By James Carter

I love Science – especially Biology – which is the science that’s all about life, nature and living things. And me, I’m not a scientist. I’m a writer – and as a writer, I’m interested in EVERYTHING. Literally. And what’s interesting, is that everything happens because of science.

A few years ago, I wrote a spacey book for younger readers – Once Upon A Star (the story of the sun) – and after that, I was asked if I would write a whole series. Once Upon A Raindrop (the story of water) The Big Beyond (the story of space travel), Once Upon A Rhythm (the story of music) – Once Upon An Atom (questions of science), and I’m still writing more! 

I’ve written about 40 books or so now, and this was the hardest book to write by far, but it was fun! The more you look into science, the more detailed and complicated it becomes. I was originally going to write the history of science, but there’s just way too much to write about – and in these picture books I’ve got just 300 words. Not many!

Rather than this book being a ‘story’ of science, it’s more of a ‘dip into’ the three main types of science. For my favourite topic – Biology – I brought in skeletons, bodies, flowers, all kinds. With Physics – I wrote about gravity and electricity. With Chemistry, I covered atoms and explosions. To open the book, I began with EVERYTHING. Everything is science, and I had fun coming up with a rhyme to explain this – ‘From big things to little things, invisible to living things. / From cool things to hot things, there’s nothing that it’s not things…’

It took lots of research and many re-writes too to get those 300 words just right. Being one long poem made it harder too, as I had to make the sciencey words work with rhythm and rhyme and alliteration. I really hope I’ve managed to make science simple and fun. 

The illustrations are WONDERFUL. They’re done by Brazilian artist Willian Santiago, and he makes science zing with such zany designs and colours!

CLASSROOM ACTIVITY 1 – As ONCE UPON AN ATOM is a poem about science, why not write your own science poems? For the first one, why not think about something that you use every single day? WATER! Water makes a great classroom topic in KS1 classrooms as it’s everywhere – and so important to all living things on earth. We drink it, wash with it, cook with it. Let’s try a kenning poem to explore what water does. Two words every time – the second words ends in an -er sound. Try rain-maker. Puddle splasher. Make a list of all the things water does – washes, boils, pours, drips – tap-dripper – hey, there’s another one!

CLASSROOM ACTIVITY 2 – This time, let’s head somewhere that has virtually no water at all! Space. Try a cinquain poem. They have five lines. Each with a syllable count – line one has 2 syllables, line two has 4, three has 6, four has eight, and five has 2. Here’s an example.


1    A fire.  (2)

2   An inferno.  (4)

3   A blazing, gazing eye.  (6)

4   And one open, golden oven.   (8)

5   The sun.    (2) 

(Copyright @James Carter)

Now write your own cinquain. Try the earth, or the moon or a planet like Saturn. Your last line could be ‘the moon’ / ‘the earth’ ‘…Saturn’. Have fun, poets!

Once Upon an Atom Words by James Carter Illustrations by Willian Santiago. Published by Little Tiger Press 2 April 2020