Books For The Growing Geek

The Blogfaddah gets out and promotes “kid science” books like The Mad Scientists’ Club and the Danny Dunn and Henry Reed series. I’d add Encyclopedia Brown, Alvin Fernald, and the Robert Heinlein “juveniles” to that list.

No question in my mind that all of the above had no small impact on my eventual career choices; when I’m not blogging or writing about college football, I’m an aerospace engineer. I need to collect up my surviving copies and get them to my nephews (one is three, the other is on the way) in the next few years.

Parents with daughters, don’t be put off by all the male names in the titles; every one of the above (with the exception of the Mad Scientists, but buy them anyway) also has a strong, smart girl as a leading character.

32 Responses to “Books For The Growing Geek”

  1. What Is Flig? Says:

    Danny Dunn and the Nostalgia Machine

    Instapundit mentions the Danny Dunn books in a post today. This was among my favorie series growin…

  2. ElvenPhoenix Says:

    I’ve read Heinlein since I was 8 years old – and I’m female. He’s always been one of my favorite authors. Podkayne of Mars is one of the juveniles that sports a female heroine.

    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is one of the best books, ever. And I have no idea why it hasn’t been turned into a movie…

  3. DakRoland Says:

    This is so funny. I was just talking to my daughter a couple nights ago about the Encyclopedia Brown books I used to read as a kid. Those were some cool mysteries.

  4. Joe Says:

    Thanks for the reminder.
    Added to my wish list.

  5. Kristian Says:

    Ahh, I remember the ‘Danny Dunn’ books. The mechanical nose, IIRC.

    Hmm, need to go find some of these…

    All the Asimov and Heinlein books were good, too.

  6. Patrick Lasswell Says:

    Most of the Heinlein juveniles are still in print. A lot of the newer editions have good cover art instead. Also there is a substantial community of obsessive Heinlein fetishists who have collected records of everything he ever wrote. I think they are chasing laundry and grocery lists.

  7. Howard Says:

    Don’t forget Brains Benton. I just got a set off Ebay for $40. My kids are loving them.

  8. keys514 Says:

    Probably a tacky admission, but I wouldn’t touch a book (including school books) until my grandfather talked me into reading Starship Trooper. It sparked a life long love of literature in all forms.

  9. aaron Says:

    Wrinkle in Time, The Hobbit, & The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

  10. Brian Erst Says:

    In addition to all the above (I come close to being one of those Heinlein obsessives mentioned by Patrick – Steve is a Randian Objectivist, I’m a Heinleinian Libertarian/Anarcho-Capitalist), I also liked the Tom Swift Jr. books – think the Hardy Boys as kid geniuses. Same company produced them, but unlike the Hardy Boys stories, their all out of print. A complete set (33) will set you back $800+ on eBay.

    I probably read the whole series in the course of a few weeks when I was in 5th grade. Left me being the techno-optimist that I am today (in Tom’s world, any problem could be solved with the proper application of engineering).

  11. Jim Says:

    Don’t forget Magic Schoolbus books. My little guy devours these. They’re about biology, geology, astronomy, etc.

  12. alex Says:

    Brian beat me to the punch on Tom Swift. I inhaled those things as a kid, an also turned out an engineer eventually as well.

  13. jmaster Says:

    I am an electrical engineer, with a bunch of patents and technical articles, and some really successful (billion $+) product designs under my belt. This discussion really got me thinking.

    I read a couple Encyclopedia Brown books early on, but in the third grade, I discovered the non-fiction section of the library. I have read about 15-20 works of fiction in the 30 some years since. But I probably averaged 3-4 non-fiction books and 6-8-10 magazines a month over that same time period.

    By fourth or fifth grade, I was reading my father

  14. triticale Says:

    I flunked out of engineering school, but have a few specialized industrial products, some with multiple sales on behalf of the company I worked for, under my belt. Any time you see centrist/libertarian/techno/industrial/ self-sufficient/hippy/geeks talking about the influences which shaped them, Heinlein shows up.

    Watch your decimal places!

  15. PK Says:

    Alvin Fernald. Man, that takes me back. Should also include The Great Brain series. Inspires kids to think and become resourceful. At least inspired me to think and become resourceful. Who says there’s nothing to read?

  16. jmaster Says:

    A bit off topic here, but I just remembered the time I found a copy of

  17. caltechgirl Says:

    Don’t forget the Two Minute Mysteries series. I got hooked on those when I was 10 after I had eaten up all of the Encyclopedia Brown books.

  18. Robert Says:

    And don’t forget the Wizard of Earthsea trilogy. Loved those as a kid.

    Just heard that Louis Rukeyser is shutting down his tv show. It sounds like his battle with cancer isn’t going well.

  19. Bennie Says:

    “I need to collect up my surviving copies and get them to my nephews” ??? No WAY!! Mine are all near first-edition paperback releases! I just opened “I, Robot” for obvious reasons and find that the binding has deteriorated somewhat over the years.

    Danny Dunn, Brains Benton, Encyclopedia Brown, EVERYthing Heinlein (fortunately, no adults knew the content of ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ or ‘I Will Fear No Evil’ or I’d have been prohibited from Heinlein from 8 years old on,) Asimov both science and fiction.

    I’ve seen Tom Swift reprints on occasion but the originals are almost as rare as the Harvard Classics. But even at $800 for a set, and the cost of any of the other series/juveniles, it’s a bargain to interest those children we know & love in the adventure of science. While the science in them may be a little dated, they are more than adequate springboards into the modernists like Niven, Forward, Stephenson, et al.

