We are hosting STEM Friday this week, the gathering of children’s books about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. We are featuring two new books by Elizabeth Rusch, Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives, with photographs by Tom Uhlman and Volcano Rising, illustrated by Susan Swan.
Children are definitely interested in natural processes like volcanoes, but perhaps too often children’s books focus on the sensational, explosive aspects. Volcano Rising is a picture book for younger kids that explains not only what volcanoes are, but also how volcanoes can be a positive force by creating new land and adding nutrients to the soil. Rusch has created a two layer text, one layer that is meant to be read aloud with lots of action verb and sounds, and the other for those who want to really delve into what volcanoes are all about.
Susan Swan’s mixed-media illustrations add another clue that this is a special book (see the cover above and an example at Charlesbridge). The illustrations give the look of a picture book, and also create a uniformity of scale and appearance that would not be possible with a collection of stock photographs.
On the other hand, Eruption!: Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives (Scientists in the Field Series), is all about the blast. Written for ages 10 and up, this book follows the experiences of USGS volcanologist John Pallister and his team from of the Cascades Volcano Observatory as they participate in VDAP or the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program. VDAP is an international effort to provide assistance to any country impacted by volcanoes that asks for help in monitoring and predicting eruptions. The program was formed after the deadly eruption of Colombia’s Nevado del Ruiz in 1985.
Rusch reveals how VDAP works by closely following the heart-pounding, nail-biting events of the Mount Pinatubo volcano eruption in the Philippines. She shows the science of positioning and monitoring seismographs, determining gas content and amount of ash, and even how satellite images can help predict when the next volcano will erupt. The case study also demonstrates that human responses to orders to evacuate are almost as unpredictable as the volcano itself.
Elizabeth Rusch has shown she has done her research and also that she is a versatile children’s writer. Looking for information on volcanoes? Wanting to learn more about the science and scientists behind volcano eruption predictions? Elizabeth Rusch has the books for you!
Let’s investigate some hands-on science activities inspired by the book:
1. Floating volcanic rock
Pumice rocks are lava from volcanoes that has cooled so quickly that they often contain pockets where air bubbles had been.
- Pumice and other igneous rocks, such as granite or obsidian.
Examine the rocks and predict whether they will float or sink. Fill the container with water and then place each rock in the water to see what happens.
If you can’t do this in real life, try this virtual rock floating test at Science Kids.
For older kids, add a lesson about density.
2. The classic erupting volcano.
I almost skipped this one, because it is so overdone, but then realized that just because we adults find it has lost its novelty, doesn’t mean kids who haven’t done it should miss out.
a. Make a volcano cone.
This can be a simple as a mound of sand in the sandbox, or an elaborate cone made out of clay, paper mache, or a variety of other materials. Embed some type of container in the cone, such as a plastic bottle or cup to contain the reaction chemicals inside the cone.
b. Gather red and/or yellow food coloring (optional), baking soda and vinegar and some measuring containers. If you have a group of kids, go for the mega-store sizes, because you will be doing this again and again.
c. Have the children measure some baking soda into the container at the center of the cone. The amount will depend on how big your container is. You can adjust after you try it a few times. Add the a few drops of each food coloring to give an orange lava color. When you are ready pour the vinegar into the container with the baking soda. Be prepared to jump back if necessary.
This video shows an example. Science Bob suggests adding dish detergent to the mix, for more foaming action. Although he says to pour in the “water,” I think it is probably vinegar. Of course you can try it with water, too, just to see if it works.
Now I’m going to share our family’s top secret volcano formula. Instead of baking soda and vinegar, we use elephant’s toothpaste. The reaction is slower, but lasts longer and gives off real heat!
Do you have another way to dress up the standard volcano eruption demo?
Need pumice? You can find pumice at rock shops, some science educational supply catalogs and even online at Amazon:
Disclosures: Volcano Rising was supplied by the publisher for review. Eruption was from our local public library. I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the ad and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog, as well as to buy more vinegar and baking soda 🙂
Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.