2008 Winner: Hands-On Science Book

Exploratopia, by Pat Murphy. Little Brown & Company, 2006.

Exploratopia offers more than 400 kid-friendly experiments and explorations for curious minds. The book represents a natural extension of the San Francisco-based Exploratorium: the Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception. Lead author Pat Murphy has worked at the Exploratorium for over 20 years. In the introduction, Murphy relates how those years of experience have shaped her way of seeing the world. The authors, including the staff of the Exploratorium, extend the museum’s opportunities to readers within the context of three major themes: “Exploring Yourself,” “Exploring Interesting Places,” and “Exploring Interesting Stuff.” The book consists entirely of hands-on activities, most of which require everyday materials that are easily obtained. Each activity begins with a question, a tidbit of information, or an interesting observation about many real-world experiences of children. Readers are guided by a set of headings entitled “Here’s What You Need,” “Here’s What You Do,” and “What’s Going On?” The activities are enhanced by detailed drawings, photographs, and cross-sectional diagrams, all designed to aid comprehension of the content.

At the beginning of the book, readers are presented with the following set of nine process-based skills entitled “Tools for Exploration”: paying attention to stuff a lot of people ignore; comparing two things; asking questions; experimenting to test your ideas; making predictions; measuring and counting; keeping track of your discoveries; explaining what you see; sharing your experience.

These “Tools for Exploration” appear in context as sidebars throughout the book. Readers are encouraged to extend their thinking about selected concepts by accepting a challenge to apply one or more of the “Tools of Exploration” related to the activity. This feature contains many of the elements of scientific inquiry, a key concept in science education at all age levels. The content of the book is broad based and contains numerous interdisciplinary applications (e.g., to music, history, money, paper). Although not featured prominently, a website (http://www.exploratopia.com) is referenced throughout that provides additional information, questions, and a wealth of related Web references. Children from the middle elementary grades through middle school would likely enjoy reading and “exploring” this book very much!

About the Author

Pat Murphy has written more than 15 science activity books and created toys for children, which have been honored by everyone from the  American Institute of Physics to Good Housekeeping to Dr. Toy. Her 2007 novel, The Wild Girls, won the Christopher Award in the category of “Books for Young People” and was named the Book of the Year Award in Children’s Literature by the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, among other accolades. She also has won awards for her science fiction and fantasy books for adults, including the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the World Fantasy Award. She is the co-founder and chair of the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, an annual literary prize for science fiction or fantasy that expands or explores the understanding of gender roles. She is a former employee of the Exploratorium and currently develops hands-on activities to accompany elementary school lessons at Mystery Science.