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The Poetry of Science

by Stephen K. Ritter
December 20, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 51

SCIENCE VERSE, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, Viking, 2004, 40 pages, $16.99 (ISBN 0-670-91057-0)

"Science Verse," written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith, is a charming collection of science-based poems designed for kids. It's modeled after Scieszka and Smith's previous best-selling book, "Math Curse," that was published in 1995.

The book begins with a young fellow sitting in science class with his teacher, Mr. Newton, saying, "If you listen closely enough, you can hear the poetry of science in everything." The student does listen closely, and indeed he begins to hear the words of Mr. Newton coming out in verse.

What follows is a series of witty parodies of well-known poems and nursery rhymes. They cover a host of topics, including evolution, Earth's hydrological cycle, anatomy and physiology, astronomy, anthropology, physics, biology, and more. And of course there's chemistry, complete with periodic tables on the inside book covers.

One nice offering, on the scientific method, follows the lines of the poem "Casey at the Bat," by Ernest L. Thayer. "The outlook wasn't brilliant for my experiment that day/The only way to graduate was to come up with an A/So when my lab exploded and turned to blackish gunk/My chance of passing anything went Titanic--you know, sunk."

The lively "Gobblegooky," a knockoff of Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," has a chemistry theme: 'Twas fructose, and the "vitamins/Did zinc and dye (red #8)/All poly were the thiamins/And the carbohydrate."

It would be enough to say I think the book is well done, but my two sons, ages 11 and nine, both give it a resounding endorsement. They read through the book and reread it, and were delighted with nearly every poem. Plus we all thought the illustrations were great.

The author and illustrator also read the poems on a bonus CD that comes with the book. Usually poems are better appreciated when read aloud. However, we found the CD to be less entertaining than reading the book. A few poems on the CD are sing-alongs led by children. For example, "Glory, glory evolution/Darwin found us a solution."

I particularly enjoyed "Astronaut Stopping by a Planet on a Snowy Evening," a parody of one of my favorite poems, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," by Robert Frost. "Yes space is lovely, dark and deep/For one mistake I now do weep/In science class I was asleep/In science class I was asleep ..." At this point, our young science student, who can't figure out which planet he's on, is roused by Mr. Newton and comes to grip with a pending test on the solar system.?

"Science Verse" provides an opportunity to introduce basic science concepts to elementary-age children, as well as the concept of parody and of poetry as writing forms. It will make a great gift for your children or a young niece or nephew. If you don't have a special someone to give a copy to, consider a donation to your local public library or elementary school. Books like this one read at an early age will leave lasting impressions and inspire future scientists.


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