Book Review: "Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A Book for Young Skeptics", by Dan Barker

Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A Guide for Young Skeptics introduces younger children to the concept of critical thinking, but it can be a good conversation starter for the older set as well. Through a simple story, Dan Barker explores healthy skepticism and shows how asking questions and looking for evidence can uncover the truth of a situation.

The story features Andrea, a young skeptic who understands the value of critical thinking. As Andrea goes about her day, she shows how simple answers can be found just by asking basic questions and applying a bit of logic. From her friends' reactions, it is also apparent that some people do not want to discover the truth and are happier with their fantastic stories-- an important point to clarify with free thinking kids who may have difficulty understanding why others cling to irrational ideas.

"Maybe Yes, Maybe No" breaks down some basic elements of the scientific method and is a good introduction to critical thinking. Most importantly, the book shows skepticism in a positive light. In the first few pages, a skeptic is defined as a "thinking person" and a "person with an open mind". Too often the word "skeptic" carries a negative connotation, as if skepticism is synonymous with cynicism, and skeptics are often accused of touting science over imagination. Yet, skepticism simply means doubting and asking questions, and science would never get anywhere if it weren't for healthy imaginations presenting creative notions to be explored and tested.

For older kids, the ideas presented in this book are likely old hat. Particularly if they have been raised to be free thinkers. However, this book is surprisingly engaging for older kids and even adults. I read it to my boys when they were well into middle school (after warning them that it was written for young kids) and it sparked many conversations. We stopped several times to talk about their own similar experiences and ways to deal with the frustrations brought on by others who aren't so open minded.

In this book, Dan Barker is careful to point out that, while it's always important to think for yourself, it is also important to listen to what others have to say. A skeptic is not presented as someone who never believes what others say, but rather as someone who weighs what he hears against his own knowledge, asks questions, and makes an informed decision. It shows kids that there is nothing wrong with saying "maybe" while taking the time to listen to opposing views and doing their own research. It may also remind parents about the value of asking questions, and help them teach their young kids how to turn their many "whys" into more specific questions.

This is a short children's book, best for young children, but one that does a great job of presenting the concept of healthy skepticism in simple terms that anyone can understand.

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