Ambleside Online uses The Story Book of Science by Jean Henri Fabre (1823-1915) in Year 4 and along with another Year 4 science title, Madame How & Lady Why (MHLW) the book generates many questions and discussions on the AO forum.
Fabre wrote this book in 1917, and many of the forum questions are related to either the wisdom of using a science book of that age, or the style of the author\’s writing. My reasons for using MHLW are here and are similar to those that helped me decide to use The Story Book of Science.
Charlotte Mason believed that there was poetry in science and that the literary treatment of science enabled children to learn how to wonder and admire. This idea has been cemented even further for me as I’ve been using The Story Book of Science with Moozle. We started this book last year when she was nine years old (she turned ten a couple of months ago) and it has been one of her favourite books from Year 4.
We read recently in Chapter XLVI about the volcanic eruption of Mt. Etna in Sicily which threatened to wipe out the town of Catania:
“Without those brave men who did not hesitate, at the risk of being burnt alive, to go and open a new passage for the stream of fire, Catania would certainly have been lost,” remarked Jules.
“Catania would have been all burnt down, there is no doubt. To-day its calcined ruins would be buried under a bed of cold lava, and there would be nothing left but the name of the large town that had disappeared. Three or four stout-hearted men revive the courage of the terrified population; they hope that heaven will aid them in their devotion, and, ready to sacrifice their lives, they prevent the frightful disaster. Ah! may God give you grace, my dear child, to imitate them in the time of danger; for, you see, if man is great through his intelligence, he is still greater through his heart. In my old age, when I hear you spoken of, I shall be more gladdened by the good you may have done than by the knowledge you may have acquired. Knowledge, my little friend, is only a better means of aiding others. Remember that well, and when you are a man bear yourself in danger as did those of Catania. I ask it of you in return for my love and my stories.”
Jules furtively wiped away a tear. His uncle perceived that he had sown his word in good ground.
Fabre has been called the ‘Homer of insects.’ He was also a poet and spent his long life observing, wondering, admiring. He wrote volumes on just insects alone. Mostly self-taught, he quietly pursued his study of the natural world and it was not until he reached his mid-eighties that his wonderful achievements were recognised.
Fabre was very critical of the theory of evolution but was kind and respectful to fellow scientists who promoted the theory, such as Charles Darwin, who in turn respected Fabre and called him the “inimitable observer.” When Fabre was in his nineties he was asked if he believed in God. He replied emphatically,
“I can’t say I believe in God. I see Him. Without Him I understand nothing. Without Him all is darkness…
Every period has its manias. I regard Atheism as a mania. It is the malady of the age. You could take my skin from me more easily than my faith in God.”
The Life of Jean Henri Fabre by Augustin Fabre
His writing has a story-telling quality, revealing the secrets of nature in a literary fashion whilst also adding the ‘padding’ that Charlotte Mason speaks of. Children are required ‘to dig’ for their knowledge when they read this book or have it read to them. They don’t read through a list of facts or pieces of random information and look at glossy pictures.
I don’t give my children a vocabulary list and tell them to find out the meaning of the words by using a dictionary, but if a word they don’t know comes up in a book they are often able to figure it out by context. If not, they can look it up in the dictionary if they need to, but they have first enountered the word in a literary medium & not in a fragmented, unconnected form. In the same time way, I often add a video or photograph or some other resource related to the chapter after we’ve read it. The story itself creates a sense of wonder and the other added resources relate to what has already been assimilated.
I’ve been adding ideas to a Pinterest board as we use them throughout The Story Book of Science.
‘Knowledge should be communicated in well-chosen language, because (a child’s) attention responds naturally to what is conveyed in literary form.’
A Philosophy of Education by Charlotte Mason, pg xxx