Do you want to interest young children in geology? Of course you do! Not only is it one of the greatest sciences of all time, and even one that can be done on other worlds, it gets kids out in the fresh air (and possibly sunshine). So let’s do it. Let’s start them on geology right now.
All you need to do is get them Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall.
This book will work on kids as young as three. It will even work for kids who aren’t yet interested in rocks. They won’t even notice it’s 41 years old, because the illustrations have a timeless quality. They are fanciful and sometimes surrealistic, and they are simple, with enough space between the lines for imaginations to wander.
The narrator tells us simply that everyone needs a rock. She gives us ten rules so they can find the perfect one. “Not just any rock,” she says. “I mean a special rock that you find yourself and keep as long as you can – maybe forever.”
She says to keep it secret why our rock is special. Kids love secrets, and they’ll love having one of their own. But we can encourage them to also find other rocks, ones whose secrets can be shared. Geology is all about learning the secrets of rocks.
Rule Number 1 says to try to find “a mountain made out of nothing but a hundred million small shiny beautiful roundish rocks.” If you’re living in an area with lots of conglomerate, or near one of those giant gravel bars left by glacial outburst floods, you’re all set. But you can also find rocks in less likely places, and the book says we can find rocks anywhere, which is pretty much true.
Rule 2 is about being in the proper frame of mind, with no distractions. Rule 3 tells us to get very close to the ground. “You have to look a rock right in the eye,” the narrator says. This will be easiest for kids who live in areas with nice augen gneiss, but every rock has eyes if you know how to look.
Rule 4 will prevent kids from trying to come home with rocks the size of apples or horses, which is excellent news for their guardians. Rule 5 will prevent them from bringing home one so tiny that they instantly lose it. One of the book’s best moments comes when the narrator assures us parenthetically that her tale of a mouse mistaking a tiny rock for a seed and eating it “happened to a boy in the state of Arizona.” It’s little details like this that make the book so enchantingly real.
Rule 6 describes how the rock should feel. Rule 7 tells us how to find a rock that’s the right color, and how to reveal the secret colors in plain brown rocks by squinting at them in the sun or dipping them in a stream. This is excellent information for young geologists to have.
Rule 8 helps us choose the shape that’s right for us. Rule 9 is all about smelling rocks, and what smell can tell you about where the rocks came from. Rocks do have their own special, subtle scents.
Rule 10 counsels patience, and making up your own mind. And then the book ends with the narrator telling us to write down any other rules we think of, while she goes off to play a game with her rock.
This is an utterly charming little book that will get kids excited about finding a rock of their own. Sometimes, finding that one perfect rock is all it takes to launch a lifetime fascination with geology. So I think every kid needs this book. And, come to think of it, so do us adults.