Falling for Science: Objects in Mind, edited by Sherry Turkle selects from 25 years of student essays recalling objects that fascinated them as children, complemented with similar (if longer) essays by mentors and practicing scientists. The writers recall things that utterly absorbed them, things that taught them about the world, its structure and function. Sometimes they seem so absorbed, you suspect they seemed a bit odd to the outside observer. Sometimes the object clearly led to a professional career. Sometimes they were set aside and remembered fondly while the writer went on to other pursuits. The common element is joy.
Lots of kids took things apart. Fewer put them back together. One discovered that a basket whirled on a string will hold the eggs in, another that a word on a sign will command people. They all needed books to understand electronics and computers. So many love Legos, you begin to think those the best toys you can give a child, but as the epilogue warns:
We cannot know whether we stand before a child who will use objects as a path to science. And we cannot know to which objects a child will be drawn.
This is actually the second in a series books about our relationship with objects, the preceding book being Evocative Objects and the following The Inner History of Devices. The editor discusses them at length both in the introduction and the epilogue, but as these both cite the greatest hits from the essays, you might prefer to dive right into the main body of the book.
If you have any interest in nature, science, or the arts, you will find something that speaks to you here. The ones I liked include learning the powers of three through braiding, the blurry delights of a toy camera, the fascination of vacuum tubes in a discarded but functional turntable, understanding the geology of Earth as baked goods, and racing inside cardboard boxes. And I finally understand why mudpies are so fascinating.
A better illustration of how children find their passion than The Element.