FILED IN: Book Reviews

Physics: Why Matter Matters Written by Dan Green; illustrated by Simon Basher

Peter and the WolfPhysics: Why Matter Matters
Written by Dan Green; illustrated by Simon Basher
Kingfisher; $8.95
128 pp.; ISBN-13: 978-0753462140

Review by Amy Brozio-Andrews

In this short and sweet and utterly charming introduction to physics and why it’s important, illustrator Simon Basher and author Dan Green peel away all of the formal textbook-speak and give kids the basics of physics in a fun and memorable way.

Physics: Why Matter Matters starts with what physics is and covers the basic building blocks like mass, energy, weight, density, and speed. The contents then progress quickly through waves, light, and atoms, and more, including quarks, neutrinos, and semiconductors.

The format of the book is really accessible. Chapters have color-coded tabs that correspond to different broad subjects, like light, atoms, waves, etc. Each page starts a new physics term where it’s "family" is specified, like electron, with the subheading of "Atom Family." Short bullet points give a brief definition, and then a couple of first-person point of view paragraphs offer readers a close up look at what the electron is all about. Where applicable, where and how the item is used are also included; for example, alpha particles ("Nuclear Heavies") are found in cigarettes but are also a crucial part of what makes smoke detectors work. At the bottom of the page, there’s a box with the date of discovery and a few more bullets points about the discovery and physical aspects of the item (discoverer, mass, etc.)

Dan Green’s writing style is fun and easy to read. The tone is playful and irreverent yet never loses sight of the hardcore factual science (the former head of acoustics at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory, Dr. Mike Goldsmith, was a consultant for the book). Physics: Why Matter Matters is a great blend of entertainment and education that can really go a long way in livening up what may be, for some kids, a really dry or challenging academic subject. An index and full glossary make quick reference easy.

Simon Basher’s space-age artwork is as helpful as the text in assisting kids with really learning and remembering the what and why of each physics term explored. For example, "potential energy" is paired with a picture of a smiling battery tied down above a spring. The brightly colored artwork is simple yet expressive, really capturing the essence of the subject at hand and helping make it memorable.

While the book would be too simple for a high school physics student, it would be great for a late elementary schooler or a middle school student with an avid interest in science (or their parents, trying to remember high school physics and keep up with their kids’ interest).