Books Your Child Should Read, According to Neil deGrasse Tyson

13 Books Your Child Should Read Recommended by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Science nerds know Neil deGrasse Tyson for his passionate pursuit of all things outer space and of objective knowledge grounded in well-born facts.

For those of you less familiar, Dr. deGrasse Tyson is a Harvard-educated physicist who headed presidential commissions charged with charting a new American course for space exploration. He’s written numerous books and been on television shows featured around the world. And, he’s funny, too. He created StarTalk, a comedy-based podcast for people who don’t really dig science.

Over the years, deGrasse Tyson has recommended books that all children and adults should should read. We’ve compiled a list of those books for you.

On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier
In 2013, deGrasse Tyson told the New York Times that he’ll probably never write a children’s science book because he does not think he could ever top Frasier’s science writing.
There’s No Place Like Space: All About Our Solar System by Tish Rabe
It might be Dr. Seuss, but the publishers sure were on the ball updating the book back when Pluto got demoted from its planet status.
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
It’s an all-time favorite novel for deGrasse Tyson – especially the misguided scientists who spent too much time looking for answers to all the wrong questions about life.
Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Pinocchio was a read-aloud book in the deGrasse Tyson house for its strong message on what bad behavior looks like and why making better choices is important. Spoiler alert: Jiminy Cricket doesn’t last long in the original story.
Mathematics and the Imagination by Edward Kasner and James Newman
Filled full of stories and puzzles, this oldie but goodie takes topics from pi to logarithms and boils them down to an understandable level that even young teens can grasp. As deGrasse Tyson said, this was one of the books that helped him understand “the general power of mathematics to decode the universe”.
One, Two, Three . . . Infinity by George Gamow
Considered to be one of the most influential books he’s ever read, One, Two, Three is an easy-to-read, albeit a bit meandering, conversation-style book about math, science, its origins, and all kinds of curious questions physicists were grappling with 50 years ago.

In a well known Reddit Ask Me Anything session, deGrasse Tyson shared another list of books – this one for every single intelligent person on the planet. In sharing this list, he said, “If you read all of the works you will glean profound insight into most of what has driven the history of the western world.”

The Bible
“To learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”
The System of the World by Isaac Newton
“To learn that the universe is a knowable place.”
On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
“To learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.”
The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine
To learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.
The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
“To learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.”
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
“To learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”
The Prince by Niccolo’ Machiavelli
“To learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.”

Have you read any of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recommended books with your kids? Tell us how it went!

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The Early Reading Myth and Gifted Achievement

As someone who does educational testing and curriculum planning, I receive my fair share of phone calls and emails from parents who want to better understand their child’s reading ability. The concerns usually fall into 2 camps.

“My daughter hasn’t started reading and kindergarten begins in a couple of weeks. We had her IQ tested and were told she’s highly gifted. Does she have a learning disability?”

“My son started reading at the age of 4. The test said he’s reading at the high school level but he’s having problems passing reading tests in 3rd grade. Does he have a learning disability?”

This week I’m going to focus on questions surrounding early readers who don’t continue on as strong readers in later elementary or middle school years.

Reading before the age of 5 – especially when it’s self-taught – remains a hallmark trait of high intelligence for most people. Yet, the little longitudinal research that exists on precocious readers does not find direct and assured connections between early reading skills and later high academic achievement.

More often than not, most early readers who have been tracked by researchers continue to read above grade level. When compared to more typical students, however, the gap in early reading achievement closes for some gifted kids as they reach middle school. The 1st grader who had been reading at a 6th grade level may now be the 7th grader reading at the 9th grade level.

Some parents of gifted children who begin to notice less stellar reading achievement abilities start to get nervous. Does my child have dyslexia? Is my kid no longer gifted?

My initial answer to most parents is: No. More than likely, nothing is wrong with your child. Lower than expected achievement does not mean a child is no longer gifted. Still, a little at-home sleuthing can help parents decide if formal testing for potential learning disabilities is worth the time and money – OR – if a different approach to reading instruction may be needed.

What To Look For When Your Early Reader Fails To Academically Thrive

  1. Slow Reading Speed
    Early reading students can sometimes wow kindergarten teachers with how fast they read words. The kids have either memorized hundreds of words or mastered phonics skills that allows them to whiz through basal reader books. Yet, it’s important to remember that how we measure reading success in later grades varies from those early school years. For starters, sentences become longer and more complex in mid-elementary school. Students have to be able to remember the words and thoughts that came at the beginning of a paragraph in order to understand what they just read. It’s not unusual for students to silently re-read the same sentence more than once to make sure they get it.

