Friday, July 27, 2007

Beyond Antares

In the spirit of giving Arthur a kind of liberal arts education before he's three, I've checked out a bunch of childrens' books on astronomy.

OK. It's true / I'm filled with dread / Dr. Suess / is in my head.
Fox in Socks / Green Eggs and Ham / They really make me want to scram.

Our library allows one to search for books electronically and then request them for pick-up (thank you Goddess and Library Volunteers), and I did a subject search on astronomy and limited the search results to children's picture books. The great thing is that a few days after electronically requesting the books from my home I've got a stack of astonomy books that are mildly intersesting to Arthur. The down side is that -- ugh! -- many of them are filled with preachy doggerel.

It's too bad Dr Suess didn't write a children's book on astronomy.

The poems range in preachiness from 'Isn't Science Neato' to 'I've Got So Much Self Esteem the Solar System is my Personal Trinket.' Probably the most sententious is "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," an illustrated book of the Walt Witman poem. It's the sort of book you give a child for Christmas to suppliment the all-natural, unbleached, hemp fiber socks and underwear you sent the previous year. The point that the book is trying to make is 'imagination is more important than knowledge,' but it really comes off as 'don't drag young boys to astronomy lecture halls.'

The best children's astronomy books simply have pictures of planets and constellations along with short descriptions. I read edited parts out of "G is for Galaxy" to Arthur. He obsessed on a picture of a birthday cake that had a Sun candle in the center with the nine planets' candles orbiting around it; the length of the candle corrosponded to the length of the planet's year. There was another picture of the solar system in the book that he liked.

So Thursday night, Arthur convinced Mark to drag out all the glass star lanterns we have and light tea lights in them once it got dark enough. We hung them a little before sunset and then Mark went on a walk. The sun had just set when I lit the tea lights; Arthur was trying to light a fondue stick he'd managed to find, so I was showing him the almost full moon and I caught site of Jupiter. "Look," I said to Arthur, "see that bright star; that's Jupiter."

"See Saturn," he said.

I wasn't sure where it was, so we did a quick visit to the Hubble Telescope's website and learned that Saturn and Venus were visible for a short period after sunset. I rushed Arthur to the top of the hill in the pram, and we made the summit just as a bright object was setting. Between hedges and a streetlight, it wasn't the best viewing site, and Arthur really couldn't figure out what I was pointing at.

"Missed Saturn," he said. "Really hard to see. Sad."

I had to cheer him up by showing him the moon, Jupiter, and (now that it was darker) the star Antares (which was just below Jupiter). I'd left the tea lights burning, so our cherry tree had blue, green, and red stars in it (along with a few other lanterns). It turned out that the walkway along the side of the house to the backyard lined up on Jupiter and Antares, so I pointed them out again.

Mark had come home from his walk and had pillows and books layed out in the backyard. He'd heard me in the walkway. When Arthur walked over to him Mark asked, "Hey Arthur, what's that red thing by Jupiter?"

"Antares," said Arthur.

"Wow," Mark said to me, "he understood the question in context."

I can see I'm going to have to get a little red miniskirt and brush up on my Nichelle Nichols routine.... Thank Goodness for iTunes.
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