They’re Creepy and They’re Kooky…

atoms family

Atoms Family

Submitter: We just weeded this book from the children’s collection. It was published in 1995 and states on page 7 “An atom is the smallest part of any living or nonliving thing that takes up space”. Now I am no physics wizard but this book has clearly been surpassed by current principles and theories of quantum mechanics.

Besides that, the author must have had a really good laugh when naming this book. I’m not sure if kids would get it. Probably not so many but the parents could enjoy a chuckle. I wonder which one is Pugsley!!!

Holly: Ha!  Atoms Family!  See, I get that, because I’m a child of the ’80s.  Go ahead and sing it everyone! You know you are trying to remember the lyrics.


  1. Haha, child of the ’80’s. That must be the movie. I watched the TV show way back in the ’60’s. I like the smily faced atoms on the book cover. They must be part of a happy element.

    1. Oh, right! The movie. Although, I guess technically that was 1991 according to IMDB. I was thinking it was the late ’80s.

  2. The basics of subatomic theory– proton, neutron, electron– had been sorted out by 1932. That quote was not only wrong when it was written, it had been wrong for at least sixty-three years. (Longer if we date from Rutherford’s nailing down the proton in 1919.)

  3. They’re creepy and they’re kooky,
    Mysterious and spooky,
    They’re altogether ooky,
    The Addams Family.

    Their house is a museum.
    When people come to see ’em
    They really are a screa-um.
    The Addams Family.




    So get a witch’s shawl on.
    A broomstick you can crawl on.
    We’re gonna pay a call on
    The Addams Family.

  4. Well, subatomic particles don’t really take up a significant amount of space compared to atoms. A difference of about 100,000 times in size between protons and atoms, and quarks et al are even smaller.

  5. I knew that quote was wrong when I saw it, and I’m not a scientist, nor do I play one on TV. Why give children blatantly false information? I learned this stuff in school pre-1995, and I’m pretty sure the authors knew better. If they didn’t, they certainly shouldn’t have been writing a book about a subject they didn’t understand.

  6. And just what are those molecules on the cover supposed to be?

    Also, “Let’s wonder” ? But not find out?

  7. Re: the “mistake” allegedly contained in the book. Folks, recall that this is a childrens book, so they aren’t going to go into exquisite detail that might go over the kids’ heads. What the authors undoubtedly meant was that the atom is the smallest unit that RETAINS the properties of the element. I.e., an atom of Gold, or lead, or carbon is still identifiably that stuff. Sub-atomic particles, though undoubtedly smaller (by scales of magnitude, actually) are no longer the “stuff” in question as they are (individually) indistinguishable. Therefore, it is accurate to say that the atom is the smallest that a given material can be divided–and still BE that material.
    Come on, folks– do you really think the authors never heard of an electron or a quark?

  8. Thomas, yes, that’s a fine explanation of what an atom is…but I don’t see anything in your explanation that a child capable of understanding the misinformation in the quote would not be able to grasp. So your comment itself demonstrates that the authors *could* have explained the concept accurately, had they chosen to do so. I won’t speak to whether they got it wrong because they didn’t know it was wrong or because they just didn’t feel like explaining it properly, but I’m not sure it matters–either way, the book is wrong and therefore a poor choice for a juvenile nonfiction collection.

  9. “the atom is the smallest that a given material can be divided–and still BE that material.”

    Well, why didn’t they just say that, then? They don’t need to give false information in order to give simpler information.

  10. Thomas–I had a book when I was little called (if I remember correctly) How Big is Big? (which I can’t seem to find online), and it kept going bigger and bigger until it got to the universe, and then smaller and smaller until it got to subatomic particles. I see no reason to think kids would not be capable of understanding that.

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