|The Story Book of Science|
|by Jean Henri Fabre|
|The wonders of plant and animal life told with rare literary charm by Uncle Paul in conversations with three children. Besides such stories as the ants' subterranean city, the spider's suspension bridge, and the caterpillars' processing, he unlocks the mystery behind thunder and lightning, clouds and rain, the year and its seasons, and volcanoes and earthquakes. Ages 9-12 |
OW that I know what paper is made of," said Jules, "I
should like to know how they make books."
"I could listen all day without getting tired," Emile
asserted. "For a story I would leave my top and my soldiers."
"To make a book, my children, there is double work: first
the labor of the one who thinks and writes it, then the
labor of the one who prints it. To think a book and write it
under the sole dictation of one's mind is a difficult and
serious business. Brain-work exhausts our strength much more
quickly than manual labor, for we must put the best of
ourselves into it, our soul. I tell you these things that
you may see what gratitude you owe those who, solicitous for
your future, think and write in order to teach you to think
for yourselves and to free you from the miseries of
"I am quite convinced," returned Jules, "of the difficulties
to be overcome in order to compose a book under the sole
dictation of one's mind; for when I want to write a letter
of half a page to wish you a Happy New Year, I come to a
full stop at the first word. How hard it is to find the
first word! My head is heavy, my face flushes, and I can't
 straight. I shall do better when I know my grammar
"I am sorry, my dear child, but I must undeceive you.
Grammar cannot teach one to write. It teaches us to make a
verb agree with its subject, an adjective with a
substantive, and other things of that kind. It is very
useful, I admit, for nothing is more displeasing than to
violate the rules of language; but that does not impart the
gift of writing. There are people whose memories are crammed
with rules of grammar, who, like you, stop short at the
"Language is in some sort the clothing of thought. We cannot
clothe what does not exist; we cannot speak or write what we
do not find in our minds. Thought dictates and the pen
writes. When the head is furnished with ideas, and usage,
still more than grammar, has taught us the rules of
language, we have all that is necessary to write excellent
things correctly. But, again, if ideas are wanting, if there
is nothing in the head, what can you write? How are these
ideas to be acquired? By study, reading, and conversation
with people better instructed than we."
"Then, in listening to all these fine things you tell us, I
am no doubt learning to write," said Jules.
"Why, certainly, my little friend. Is it not true, for
example, that if it had been proposed to you, a few days
ago, to write only two lines about the origin of paper, you
would not have been able to do it? What was wanting? Ideas
and not grammar, although you know very little of that yet."
 "It is true, I was entirely ignorant what paper comes from.
To-day I know that cotton is a flock found in the bolls of a
shrub called the cotton plant: I know that with this flock
they make thread; then, after the thread, cloth; I know that
when the cloth gets old with use, it is reduced to pulp by
machines, and that this pulp, stretched in very thin layers
and pressed, finally becomes a sheet of paper. I know these
things well, and yet I should find it very hard to write
"You are mistaken, for all you need do is to put in writing
exactly what you have just told me."
"You write then just as you talk?" asked the boy,
"Yes, provided that speech is corrected, if necessary, on
reflection, since writing gives time for it, whereas talking
"In that case, I should soon have my five lines on paper. I
should write: 'Cotton is the flock that is found in the
bolls of a shrub called the cotton plant. With this flock
they make thread; and with this thread, cloth. When the
cloth is worn out, machines tear it into little pieces, and
mill-stones grind it with water to make it into a pulp.
This pulp is stretched in thin layers which are pressed and
dried. Then it is paper.' There! Is that right, Uncle?"
"As well as one could wish from one of your age," his uncle
"But that could not be put into a book."
"And why not? I promise you that shall be in a book some
day. It has been said to me that our talks might be useful
to many other little boys as
 desirous to learn as you, and I
propose to collect them in all their simplicity and make a
book of them."
"A book where I could read at leisure the stories that you
tell us? Oh, how pleased I am, Uncle, and how I love you!
You won't put my ignorant questions in that book?"
"I shall put them all in. You know next to nothing now, my
dear child, but you ardently desire to learn. That is a fine
quality, and a very becoming one."
"Are you at least sure that the little boys who read this
book will not laugh at me?"
"I am sure."
"Tell them then that I love them well and embrace them
"Tell them I wish them as good a top and as fine lead
soldiers as those you gave me," put in Emile.
"Take care, Emile," cautioned his brother. "Uncle may put
your lead soldier's in the book."
"They will be there, they are there."
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics