Friday, January 29, 2021

Exploring the Elements

Dates are closer than they look on the calendar. For the past few months I’ve known that my debut picture book, 13 Ways to Eat a Fly (illustrated by David Clark) releases mid-February. Which sounds so far away. Except it’s only two and a half weeks from now… While it’s hard to think about flies in the dead of winter, longer days are coming and soon those busy buzzy (sometimes) bothersome flies will make their presence known.

Meanwhile, I want to share this fun book about elements. If I’d had a book like this in school, I think I would have a better handle on chemistry. 

Exploring the Elements: A Complete Guide to the Periodic Table 
by Isabel Thomas; illus. by Sara Gillingham 
224 pages; ages 8-12
Phaidon Press, 2020

I was drawn to this book by the cover: bright graphics that carry into the interior. You know what’s cool? The table of contents is set up like a periodic table.

“Elements are the building blocks of everything, from distant stars to the ground under your feet, from the pages of this book to the person reading it,” writes Isabel Thomas. Imagine that! Everything in the universe made up of 92 basic ingredients!

An introduction explains atoms, the categories of the periodic table, where various elements are found, and “how to use this book” – similar to how field guides are set up. Each chapter includes a collection of elements that have things in common. Sometimes those categories align with the groups of the periodic table. Other times, not so much. 

Each entry provides the atomic number of the element. (That’s the number of protons in the atoms of that element, for those of you that have forgotten.) It shows the element’s symbol, shows its position in the periodic table, and provides icons that let you know some key facts at a glance. Then it lists important properties, tells where the element is found in nature, and whether it’s found in the human body. 

Down in the right-hand corner there’s a drawing showing how electrons are arranged. An “about section tells all about the element, and the “secret” box tells about the secrets of chemistry and physics that cause the element to behave the way it does. In addition, each entry also includes a gallery of “forms and uses” – from paint to gems to medicine.

To help make it easy to find stuff, each chapter is color-coded. So Alkali Metals have green pages, Transition Metals are goldenrod, and Metalloids are purple. At the back there’s plenty of historical stuff and reference tables.

And if you take the book jacket off, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that the inside is a periodic table. So you can tape it to the wall above your desk for easy reference and make a new book jacket out of a brown paper bag (assuming you can get those anymore).

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.


  1. Congratulations on the upcoming release of your new picture book. Love the cover!

    There are so many wonderful books available to children today that we didn't have. Maybe I wouldn't have skimmed by in chemistry if I had a guide that made learning fun and interesting. It sounds like a wonderful book! The color-coding is really helpful. Will have to check it out for grandchildren! Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is something I needed back in high school. I'll be tracking down a copy for a niece who is in 9th grade. Thanks for featuring on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

  3. Congratulations on the debut of your new picture book—it sounds like such a fun story! Exploring the Elements sounds great as well—it really is amazing how so few components form literally everything in the world. I love that the book jacket is a periodic table! Thanks for the great review!

  4. I think my granddaughter could use a copy of this. You always find such interesting books to write about. Thanks for telling me about this one.

  5. Congrats on your new picture book release. If you email me at, I would be glad to shout out about it in my Follower News on March 8th.