When it comes to getting kids to read about science, it helps to have a storytelling style as thrilling as any adventure novel. The science books below are fact-filled and fascinating at the same time. My family loved them, and chances are your tweens and teens will enjoy them too!
Astronomer Phil Plait has been correcting misconceptions about space in his Bad Astronomy column since my kids were little. His book discusses several doomsday scenarios -- comet impact, gamma ray bursts, alien attacks -- and explains the science behind the headlines in a style that kids will find riveting.
Oliver Sacks is the neurologist portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie Awakenings. Like many of his other books, this one presents case histories dealing with the mysteries of brain function, including a man with "mental blindness" who cannot recognize people or objects by sight, and a "disembodied lady" who could not tell the relation of one part of her body to another. All of Sacks' stories are fascinating. Older readers will also enjoy his memoir Uncle Tungsten, which talks about growing up in a family of scientists and his boyhood obsession with chemical elements.
Feynman was one of the physicists who helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II as part of the Manhattan Project. He became famous when he served on the committee looking into the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger and demonstrated before Congress how the shuttle's rubber O-rings broke down in cold weather by dipping one into a glass of ice water. He was also insatiably curious and a practical joker who dabbled in painting, drumming, and lock picking. This book is a collection of anecdotes about his personal and scientific life, told in his warm and down-to-earth voice.
In 1994, at the age of 17, Boy Scout David Hahn decided to earn an Atomic Energy merit badge by building a nuclear reactor in his mother's garden shed. His interest grew to an obsession, and Hahn eventually gathered enough radioactive material (from sources like smoke detectors and camping lanterns) to alert the FBI. Silverstein's story of Hahn's quest and how none of the adults around him took it seriously until it reached dangerous levels is part thriller, part comedy of errors.
Peter Benchley, the guy who wrote Jaws, knows a lot about sharks and their role in the ocean ecosystem. This book waylays some of the hysteria about shark attacks while also talking about how to avoid some of the more common dangers found in the sea. My family enjoyed the audio version read by the author -- made more memorable by the fact that I unthinkingly chose it as our entertainment on our drive down to a week-long vacation at the beach. (Note: The book Shark Life: True Stories About Sharks & the Sea is the same book, adapted for children grade 5 and up.)