Sunday, June 17, 2007

Book Review - The Periodic Table

My friends call me a closet nerd. Well, let me just put all my geekiness front and center and admit that I love the periodic table. Yes, I was a biochemistry major in college and had more than a passing acquaintance with this wonderful little organizational tool, but I didn't memorize the first 36 elements and them some until I taught chemistry and middle school science. One of my favorite assignments was a scavenger hunt in which students were required to identify the first 18 elements based on a variety of clues. This was in the days before the Internet, so we used what few books I could find and lots of other materials that I created.

Were I to teach using this activity today, you can bet that The Periodic Table, a quirky little volume by Adrian Dingle, would definitely be a prime resource. Can Mendeleev's baby be cool and fun? Absolutely!

I wrote about the impending release of this book in March, after reading the Publisher's Weekly article Humor Helps Kids Brave the Elements. The article describes the work and its creators this way:
Created by artist and designer Simon Basher, who divides his time between London and Tokyo, this small-format paperback personifies each element with a whimsical image. Accompanying each of Basher's portraits is a description of the element, written in a personal-ad style by Adrian Dingle, a British native who now teaches high-school chemistry in Atlanta.
As a self-confessed lover of chemistry and all things organizational, I found this book undeniably entertaining. Basher's illustrations for each element are creatively telling (with a decidedly Japanese anime kind of flair), and nicely supported by the descriptions written by Dingle. The book opens with the periodic table as conceived by Basher. (There is also a poster of this same table attached to the inside cover of the back of the book.) Some of my favorite images from the table include titanium, copper, Einsteinium, and Mendelevium. Next readers get an introduction to the periodic table and Hydrogen, before the book launches into an overview of the elements based on group membership. Each chapter (group) introduction appears on a double page spread where it highlights the location of the group on the periodic table, provides a short narrative about them, and then shows a snapshot of each Basher image for the elements. In some chapters, a page appears for each of the group's elements, but in others, only a few of the elements receive this in-depth treatment. For example, Group II (the Boron Elements) contains 5 elements, though only the first two, Boron and Aluminum are explored.

The group descriptions are particularly well done and give a nice overview of the ways the elements are related. Here's an example.
This ragtag group of elements is the periodic table's dysfunctional family. They don't gel together--some of them aren't even the same type of substance! Lonely, odd-man-out boron is an unusual powdery nonmetal, while the rest are soft, silvery, and weak metals. At the top of the group, these metals aren't especially metallic, but the farther down the group you go, the more like metals the members get.
Elemental descriptions read like blogger profiles. Here are two of my favorites. See if you can guess the elements.
Quick and deadly, that's me. I put the "mad" in Mad Hatter, and my ability to poison the brain is legendary! A sinister, silver-colored killer, I am a strange and stealthy liquid metal that easily vaporizes into toxic fumes.

Sweetly smiling and dressed in pale yellow, I look as harmless as a lemon tart, but I have a wicked side . . . . I am a fun-loving prankster that loves to unleash bad smells. My most vile whiffs include rotten eggs and foul skunky odors.
In additional to these "self-written" descriptions, the usual facts are also include, such as symbol, atomic number, atomic weight, color, standard state, classification, density, boiling point and melting point.

So yes, I've gushed enough. I read the entire book in one sitting, and then revisited some of my favorites again while writing this review. I can't wait to share this with my students and other science loving friends. This is a great volume for the middle and high school classroom. I recommend it with enthusiasm.

Book: The Periodic Table
Author: Adrian Dingle
Publisher: Kingfisher Publications
Publication Date: May 23, 2007
Pages: 128
Grades: 7 and up
ISBN-10: 0753460858
ISBN-13: 978-0753460856
Source of Book: Copy purchased at Borders

Answers Please! - The two elements described above are Hg and S.


  1. And then, of course, there's always this periodic ditty by Tom Lehrer (flash animated by a guy named Mike Stanfill)

  2. I LOVE this song. I used to make my students listen to it!

  3. This book sounds terrific. Who could forget Sulfur after a description like that?