A Breathtaking View…of Science at its Most Spellbinding

Full disclosure: As a child, I was bored out of my mind by science. And math. And the computer classes I took in high school as my sole available alternative to Advanced Home Ec. Throughout the years of my primary and secondary education, these subjects didn’t simply go over my head: They never made me want to jump up and catch them.

Those early, uninspiring experiences with STEM subjects shaped my default attitude as an adult…until quite recently, when I picked up Tales from the Top of the World: Climbing Mount Everest with Pete Athans (Millbrook Press, ©2013).

Written by Sandra K. Athans (the sister of mountaineering legend Pete, aka “Mr. Everest”) for kids ages 9 and up, this book doesn’t read like a science text. It reads like an epic adventure story. Because it is. The inside scoop on Mount Everest offers everything a reader could want: action, suspense, deadly peril, incredible courage, and an unbeatable view…all intertwined with the magic of STEM.

When scaling Mount Everest, climbers need extensive scientific knowledge (and a solid grasp of math, engineering, and technology, for that matter) if they expect to…

  • recognize and treat frostbite before it turns someone’s face black. (By that point, it’s pretty easy to recognize.)
  • recognize and treat hyperthermia. That’s right: hyper. As in too much. Too much heat, on Mount Everest. Didn’t see that one coming, did you? Guess you don’t know enough science yet.
  • handle a variety of high-altitude illnesses with punchy acronyms.
  • assemble a makeshift kitchen to melt ice for drinking water. Suddenly that solar oven I built in sixth grade takes on new significance.
  • pilot a paraglider safely.
  • make an informed decision about whether yetis exist.

And let’s not forget that everything on this list is a matter of life and death. (Minus the yeti issue…probably….) Boring? Not so much. As I discovered far too late in life, science can be an adventure, and the greatest adventures are often deeply related to science.

So if I, cynical anti-STEM crone that I am, can be captivated and blown away by this book, then there’s hope for every kid who thinks science is boring. There’s a chance that, if the right book comes along, she’ll be inspired to jump up and climb a mountain.

It’s STEM Fridayyyyyyyyyyyy!