If…A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers


Cover image courtesy of Kids Can Press

If…A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers

  • Targeted Audience: Upper Elementary, Middle School (Ages 8-12)
  • Genre:  Non-Fiction
  • Author: David J. Smith
  • Illustrator:Steve Adams
  • Publisher: Kids Can Press
  • Publication Date: August 1, 2014
  • Binding: Hard Cover
  • Dimensions: 9.5″ x 9.5″
  • Printing: Full color
  • Length: 40 Pages
  • Retail: $16.95
  • ISBN: 978-1894786348

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“If all the food produced around the world in one year were represented by a loaf of bread with 25 slices…11 slices would come from Asia, 5 from South and Central America, 4 from Europe, 2 3/4 from North America, 2 from Africa, 1/2 from Oceania.”

Breaking Down the Universe Into Smaller Pieces

Author and teacher, David J Smith takes imposing facts about the universe and everything in it and breaks them down into more understandable comparisons for young minds to ponder.  Each two-page spread presents another topic: Our Galaxy; The Planets; History of Earth; Life on Earth; Events of the Last 3000 Years; Inventions Through Time; Inventions of the Last 1000 years; The Continents; Water; Species of Living Things: Money; Energy; Life Expectancy; Population Food and Your Life. Subjects that seem too grandiose to truly comprehend are not only more easily digested but also more fascinating to young readers. David compresses and compares time, quantity and size to help readers put all these subjects into perspective, without being copy heavy. David’s topics in the book are illustrated by Steve Adams, adding a visual learning aspect to the mix.


© Copyright – Inside spread image courtesy of Kids Can Press

What This Book Teaches

In addition to helping readers grasp what, on the surface, seems too daunting to even try to understand, If… makes readers think outside the box.  Within the 40 pages of this book, there is math, science, human and physical geography, history and more. By reading the facts, children develop their own abilities to break down large tasks into more managable-sized scales. A particular subject a reader may have found too complicated to learn is suddenly attainable. In the back of the book are suggestions for classroom activities and a list of resources for further learning.


© Copyright – Inside spread image courtesy of Kids Can Press

Why You Should Read This Book

If... is not the first book for children to compare sizes and measurements, but it is originally done with some excellent topics I’ve never seen before. The author manages to keep it simple and yet fascinating. Children who love reading unique and preposterous facts as well as those who have been reluctant learners will love reading this book. The universe is full of ginormous possibilities. If… encourages readers to think in new ways and gives them confidence to learn subjects they may have thought were out of their league. Also, with geography education greatly lacking in our schools, I’m all for any book that broaches this subject. Every middle grade classroom should use this book as a teaching tool. And from what I’ve read about the author, David J. Smith, any student who has had him as a teacher is one lucky kid indeed!


© Copyright – Inside spread image courtesy of Kids Can Press

About the Author

David J. Smith is a classroom teacher with over 25 years experience teaching middle and high school English, geography and social studies. He achieved davidjsmithnational recognition for his unique method of teaching seventh graders to draw maps of the entire world from memory, now published as a highly successful curriculum, “Mapping the World by Heart.” In 1992, Smith won the U.S. Department of Education’s “A+ for Breaking the Mold” Award for his work. Since 1992, he has been a full-time educational consultant. David Smith lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

About the Illustrator

steveadams3After studying graphic design, Steve Adams traveled to Europe to see illustration and design from a different point of view. Upon his return, he began collaborating with various clients such as The Wall Street Journal, Havard Business Review, Citigroup, American Lawyer, CA Magazine, The Globe & Mail, La Presse, L’actualité, Barefoot Books, Penguins Books, Dominique et compagnie. He also teaches illustration at Université du Québec à Montréal. Steve lives in Montreal with his wife, two kids and their cat.
Photo Credit: Pierre Manning

Further Learning

  1. Watch the book trailer here.
  2. Check out the teaching guide for this book.
  3. Explore the many resources listed in the back of the book.

