A Drop of Water
(subtitled "A book of science and wonder by")
 Walter Wick
Scholastic Press, 1997
ISBN 0-590-22197-3

This is a positively gorgeous book.  Written by a special-effects photographer, each page uses brilliant photos and concise explanations to explore a characteristic of water.  Molecules, surface tension, ice crystals, and so on.  Some of the photos are simply beautiful shots of ordinary experiments, such as condensation on a glass.  Others, such as still-action shots of water dripping, or a display of snowflakes magnified, are downright breathtaking.

The explanations are short and clear but technical.   It will help if a young reader (or listener) has already been introduced to the scientific terms, either in every day conversation or by reading some early-reader science books. 

The photos inspire experimentation;  for those who want guidance, there is a set of suggested experiments at the back of the book.  Parents will appreciate the cautionary notes at the beginning of the experiments section, which include such essentials as "don’t look directly at the sun" and "never use water near electrical outlets", but also finish with the reminder "clean up spills and put away materials in their proper places when you are done".

If you are a structured sort of homeschooler, this book would probably fit best in a late-elementary or middle-school study of physical science.  (At that age, a good reader could work independently, too.)  Or it would make a nice series of activities to keep school kids busy over summer and winter vacations. 

But the book speaks most to those who have caught on to something more like family-schooling.   The explanations and experiments are simple enough to engage the natural awe and wonder of preschoolers (playing with bubbles! catching snowflakes!), but technical side of it offers plenty for a high-school-level scientist to contemplate.   Those who are fluent in physical sciences will immediately think of a thousand other experiments worth trying someday, and those who have never really understood these mysteries will discover the joy of finally understanding the how and why of fog on a window or condensation on the outside of a cold drink.

We’ve had a long set of holidays and surprisingly mild weather, so here at our castle there isn’t that case of January Misery that seems to afflict many homeschools.  But if you are suffering enthusiasm-blight this season , take a look for this book at your library.    Could turn out to be a nice way to get a break from school-as-usual, but with more learning instead of less.

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