March 05

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Magick, Science, and Why It Matters by Mary Losure

0763670634I began writing Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d when I learned that as a boy, Isaac Newton kept a tiny, secret notebook. In it, he wrote down snippets from two books he’d borrowed from an apothecary: Mathematicall Magick and The Mysteries of Nature and Art.  I hoped the story of a magic-seeking boy who grows up to be an alchemist—a kind of sorcerer— would appeal to a wide audience (hint: Harry Potter fans) who would not necessarily be interested in a Biography of a Great Scientist.

That was several years ago, but I knew even then it was important that the nation’s children understand what science is, and what it isn’t.  But now…what can I say? Now it is vital.

Now in the year 2017, the boundary between what’s science and what’s not is mistier than ever before in my lifetime.  We have legions of scientists worried that the data they have gathered through years of painstaking work will be destroyed or altered by an ever-more misguided government.

It’s hard not to despair. But we who write and care about children’s books, we who put them into the hands of children, we have to remember: it’s important, what we do.  I have to believe that books can make a difference.  Even one little children’s book.  Even mine.

Isaac Newton grew up in a time when science as we know it had not yet been invented. He spent years of his life trying to find the magic “Philosopher’s Stone” that would enable him to turn lead into gold. But, somehow, along the way, he also discovered three fundamental laws of what we now call science.

How? By a lifetime of quiet observation. A lifetime of asking questions and making rational assumptions based on observed facts.  A lifetime thinking about how the natural world works, and figuring out mathematics that can predict how the planets move.  How forces act upon one another. Now, using Newton’s laws of motion, scientists can aim a rocket into outer space and hit a target millions of miles away.

img_6718This is what science is.

I believe one thing our country needs at this moment is many more true stories about the real world: stories kids will read for pleasure…and along the way absorb new ideas, concepts they can think through in their own minds and draw their own conclusions.  Books with source notes in the back. With citations.  Books that show them other cultures than their own. Books that show them that history is not boring, and that it matters.

In Mathematicall Magick, the boy Isaac read about forces. He looked at illustrations of siege weapons. He thought about how objects move through space.

In The Mysteries of Nature and Art, the boy who would one day discover the invisible colors hidden in white light read about colors. He scribbled down notes about mixing paints the shade of the sea, or the sky, or a “lyon [lion] tawney.”  That book, too, played no small part in shaping him into one of history’s greatest scientists: a man who would change the world.

Books are power. Information is power.  A thinking population is power. Young minds on fire are power.

 

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Mary Losure is the author of Isaac the Alchemist: Secrets of Isaac Newton, Reveal’d as well as two other books of middle grade narrative nonfiction, The Fairy Ring, or Elsie and Frances Fool the World and Wild Boy: The Real Life of the Savage of Aveyron, all from Candlewick Press. She keeps a prism in her window sill and, after writing about Newton, has a lot more questions than she used to about the mysterious workings of the natural world.

For all things Isaac…fairy lore (with photos!) … and to find out more about the wild boy, please visit her website at www.marylosure.com