    Slow reading does not necessarily mean there’s a reading problem. But, listening to your child read out loud can provide you with important information about how they read. Do they skip a lot of words as they read? Are they switching letters within words or substituting similar looking or sounding letters? Or, are they simply reading slowly and struggling to decode longer, unfamiliar words? The answers to these questions can shed light on whether there may be an underlying learning disablity or if your child is simply savoring the books they read.

  2. Poor Spelling
    Some precocious readers seemingly “break the code” at an early age and wind up reading Harry Potter in the back of their kindergarten classroom while their age-mates struggle to sound out c-a-t. Yet, by 4th grade these same kids can’t seem to spell to save their lives. While it might seem counter-intuitive to talk about phonics with a child who’s been reading since age 4, it’s an important question to bring up. Some early readers fail to receive full phonics instruction and as a result they struggle to read complex words and/or correctly spell.

    Analyzing spelling errors can help pinpoint where a disconnect may lie. If problems seem to be focused on complex vowel patterns, like controlled-R and vowel digraphs like “aw”, then perhaps some targeted instruction may likely solve the problem. If the spelling problems are more universal and include mistaking even short-vowel sounds, then you may want to look at formal testing to see what underlying issues may be causing the problem.

  3. Repeatedly Re-Reading Low-Level Books
    Just because a gifted child can read high-level material does not mean they can or should be reading such dense tomes all the time. Take the 11-year old who spent the summer reading through The Communist Manifesto and Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations with a mentor – only to curl up at night with a treasured copy of The Magic Treehouse. No question existed in anyone’s mind about the child’s enthusiastic ability to understand the political and economic principles. But, you can’t ignore the fact that such reading and analysis is a taxing experience, even for adults. It’s a form of mental calisthenics that can leave a person tired and weary. Just as some people like to relax in a hot tub after a long workout, some kids like to wrap their minds in a cloak of fond reading memories. It can be a gentle reassurance of the underlying comfort that they have always found in reading.

    Talking to your child in a friendly way about why they choose low-level books may give you insight into whether they’re self-selecting down to a more appropriate reading challenge or just visiting with an old friend, so to speak.

  4. Unable to Answer Comprehension Questions
    Many parents of gifted early readers are thrilled when their little ones pick out thick books on advanced topics at the library – but they don’t always stop to check and see how much the kids actually take away from the text. Don’t be fooled by the casual chattiness. Bright kids know how to glean lots of information by studying pictures, charts, and other graphics that fill the pages of many non-fiction books.

    Reading comprehension is actually a set of analytical skills that can and should be taught to gifted students. If you’re seeing inconsistent comprehension with your reader, go back to the actual book and ask them about what they read. Start by asking basic questions that cover information that is explicity stated in the text. WHO is the story about? WHEN did the story happen? WHAT happened at the end? Next, ask them thinking questions that require them to connect ideas together. HOW did someone accomplish a certain task? WHY would a certain event take place? Finally, ask evaluative questions that compel the reader to think at their deepest level. DO YOU THINK the character made the right choice? WHAT OTHER OPTIONS could have been considered?

    Interestingly, some younger highly gifted students initially struggle with more advanced comprehension questions. It’s not about lack of ability. Instead, they’ve come to rely on looking for black and white answers that they’re not always comfortable with the more grayscale areas.

Early reading indicates at least a moderate level of giftedness, but it does not always lead to a life-long passion for reading or even to high academic achievement. Some gifted kids need direct instruction to help them continue to excel with their reading abilities. Others may have an underlying learning disability that requires different instructional methods. And, of course, there will always be the children who have no problems. They are right where they should be academically.

Do you have a highly or profoundly gifted child who isn’t reading, yet – and kindergarten is right around the corner? Check out Part 2 of the Early Reading Myth and Gifted Children.

Was your child an early reader?
What has been your experience?

This blog post is part of the HoagiesGifed July Blog Hop. Visit Hoagies’ Blog Hop home page to read more about (summer) reading and gifted children, written by other professionals and parents of gifted kids.

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25 Free (or almost free) Things to do This Summer That Get You & the Kids Out of the House

25 Free Things To Do With Your Kids Summer 2014

Face it: We love homemade summer fun, but there are some days when getting out the house beats nagging or listening to, “Mom, I’m booooorrrrreeeeeddddd.”

You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on summer camps to keep your kids busy. Check out these great activities sponsored by national chain stores and businesses.

Most of the links will take you to a page where you can type in your zipcode so you can find local information on days and times for the special FREE or low-cost summer fun offer. Be sure to bookmark this page for a little insurance, in case your vacation plans get rained out!