    Between this exposure, and involvement in local school science (dry ice comets in class, anyone?) they can become little replicas of all of u…..let’s rethink this proposition, OK?

  20. Mike M Says:

    I loved the Einstein Anderson series by Seymour Simon. Because of one of those books, to this day I still remember that true invisibility is impossible (or at least really impractical), because if one is totally invisible, their retina is too meaning they can’t see!

  21. JFH Says:

    I don’t know, Will, like you Danny Dunn was a great series for me and an influence in terms of engineering and science, but the science is very weak to a modern kid. I distinctly remember the view of computers and lasers (Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine; Danny Dunn and the Heat Ray??) being way off in terms of today’s science.

    As far as Heinlein, not as much as an influence, I’m embarassed to say that I didn’t even know he was an alumnus until my junior year at USNA.

  22. David Says:

    When I was in fourth grade I split my time between Asimov and Encyclopedia Brown. I love the I, Robot series. I could never get the hang of Heinlein. I went next to Ray Bradbury.

  23. Ian Argent Says:

    On heinlein, better make sure skittish parents don’t see just about anything post-Stranger…

    On Tom Swift – there were at least 3 “series” of Tom Swift (and possibly a fourth), that I know of. The first series may be coming out of copyright, at any rate, I have an e-book copy of Tom Swift and his Electric Rifle that I got off UVA’s ebook archive (IIRC). (OT – it is from this book that TASER derives, Tom’s middle initial is A).

    The second and third I read as a child – the second was mostly terrestrial, while the third was almost entirely spacegoing. Unfortunately, my parents semm to have disposed of my copies while I was away at school. Feh.

  24. scott Says:

    More votes for Heinlein, Encyclopedia Brown, and “A Wrinkle in Time”.

    I will add “The Three Investigators” series, and Asimov’s robot stories…

  25. John Galt Says:

    I’d add the following to the list:

    1. The Sebastian Barth mysteries by James Howe (i.e. “What Eric Knew”, “Eat Your Poison Dear”, “Stage Fright”, and “Dew Drop Dead”) — wonderful stuff.

    2. Anything by Ellen Raskin — especially “The Westing Game” (AMAZING BOOK!)

    3. Anything by E.L. Koningsburg, including “From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” and “A View from Saturday”

    4. Lois Lowry — notably “The Giver” and “Number the Stars”

    5. Judy Blume — Her teen-angsty books aren’t that great, but she really does know 4th Graders well. Thus, any of the books in the “Fudge” series are great.

    6. Two words: Roald Dahl — Enough said.

    Geez. I wish I still read as much as I did when I was a kid.


  26. Louise Says:

    When I was in elementary school we had something called the Scholastic Book Club, which had tons of paperback books, cheap enough that my parents could afford them. My hands-down all-time favorite stories: The Mad Scientists’ Club.

    I was a girl and the Mad Scientists were all boys but that didn’t matter one bit. What mattered was that they were kids like who I wanted to be–smart, rational, inquisitive, independent.

    The Mad Scientists Club stories may not be considered “politically correct” today due to their lack of requisite demographic pandering but please don’t any parents dismiss it for their girls because of that. The Mad Scientists are great science/technology adventure stories with universal appeal to smart kids of all descriptions.

    I especially loved the time they built the fake Lake Monster, anybody remember that? What an entertaining introduction to the practice of critical thinking that one little story was. Thanks to Bertrand Brinley, the author, I’m much less gullible than I might have been otherwise.

  27. Sarah Brabazon-Biggar Says:

    I became disillusioned with Encyclopedia Brown when I realized that all you had to do to solve the mystery was to skim for the little bit of information that seemed irrelevant to the story–ie,
    “The house was swarming with policemen. Encyclopedia and Sally walked up the front steps and into the hall. Encyclopedia shaded his eyes from the glare of the sun that shone through the French windows at the end of the passage.

    And the answer at the back of the book would go:

    “Encyclopedia knew that Mr. Periodont was lying when he said he recognized the intruder standing in the hall—because the afternoon sun would have blinded anyone looking toward the French windows. When confronted, Mr. Periodont admitted to trying to frame Danny Sherman for the theft of his priceless Victorian bird stump.”

    As for good books for kids, John Bellairs must be mentioned, especially with Halloween coming up.

  28. steve poling Says:

    how well i remember the hijinks by Strawberry lake with fake sea monsters and giant dinosaur eggs. the Mad Scientist Club stories all appeared in Boy’s Life, a well-sprint of my literary development, before being collected in the Scholastic book club offering. I think that the juveniles described here guided a generation of post-sputnik lads to aspirations of technical virtuosity. And that stoked the engines of freedom that has saved our world from Fascists, Communists, and Islamists. (Sorry, I know that sounds maudlin, but can’t stop myself.)

    I was tremendously pleased when The Mad Scientists’ Club was re-released a couple years ago. I got a copy just in time for my son, who was the age I was when I first read those stories.

    Rereading The Mad Scientists’ Club, I’m overwhelmed by a sense of sentiment and nostalgia. And gratitude for a culture that gave me so much.

  29. Ian Argent Says:

    Damn – I read the Mad Scientists club too! Add that to the list of books disposed when I was out getting educated!


  30. Ian Argent Says:

    BTW – the Mad Scientists books are available on Amazon…

  31. jmaster Says:

    Wow. It makes me feel good to see so many enthusiastic responses to such a seemingly arcane topic.

    Maybe there is some hope for this world…..

  32. md Says:

    Ditto on A Wrinkle in Time — and a shout out for the rest of L’Engle’s books. They’re all just fantastic.

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