to explain power lines and power plants, and the importance of never touching a downed wire.The arrival of a thunderstorm gives Bird a chance to explain that lightning is also electricity. Oscar and Bird wait out the storm in the tractor,watching through the window as the wiper swishes away the water.
Two resources pages suggest topics for parents and children to discuss. Oddly for a picture book, an index is also included.
My son and his younger sister enjoyed the book and have asked to read it over and over. The questions on the resources pages had the intended effect, as they helped me find more ways to talk to him about electricity. Most valuable was the perspective the book gave. When talking to my son about electronics, it had not dawned on me that I had not yet explained a switch, let alone a battery. The topics covered by the book are quite basic, but they are right in sync with his point of view.
The publisher suggests Oscar and the Bird for preschool through second grade.
Geoff Waring has written a series of books featuring Oscar, all gentle introductions to science. We checked out Oscar and the Bat: A Book About Sound from our local library, and it has been just as popular as Oscar and the Bird with our young scientists. Since reading it, my son has shown a marked awareness of and interest in the sounds around him.
What technical books for children do you like? I would love to hear about them in the comments.
- Oscar and the Bird: A Book About Electricity [Google Books]
- Oscar and the Bat: A Book About Sound [Google Books]
Update: Oops! It turns out an LM393 is a dual comparator, not an op amp like I told my son.