  • Bass Pro Shops Family Summer Camp
    When: June 7 – July 13. 2 – 6pm Tuesdays and Thursdays and Noon-4pm Saturdays and Sundays
    Cost: Free
    Features free activities and workshops where families with kids ages 8+ can learn the skills they need to enjoy great outdoor adventures, such as bird watching, archery, animal identification, pets in the outdoors and more. Kids can earn a collectable pin for every workshop and questions completed.


  • AMF Bowling Summer Unplugged
    When: Memorial Day – Labor Day 2014 – Everyday until 6:00pm
    Cost: Free
    Kids bowl for free at your local AMF Bowling Center. Just register your children to get weekly coupons via email for 3 free games per child per day all summer long. Shoe rental not included.


  • Kids Bowl Free
    When: Varies
    Cost: Free
    Kids bowl up to 2 games for free everyday throughout the summer at your local independently owned bowling alley. Shoe rental not included. See website for participating bowling alleys and the rules that they set on age limits.


  • Kids Skate Free
    When: Dates and times vary by center
    Cost: Free. Some participating centers may charge for skate rental.
    Find a roller skating center near you that offers free rink time for your kids.


  • Junior Park Ranger
    When: Varies
    Cost: Free or low cost
    The National Park Service’s Junior Ranger program is an activity based program conducted in almost all parks. Typically between the ages of 5 – 13, kids complete a series of activities during a park visit, share their answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger patch and Junior Ranger certificate. You can download the activity books online. Some national parks charge an entrance fee, but you can visit free on August 25.



  • Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program
    When: May 20 – Sept 2, 2014
    Cost: Free
    Kids can earn a free book when they turn in a reading log with 8 books they have read.


  • Pottery Barn Summer Reading Challenge
    When: Until July 31
    Cost: Free
    Kids who read any 8 titles from the Pottery Barn recommended book list can receive a free book at a participating store. Supplies are limited.


  • Pottery Barn Book Club for Kids
    When: Every Tuesday at 11:00, year-round. Check website to confirm if your local stores hosts their Book Club at a different time.
    Cost: Free
    Kids of all ages are invited to share a special story time at Pottery Barn. First time attenders receive a Book Club Passport. Kids receive a small gift for attending five book club sessions.



  • Jo-Ann Kids’ Studio Classes
    When: 2- and 3-hour classes throughout the summer
    Cost: $30-45 per child per class.
    These classes are a little pricy but they teach practical life skills, like sewing, knitting, and cake decorating. No prior skills are required.


  • Lakeshore Learning Center
    When: Every Saturday from 11:00 – 3:00pm
    Cost: Free.
    Kids get to make and take a free simple craft project. Check the website and print out a coupon that you can use while you shop.


  • Michael’s: Kid’s Club
    When: Saturdays from 10:00 – 11:30am
    Cost: $2 per child.
    These classes run for 30 minutes. Kids get to make a fun craft project in a supervised setting while you get to shop. Be sure to check out Michael’s other craft classes at different days and times. Some are free and some require you to purchase materials, first



  • Lowe’s Kids Clinics
    When: 10:00am on Saturdays
    Cost: Free
    Pre-register online and then show up to the store to build your “woodworking” kit. Kids receive a kit to build, a work apron, googles, and more. You’ll need to register early because these events fill up fast.


  • Home Depot Kids Workshops
    When: 9:00 – noon. First Saturday of every month, year-round
    Cost: Free
    The Home Depot’s Kids Workshops teach children do-it-yourself skills and tool safety, while at the same time helping to instill a sense of accomplishment. In addition to the newly constructed project kit, each child receives a kid-sized orange apron, similar to The Home Depot associates’ aprons, and an achievement pin. Pre-registration is required.



  • Cinemark Summer Movie Clubhouse
    When: Weekday mornings. Varies by theatre.
    Cost: Pre-purchase 10 movie tickets for $5.00 – or, purchase $1.00 tickets on the day of the show. Tickets good only for certain recently released G and PG movies. See website for details on the pre-purchase option.


  • Harkins Summer Movie Fun
    When: 9:45am. Weekday varies by theatre
    Cost: Kids 12 and under can enjoy 10 movies throughout the summer when accompanied by an adult. Check the website for details on how to purchase your summer season tickets.


  • Showcase Cinemas’ Bookworm Wednesdays
    When: Wednesdays at 10:00am from July 9 – August 13
    Cost: Free
    Turn in a “book report” in exchange for a free movie ticket. See website for downloadable book report form.


  • Marcus Theatres Kids Dream
    When: 10:00am on Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays between June 15 – August 13
    Cost: $2.00
    Enjoy 8 different movies throughout the summer, along with discounted popcorn and drink prices.