If you like this book, also check out:



    A Matter of Size – Spatial Learning

    Wacky Comparisons; Wacky Ways to Compare Size


      • Targeted Audience: Pre-School, Lower Elementary (Ages 4-8)
      • Genre: Non-Fiction Picture Book
      • Author: Mark Weakland and Jessica Gunderson
      • Illustrators: Bill Bolton and Igor Sinkovec
      • Publisher: Capstone for Young Readers
      • Publication Date: September 1, 2013
      • Binding: Hard Cover
      • Dimensions: 9″ x  11″
      • Printing: Full Color
      • Length: 32 Pages
      • Retail: $14.95
      • ISBN:978-1623700379

     Important Skills for Young Readers

    As a geography education advocate, I know that it is important for children to be introduced to spatial learning. Think of it as a combination of space and place. In Wacky Comparisons, children are taught to measure size and distance, and this too is spatial learning. Size can relate to how big something is, how much it weighs or how long or tall it is. Learning to compare size sharpens children’s math skills and teaches them perspective.

    Make it Really Fun!


    Well I was certainly entertained when I read this book. The illustrations are vividly colored and cleverly and humorously depict size values of different objects. The text on each two-page spread consists of two witty rhyming lines, and beneath the text you’ll find the measurements written out in the both the English System and the Metric System.

    What will appeal to children most is the the fact that the authors use absurd comparisons (thus the name of the book!), such as the weight of a whale to a mouse or how many red blood cells fit into the belly of a mosquito. Who wouldn’t love reading about that?

    “3.2 million mice, whisker to tail, weight the same as 1 big blue whale.”

    “1 whale = 80 tons (73 metric tons): 1 mouse = 0.8 oz. (23 g)”

    After reading Wacky Comparisons, I’m finding myself doing some of my own. For instance, the pile of dirty clothes on my laundry room right now, if condensed together tightly, takes up the same space as the interior of my ultra wide refrigerator.

    About the Authors

    MWMark Weakland is an author, educator and musician. He holds an undergraduate degree in science and a Master’s in Education and has worked as a teacher and reading specialist. He is currently working to become a certified Wilson Language instructor and would love to start his own reading center for kids. Mark has penned numerous children’s books and has more on the way. In addition to his love for writing and teaching, Mark plays drums and guitar and performs and records music with numerous artists. He’s even written children’s songs. He lives in Pittsburgh, PA.

    Jessica_GundersonJessica Gunderson grew up in the small town of Washburn, North Dakota. She earned a degree in English from the University of North Dakota and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has written more than two dozen books for children, both fiction and nonfiction. Her favorite subject to write about is history. In 2007, she received the Pleasant T. Rowland Writing Fellowship to Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. Currently she lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband and cat.

    About the Illustrators

    Bill Bolton  graduated from Oxford Brookes University and worked as an artist for Bill-Bolton_Advocate_art_illustration_agency_art7greeting card companies before  illustrating children’s books. His work reflects traditional illustration and digital design. Much of his illustration is character-based and varies from highly stylized to whimsical. His work appear in many books including the Busy Bugz Series, which has sold more than 2.4 million copies and has been published in 12 languages. Bill has a passion for the environment and lives in an earth sheltered house, where he can often be found mowing his roof.  He lives in Nottingham, UK.

    bugme1cIgor Sinkovec thought he wanted to be a truck driver or maybe an astronaut when he was a child, but it turned out that his talent for illustration took over. His classic and computer-designed illustrations can be found in comics for magazines, children’s books, work books and his animations can be found in films and games. He lives in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

    © Photo Copyright Igor Slinkover





    Rotten Pumpkin! An Interview with Author David M Schwartz and Photographer Dwight Kuhn


    I recently reviewed nine books for our Halloween SbookTACULAR Giveaway and one of those was Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices, undoubtedly one of the most original children’s non-fiction books on the market today. You’ve got to get this book for your children. Wait a minute, let’s be honest –  you need to get it for yourself too. It’s fascinating and wonderfully gross, looking at photographs and reading the science about how a pumpkin decomposes, especially around Halloween! I can’t think of a better way to get kids interested in science.

    I am thrilled that author David M. Schwartz agreed to an interview with Smart Books for Smart Kids. His dedication to teaching math and science will not onlyImage 1 impress you, but it will also change the way you think about the way these subjects should be taught. And because this book simply could not have been done without the gloriously grotesque photos, we asked photographer extraordinaire, Dwight Kuhn a few questions too.

