Friday, June 7, 2024

Science, Bias, and Measuring our World

Thomas Jefferson’s Battle for Science: Bias, Truth, and a Mighty Moose! 
by Beth Anderson; illus. by Jeremy Holmes 
48 pages; ages 7-10
‎Calkins Creek, 2024

theme: science, history, biography

Young Thomas Jefferson measured his world … animals and plants, mountains and streams, weather and crops. He recorded sizes and shapes, temperatures and times, distances and speeds (even his own). 

Science was certain, peaceful, measurable. Or so Jefferson believed. But when a French scientist wrote about the animals of America – saying the land was swampy and cold, the bears were smaller, the wolves downright puny – Jefferson got furious. He would show that buffoon! 

Jefferson is certain that America has ferocious and grand animals, such as Moose. So after the revolution, Jefferson declared a war of his own. A war against faulty facts. He would use science to fight this war. He would prove that American animals were large and magnificent - even if he had to mail a Moose to France to do so!

What I like love about this book: I love the endpapers – they are filled with life-sized tracks of North American birds and mammals. I love how Jeremy Holmes captured the feeling of science at the turn of the 19th century in his illustrations: identification tags and labels laid out on graph paper; documents tacked to wooden walls… even the color palette feels old-fashioned.

Then there is the language – it is downright fun. I love how Beth Anderson shows Jefferson’s reaction to the French critic: Hogwash! Absurd! Outrageous! I love how she shows Jefferson’s skepticism: where did Buffon get his information if he’d never been to America? (This, dear readers, is the sort of skepticism we need to nurture today! Just sayin’) And I love the back matter. In the author’s note, Beth dives deeper into Thomas Jefferson’s love of science and dissects the problems with mistruths. She reminds us that “scientific truth is always changing and growing” and asks readers to continue to fight against biases and untruth in scientific thinking, as Thomas Jefferson fought against Buffon’s  mistruths.

And that was when I knew I just had to ask Beth A Few Questions:

Me:  Why did you want to write this book? I feel there is an underlying lesson in it 

Beth: The more I dug into Thomas Jefferson’s obsession with science and this event, the more connections I found to today and for kids. So many important ideas and issues to ponder! It’s more important than ever that we raise critical thinkers. Truth matters. It’s vital for us all to examine our sources for bias and misinformation. Jefferson and Count Buffon both eventually admitted they were wrong when presented with evidence. While the story deals with a theory about animals and simple concepts like bigger isn’t necessarily better and different doesn’t mean inferior, I’m hoping that kids will be able to take the understanding gained from this to more crucial applications as mentioned in the back matter that result in really dangerous and damaging patterns of thinking. I also loved that Jefferson’s efforts to disprove Buffon’s theory fit the scientific inquiry process that kids use today. The past connects to today in so many ways! 

Me: What faulty facts are we fighting today?

Beth: We have all kinds out there—all that was being passed around during Covid is just one area where faulty facts piled up. Unfortunately many areas have become politicized and polarizing which makes it hard for us to examine issues intelligently, admit if we’re wrong, and recognize reality. Faulty facts have invaded medicine, history, democracy, environmental science, and more. We are in an age when it is becoming ever more difficult to sort truth from non-truth. We are deluged with information from legitimate as well as dubious sources, and now the emergence of AI makes this all even harder. As I said, it’s so important that we raise kids to think and question in constructive ways. Though the illustrations of Jefferson and Buffon’s dinner debate show Jefferson’s inner turmoil, historical sources describe him as respectful and polite despite Buffon’s condescending attitude. Buffon was one of Jefferson’s scientific heroes. Imagine how disappointing that was and how hard it was for Jefferson to dispute Buffon’s information. It’s clear that they both had to let go of their emotional attachment to what they WANTED to be true. 

Me: What can we do to help our children become scientifically literate?

Beth: We are really fortunate to have such a fantastic array of children’s books about science these days. I think wide exposure to gain knowledge and nurture a sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world is where scientific literacy starts. Then we provide opportunities to practice experimentation and investigation, collect and analyze data, and model critical thinking. An important piece of this is that scientific truth evolves as our understanding grows. Science is really quite irresistible! With the love of it, comes the literacy.

Beyond the Books:

Measure your world. What do you measure, and what tools do you use to do the measuring? Record your measurements and share them with others.

What are the largest (and possibly most majestic) animals that live near you? Use the process of scientific inquiry to support your thinking.  

What kinds of animal tracks can you find in the wild places near your home? (perhaps a park or local wooded area). You can find a handy field guide to animal tracks from Maine Fish and Wildlife at 

Beth is a member of #STEAMTeam2024. You can find out more about her at her website.

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. 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. Fantastic post, Sue and Beth! I love how Beth approaches history in this way makes- making it relevant and engaging, while also infusing it with science AND promoting critical thinking and literacy!

    1. Yes - I think that critical thinking part is really important!

  2. Thank you so much, Randi! And Sue - I love your activities!! Thanks for sharing those!

  3. Getting at the truth via scientific methods is so important! Great post Sue...and I love this book, Beth!

    1. I agree - about getting at truth via scientific methods. This book is wonderful for showing that, isn't it!

  4. I like that Beth put a fun spin on the history she tells by telling about Thomas Jefferson's efforts to disprove what Count Buffon said.

  5. Great interview and what a great approach to writing this book. I'll be looking for a copy to give it a go myself. Thanks for featuring Beth's book on this week's MMGM.

  6. Fantastique premise and interview. Thanks for sharing, will look for this title. I unfortunately blanked on getting my MMGM post up in time, but if you're interested, I hope you'll check out my review for The Cookie Crumbles.

  7. I loved this book too! Carol Baldwin

  8. Great interview and post. Thanks for sharing.