“Beakman & Jax” amuses as it teaches

Childhood can be a trying experience. While kids try to cope with the rushing flood of hormones, adults insist on leveling unjust charges of short attention spans and resistance to learning.

Such unfairness sorely rankles. After all, even the vilest, slimiest, most repugnant subjects will enthrall and captivate kids for hours. A recipe for faux mucus? They will run to the kitchen for the light corn syrup and unflavored gelatin. The origin of vomit? Their ears prick up to hear the horrid peristaltic details. Experiment with the acoustic qualities of their sphincters? Just give them an empty room and Jok Church’s book, “You Can With Beakman & Jax” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $12.95).

Based on the syndicated newspaper feature that inspired the Saturday morning television series “Beakman’s World, ” the book, like a twisted Pied Piper, leads children into the bowels of knowledge. There are experiments in the grotesque, like growing microbes in mayonnaise jars. Others dabble in more straightforward realms, such as how to make bubbles or explaining the concept of levers.

The vividly colored pages add graphic interest, although the subject matter alone will make this a much-thumbed publication. For instance, you can make fiber optics at home with a small jar and lid, a long black sock, flashlight, the kitchen sink, nail, hammer, total darkness and an adult. First, punch two holes in the jar lid. Fit the flashlight all the way into the bottom of the sock. Then fill the jar with water, screw the lid on and slide the jar (lid up) into the sock.

Turn off the lights, turn on the flashlight and begin pouring the water from the lid. Light travels in straight lines, but the glass refracts the light. Or, as the book puts it, “You just bent a beam of light around a corner. This is exactly how we can use laser light to send telephone calls down a long, curvy fiber of glass. Inside strands of glass (and in streams of water) the light bounces off the inside walls. No matter which way the strand or stream bends, the light will follow it, bouncing along inside.”

Another science-disguised-as-entertainment book is “Beakman & Jax’s Bubble Book” (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $14.95). Not since the world was declared spherical has there been such a momentous upset in geometrical thinking. Instead of a mere round bubble, kids (and inquisitive adults) can use the enclosed square bubble frame to make a six-sided soap bubble. Homemade instructions do come on pages 46-48 in the “Best of” book, but in “Bubble Book” the kit comes neat and unassembled.

It’s a lot faster, too.

This article originally appeared in the Contra Costa Times

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