    Questions for photographer Dwight Kuhn

    Dwight, I understand that you are the one who came up with the idea to write Rotten Pumpkin. Can you explain that to our readers?

    DwightKuhnMy three-year-old granddaughter was on her porch with her dad several weeks after Halloween. The pumpkin was already starting to decompose and molds were growing around the mouth and eyes.  She said, “Where did my pumpkin go? Why is it doing that?  I want my pumpkin back!”  Her dad tried to explain what was happening.  When I heard this story, I decided this could be a good Halloween book for November, instead of October.

    How brilliant! How long did it take that pumpkin to completely decompose?

    After Halloween, my pumpkins were put into the garden to decompose. I photographed the birds, mice and squirrels as they came to feed on the seeds and the flesh. Soon after that, small critters took part in the feeding frenzy.  Before long the pumpkin was a mass of colorful molds and the shell began to collapse. By winter, the pumpkin was just a hump of seeds and goo.  The following spring, I continued photographing the pumpkin’s demise with the sprouting of new plants from the seeds that survived. I then followed the growth of those pumpkins through the summer until the end of October.  I now completed the photography cycle and have some new Jack O’ Lanterns for the Halloween season.

    Image 7

    That is really impressive! Can you tell us how your amazing close up shots were taken? 

    The molds and slime molds were taken with a macro lens.  The extreme close-up of the bread mold spore cases was photographed with a specially designed macro lens for very small subjects.  Yeast cells cannot be seen with any normal lens, so this required using a scanning electron microscope. To get this photograph I used a microscope located at the University of Maine. Before the photo was taken, the yeast cells went though a long process of chemically preparing the specimen.


    I find all this incredibly fascinating. Dwight. If it were not for the advanced equipment and your superior skills, we would not be able to see the details with such precision.  Your rotting pumpkin project demonstrates the Circle of Life in the purest, most natural form, and I want to thank you for sharing your story with us. I am so pleased that you had the idea to turn your “science project” into a book. You’ve inspired me to rot my own pumpkin this year and photograph the process; I live in Miami and it’s so hot and humid here, our pumpkins start rotting the day after we carve them and attract maggots within 48 hours. Ew!

    Check out Dwight’s website here and see the dozens of books Dwight photographed here.

    Questions for author David M. Schwartz

    Dwight’s work is so impressive. What is it like to collaborate with such a talented photographer? I understand you’ve worked with him on many other books as well.

    He is talented indeed, and I envy that talent! I sometimes dream of devoting time to develop my own photographic skills, but I doubt they would approach his level of excellence. In terms of collaboration, his process occurs separately from mine. I’m not there when he takes the pictures and most of them have already been created before I get involved in the project.  I once visited him at his home in Maine (I live in Oakland, California) and he showed me some of his set-ups for close-up nature photography. It is amazing to people who admire photography, but those not deeply involved in the process have no idea how much time can be required to get one good shot; it’s mind-boggling!

    “I visit many schools for author presentations, and I always tell children, ‘Wondering is wonderful.’”

    What inspired you to pursue a degree in biology? And what do you think we can do in the US to encourage more students to get interested in science from an early age?

    b2de0d019db30a7f0235ff.L._V153942622_SX200_I’ve always been interested in the natural world, and I never really considered any other subject than biology as a major in college. I think the secret to getting children interested in science is to make it hands-on and not “textbooky.” Parents should ensure their children see the relevance of science in all aspects of their lives, not just school. I also would encourage parents and teachers to get children to think like scientists  — to observe phenomena, to wonder about them, to make hypotheses, to test their hypotheses or at least do research to answer their own questions. I visit many schools for author presentations, and I always tell children, “Wondering is wonderful.”

    You have written many science and math books and have visited countless schools. How do you get students interested in these subjects that are often thought of as difficult?

    Make it visual, make it relevant and make it fun! During my school visits I use a lot of props that kids relate to (including, for example, exponentially growing bags of popcorn), but I use them in unusual ways to make points that tie in with my books and the concepts I talk about.

