As a parent (and a former scientist), I try to encourage my girls to explore the science of the world around us as often as possible. This requires some creativity--and often a lot of prep-work on my part. I was very excited to spend some time this summer reviewing the new book, Varun's Quest: Into a Bee Tree and Other Adventures, by Timothy H. Goldsmith. What did the girls and I think of this fictional story with real world science?
I received a complimentary copy of this book for use in my review--but, all opinions are my own.
Quick Summary of Varun's Quest: Into a Bee Tree and Other Adventures. Varun’s grandfather tells him about a mysterious and special place
pictured on a dinner plate: a place “for the curious and closer than it
seems.” Still perplexed as he goes to bed, Varun wakes in what appears
to be the very place pictured on the plate, and soon thereafter he finds
himself in the company of an Elf named Aubrey. They begin a game in
which the Elf’s guiding rule is “you can
see a lot just by looking.” Among his adventures Varun encounters a
sleepy bat, reduced in size he comes face to face with a saucy honey
bee, and he has a narrow escape from the clutches of a hungry praying
mantis. In time Varun realizes the game is a personal quest with an
important goal. He discovers that the lives of plants and animals are a
source of fascination as well as mystery, for much remains about the
world that is not yet understood. He also learns that experiments are
ways of discovering new knowledge, and doing an experiment is both
rewarding and fun.
The Elf provides an element of fantasy in the
story, but his role is as guide, always inviting Varun to observe and to
try to figure out the meaning of what he is seeing. What Varun is
seeing is sometimes commonplace, sometimes beyond the personal
experience of most adults, but is invariably a window on the natural
world, revealing both the beauty and complexity of living organisms.
With a plot dotted with real-world science, Varun realizes the lives of plants and animals are a source of fascination as well as mystery, and he and the reader begin to think like budding scientists. This book meets Common Core Standards for grades 3-4.
My girls loved the mix of fantasy and fact. As they have grown, they have more and more difficulty throwing themselves into far-fetched fantasy written for children. While Aubrey the Elf is certainly a fun, fantasy character, the facts and imagery that the author dots throughout the tales are presented wonderfully to hold both the interest of children (and parents reading along).
Varun's Quest offers a wonderful launching point for further exploration. I've mentioned that it meets Common Core Standards presently for grades 3-4--making it a wonderful resource for homeschooling families. Even if you aren't homeschooling, this book does a wonderful job presenting the science information that the kids are (or should be) learning in science class at school--as well as language skills. Varun's Quest: Into a Bee Tree and Other Adventures is the perfect book to use as a lauching point for further outdoor/nature/science exploration as a family. Kids are very visual learners and Goldsmith creates a gem with the story and Julia Child's beautiful illustrations.
Would I recommend Varun's Quest: Into a Bee Tree and Other Adventures? The girls and I loved this book. It is the perfect book to read together as a family or for more advanced elementary readers to read alone. I love to use books like this to inspire hands on exploration. It prompts budding scientists to explore and learn as readers will want to see nature at work in their own real world. This is probably the best science based fictional book that I've read for children. Varun's fantasy world keeps the kids entertained--and encourages them to learn and explore the real world. Science is a difficult subject for many children. If you would like to supplement some of the elementary school biology coursework--this book is a must have for your home library.
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