Chemical Chaos

August 2, 2011

Sometimes when I read a book I will find myself attracted to other books on the same topic. This time my latest readings have been on chemistry and the periodic table. The one that started it was The Disappearing Spoon, which is a history of chemistry, the hunt for elements and the creation of the periodic table (check out the extras, especially the videos). This romp into chemistry and the personalities involved is accessible to everyone, including students in upper elementary school. Read the rest of this entry »


Review: Jane and the Dragon

August 17, 2009

One of the challenges that all skeptical parents have to face eventually is the question of media exposure. What books, television shows, music, oral histories, and movies should you show your children? How much should you control that conversation? Is there any skeptically appropriate children’s media in the world? For toddlers?

My theory with TV is the same as my theory with books: I expose the Highlander to stuff that is over his age level, on the theory that he’ll work harder to understand it, and that this will be good for him. And this is why he was being read “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” when he was a little over a year old, and why he is watching Jane and the Dragon now.

It helps that I like the show too. In fact, when I first saw this show I immediately decided that I would have to have a daughter just so that she could watch it, and I’m looking forward to the Phoenix growing old enough to watch and realize that, like Jane, she can have a gigantic fire breathing dragon for a best friend.

Or she could absorb the slightly more prosaic message that older children don’t have to follow the expectations of society or their parents, but should use their minds and their own sense of right and wrong to guide them in tough situations, which is what the show seems to really be about. In an interview on Scholastic.com, Jane and the Dragon creator Martin Baynton says that “The central message is about standing up for yourself and for others. If you see something which is wrong, be brave enough and strong enough to speak out.”

I guess if my kids end up being theists, or credulous new-age twerps, or even Mets fans; if they keep that message from their childhood, they’ll at least be human beings I’m proud to have raised. Which is one point in the shows favor.

But another point is that it is surprisingly skeptical and scientific for a show starring an enormous fire-breathing dragon and a twelve-year-old girl training to be a knight. Baynton was very concerned that the books and the show have a sense of historical and scientific accuracy, and they do. In answers to viewers questions on qubo.com, he uses the dread word “evolution” several times, and clearly has given a lot of thought to the making of the show. When asked how the dragon flies with small wings, he writes

Dragon would be very upset if I showed him your question, Morgan! He believes he is structured magnificently and is a fine product of evolution. He produces vast amounts of methane gas from eating vegetables and stores the gas in large belly bladders.

Which I think we all know is sort of a hack, but it’s a better hack than “it’s magic.” And that spirit of inquiry comes through on the show. I read through a lot of the questions to the author, and they include questions about science, history, anatomy… viewers really engage with this show, and it gets them thinking. And that’s a good thing for skeptics of all ages.

Jane and the Dragon is available online at qubo.com and probably on youtube. Judging by my two-year-old and the viewers questions on qubo.com, it’s appropriate and engaging for all ages.

-philosodad


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