    It is essential that parents and teachers help make science and math concepts – no matter how difficult – relevant to children’s lives. Just asking questions is a great start. Here’s one example: Look at ice. Once you’re looking at it (not before), ask questions about it. Make observations with as many senses as possible  — see, hear (yes, ice can make sounds!), touch, smell, taste it. What do you observe? What explanations might be possible? How can we find answers? What if we put it in the fridge? The freezer? The sunny backyard? Will the outcomes be the same or different?

    Also, don’t forget to have good non-fiction books around always! Books that engage children on many levels, not just books that stuff in facts. Books that ignite their minds and senses and excite them about learning by making it seem like an adventure, not a chore.


    Your suggestions are the best I’ve ever heard for teaching math and science. Making it creative as you do, takes the doldrums right out of it! How often are you on the road visiting schools, and what is that like for you, traveling so often for your work?

    I visit, oh, 50 or so schools per year. A few are near my home (Oakland, CA) but most are out of town, out of state or even out of the country (I’ve been to schools on all continents except Antarctica). The bottom line is that I love it! Presenting directly to my readers and seeing how excited they can get about math and science energizes me and motivates me to write more books as well as visit more schools!

    It is taxing to do all the travel but I pick up so much energy from the kids that it’s equally invigorating. One downside is that I don’t find it easy to write when I’m on the road visiting schools (and trying to keep up with emails about my next school visits) so I have to discipline myself to do it when I’m home.

    Image 5Every eye on Schwartz as he gets kids involved in the most creative ways.

    Wow, that’s a lot of author visits! I can understand how it would be difficult to concentrate on your writing when you are on the road. Is there a process you go through to come up with the ideas for your books, or do you just wait for inspiration?

    Usually the best ideas just pop into my mind and then percolate for a while before I come up with a way to turn the idea into a book. Often the “ah-hah!” moment occurs while I’m doing something else entirely: riding my bike or hiking or cooking dinner. You might know the quote from Louis Pasteur that goes, “In matters of observation, chance favors the prepared mind.” It’s something like that with ideas for books.

    Without even thinking about it but by being prepared with background information as well as being open to new ideas, I subconsciously filter the myriad thoughts that come into my mind to extract the ones that I think will make the best books. It’s a very personal process and when people say to me they have a great idea for a book I could write, I usually think to myself, “It may be a great idea for a book you can write but that doesn’t mean it will be a great idea for me to write!” I don’t often say this out loud, but it is what I think, and it’s not meant to be unkind in any way. I really do believe that the person who came up with the idea is the one whose mind is best prepared to write that book!

    I am sure most other writers would agree with you on that. Having featured a rotting pumpkin in your book, can you think of another plant that would be equally as fascinating to watch decompose?

    How-Much-Is-a-Million-Schwartz-David-M-9780688099336They’re all pretty fascinating and similar in certain ways, different in others. Even a pumpkin will take a very different journey under different conditions. I suppose I could consider doing a series of rotten books (Rotten Zucchini, Rotten Tomatoes, etc.) but I think the rotten theme would wear thin, so instead Dwight and I are talking about using the voices of different characters to a different sort of ecological drama.

    What’s the number one thing you hope children will take away from reading Rotten Pumpkin?

    Rot is good, and, in its own way, beautiful! I think they already intuitively know that because they love the gross pictures, and the grosser the better.

    Image 4

    How about that awesome prop?!

    Gross is indeed wonderful, and it sure does get their attention! What do you most like about being an author?

    Getting kids excited about the subjects I’m excited about. In many cases, I have been excited about them since I was a child.

    When you’re not working, what do you enjoy spending your time doing?

    Hiking, biking, birding, dancing, cooking, eating with friends, talking about things scientific, including rot. (Oh, also, ever since last April, walking my dog. Well, sometimes I enjoy it and sometimes it’s a chore, but I sure spend a lot of time doing it!)

    I’m very familiar with the dog walking ritual myself. David, thank you so much for sharing your ultra creative views about teaching science and math and energizing our readers. I so admire what you do, sharing your passion with children and getting them excited about learning. I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than that.

    For more information about David Schwartz visit his website. Click here to contact David or to schedule an author visit.

    It’s not too late to enter our Halloween SbookTACULAR Giveaway, which includes this title for one of the three winners. Or simply buy the book. It’s a definite keeper, and there’s no better way to get your children interested in science!