Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Questions Kids Ask

Between the lines: books with all the answers for young, inquiring minds

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 2014, 10:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 January, 2014, 4:54pm

I am sitting at my desk, indulging in time away from my children. After a busy December filled with social obligations, I had looked forward to spending the holidays with my daughters, including a five-day trip to Taipei.
However, after nine straight days of having them by my side day and night, I was looking forward to a breather.
(The realisation that these nine days had been a little tiring gave me renewed gratitude for the Hong Kong way of life, which means I do not have to do the school run or be home for dinner every day.)
But on the flip side, nine days gave us some time to learn more about each other. Not only was I able to observe how my children interact with others, they were also given a rare glimpse into my relationships with people outside the home.
In Taipei, my daughters watched me care for my bedridden grandmother, saw me bargaining with a vendor at a night market, and heard me describe my current life to my childhood friends.
And sure enough, they had lots of questions: What are dentures and why do old people lose their teeth? Why is a night market only open at night? When we fly back to Hong Kong, will it still be winter there?
I welcomed their curiosity. For the time being, I had acceptable answers to their questions.
Author Gemma Elwin Harris has tackled the issue of how to answer children's questions in her books Big Questions from Little People and the recently published Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am?
Harris takes real questions from hundreds of primary-school children and has them answered by world-class experts in the relevant field.
Chef Heston Blumenthal, naturalist Sir David Attenborough, artist Tracey Emin, and philosopher Noam Chomsky take up the challenge of answering questions, such as "Why can't I tickle myself?", "How are dreams made?" and "Why is the sea salty?"
It's an informative and funny look into the beautiful minds of inquisitive children, with some wonderfully thoughtful replies.
A neuroscientist explains why we don't remember being a baby. A media expert answers a question about what newspapers do when there is no news. A phonetics professor reveals whether animals like sheep and cows have accents.
Alice Calaprice edits a compilation of children's questions answered by a very famous expert.
In Dear Professor Einstein: Albert Einstein's Letters to and from Children, the scientist gives eloquent, funny and very forthright replies.
A small group of students say they believe life on earth would survive if the sun burned out, but their classmates disagree.
They ask Einstein to back them up. He writes: "The minority is sometimes right - but not in your case."
Einstein couldn't answer all the children's letters, so some are published without reply. It's entertaining to see the questions children wanted answered by the great man.
Are you going insane because all geniuses are said to go insane? Did Houdini discover the fourth dimension, allowing him to walk through walls?
For now, I'm happy to remain the authority on everything, including science, religion and history. But I have just the right books ready for when my generalised answers stop cutting the mustard.
Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me a Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them

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