Teaching Physical Science with Children’s Literature: A Drop of Water

Most young children are familiar with Scholastic's I Spy series of books- they are full of incredible and exacting visual challenges that help cultivate the reader's powers of observation.  Photographer Walter Wick is best known for his I Spy work, but in his book A Drop of Water he utilizes his keen eye and artistic sensitivities to explore the physical properties of water.  After years of  collecting old science books written for children over a century ago, Wick became fascinated with how they used illustrations to depict simple yet clever science experiments.  He then began recreating the experiments and photographing them. "The results seemed magical," he writes, "but not because of any photographic trick; it was only the forces of nature at work." 

Many of the experiments he demonstrates in his book are the same as, or similar to, the ones used over a century ago.  Wick's photographs are elegant and simple and inspire the same sense of artistic awe as his I Spy work.  While it is overwhelmingly spare in comparison, it invites the same sense of the marvelous by examining water in all of its forms.  Using stop motion photography and magnification, he shows us lovely water splashes, amazing soap bubbles, ice, evaporation, condensation, snowflakes, frost, dew, water acting as a prism refracting light, how clouds form, and at the end, he reminds the reader how truly precious the water cycle is.  The book concludes with a list of suggestions on how to make your own observations and experiments based on his work for the book. 

Curriculum Connections

This is not a read-aloud book per se.  For younger students learning about the states of matter (K.5a, K.5c), an educator could use a picture walk through the book to show them the different properties and states of water.  The strong visual component to this book would be exciting for students in the younger grades; it would be a good book to make available to students in the classroom library, to flip through and examine.  Second graders would also find this book intriguing as they explore solids, liquids and gases (2.3), as would third graders learning more about the water cycle, evaporation, condensation, and precipitation (3.9a, 3.9b, 3.9c).  Older elementary students with stronger reading skills would be able to read more of the supporting text, which has scientific explanations of the experiments; for example, fifth graders could learn more about light’s interactions with water (5.3b).  Sixth graders reinforcing their knowledge of water’s properties in all three states (6.5b) might also enjoy having a fresh look at a familiar topic. 

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