  • Regal’s Summer Movie Express 2012
    When: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10:00am
    Cost: $1.00 for all ages
    During this 9-week festival, select Regal Cinemas, United Artists and Edwards Theatres will offer selected G or PG rated movies for only a dollar. A portion of the proceeds are donated to the Will Rogers’ Institute.


  • AMC Movies
    AMC Theatres discontinued their Summer Movie Camp in 2010. They do, however, offer Student Day every Thursday throughout the year. High school and college students with IDs get special pricing on all movies.


  • Target Community Events
    When: Varies
    Cost: Free or greatly reduced admission price
    Through special partnerships with museums across the country, Target Stores sponsors free and reduced admission days throughout the year. Search your state and find an event near you.


  • Blue Star Military Museums
    When: Memorial Day – Labor Day
    Cost: Free
    All Active Military families with a qualifying ID card can gain free admission to over 2,000 museums across the United States.


  • Bank of America Museums on Us
    When: First full weekend of each month
    Cost: Free
    Bank of America customers can gain free admission to over 150 museums throughout the country just by showing their debit or credit card and a photo ID.



  • Lego Stores Mini Builds
    When: Varies
    Cost: Free
    Once a month, Lego Stores host a special, free make it-take it event for little builders ages 6-14. Quantities are limited. Check website for days, times, and featured mini-models.


  • Camp Apple
    When: 3-day events throughout the summer
    Cost: Free
    Kids ages 8-12 learn to shoot their own film footage; create an orginal song on Garage Band; and put it together in iMovie. Classes are held at Apple retail stores. Pre-registration is required.


  • Microsoft Youth Spark Camps
    When: Weekly from June 2 – August 29
    Cost: Free
    Junior Designers (ages 8-10) and Designers (ages 11-13) can enroll in free 1-week long Game Coding, Game Design, Movie Making, and Smart Photo Taking classes. Classes are held at Microsoft retail stores. Pre-registration is required.


What low-cost and free activitie are getting you and your kids out of the house this summer? Share your ideas below!

National Mythology Exam Prep

Every January, for a number of years, we’d dig out our copy of the D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths and read through our favorite stories to start preparing for the National Mythology Exam.

Hosted by the Excellence Through the Classics, NME is a gentle way to introduce kids into the dynamic world of mythology. It’s not just about studying literature or Ancient Greece. It’s a cultural literacy lesson that brings our daily lives into focus.

  • Fluffy, the 3-headed dog in Harry Potter is really the monster Cerebus
  • Neptune Pools isn’t named after someone’s family. It’s the Roman equivalent for the god of water
  • Hypnosis isn’t just some pseudo-science. It’s named after the god of sleep.

Documentary that gives a deeper understanding of how the Greek myths came into being. Recommended: grades 7 and up.

Participating in the NME is pretty straightforward – and it’s an opportunity open to homeschoolers! Simply send in your registration form by January 15. Read the stories. Do some fun activities to help your kids remember their facts. And then, take the test in the last week of February or the first week of March.

The test is multiple choice. Kids fill in bubbles on a scan-tron answer sheet. You mail the answer sheets in and they’re scored. Everyone receives a certificate of participation. High scoring kids may also received a bronze, silver, or gold medal!

Older kids are required to complete more portions of the tests than younger students. But, hey, if your 3rd grader has read the required books from the Iliad and they want to take that part of the test, too, they can. NME is cool like that. The minimum ages are guidelines. A kindergartener can participate, if they can take the test independently.

NME exam topics change every year. Some years, kids study Jason and the Argonauts in-depth. Other years there’s a focus on mythological monsters. Really motivated kids can also study Native American, African, and Norse myths, also. High school students will be required to read a selection from either Homer’s The Iliad, The Odyssey, or The Aeneid.

Check out the 7-year topic rotation to see what’s up for this year.

How you prepare for the National Mythology Exam is completely up to you. There’s all kinds of resources you can use for free or purchase. Some things we’ve done over the years include:

  • Make your own Mythology trading cards. This free site lets you design cards using a
    template that looks like Magic cards. You provide your own text and image – either drawn by the kids or found online using a google image search. You can use these cards for matching and recall games.
  • Draw a Greek geneaology tree. The D’Aulaires’ book has one that you can use as a model on the 1st page.
  • Make a stick puppet play. We did this with Herakles, because it helped us remember all the different tasks he had to complete.
  • Make a monster encyclopedia about the origins of Cyclopes, Medusa, Typhon, and others.
  • If you prefer a games-based approach to learning, you can find some of the mythology review games I created for my guys and for the mythology summer camp I used to teach at the community college.

I’d love to hear how you learn about mythology with your kids!