How Many Elephants Can Fit Inside a Soap Bubble?
Children’s writers ponder all sorts of crazy questions and often go to great lengths to find out the answers. I love sharing weird facts, hopefully fostering innate wonder and a desire to read and explore more.
A while ago, I wrote a poetry collection that celebrates children’s games and the joy of play. One of my poems is about the carefree experience of blowing soap bubbles. Several editors praised my poems, but none offered to publish the book. How could I make this project a bit more unique and marketable? I decided to research and write interesting nonfiction “factoids” about the subject of each poem.
I had so much fun researching! When I delved into soap bubbles, I found
a terrific Guinness World Records fact: The world record for the largest-soap-bubble-blown-outdoors is held by Gary Pearlman, who blew one in Ohio in 2015 that had a volume of 3,399.7 cubic feet (96.27 cubic meters).
How could I explain this preposterously big soap bubble in a fun, relatable way for kids? I came across a “fact” on Wiki answers that said, “The largest adult male elephants displace about 400 cubic ft or about 11 m³.” If this information was reliable (a big if…), I would be able to include this fact: One record-setting soap bubble was so big that about 9 large elephants could fit inside.
As serious fact seekers know, Wiki answers is not considered a reliable source. So I continued researching. National Geographic and Wildlife Federation websites reported on height and weight of elephants, but not volume. I wrote the nonprofit Save The Elephants organization, but that inquiry went unanswered.
I was stumped. I am not a scientist—or a mathematician. I e-mailed my son, a PhD biochemist. He gave me a very science-y answer involving density and said that even with more research he might not be able to give me a thumbs up on the Wiki answers “fact” about elephant volume.
So, I dropped the elephants—figuratively, of course—and moved on. I found a fact site reporting on volume comparisons between different objects and toyed with a basketball analogy. But way too many of them would fit into the soap bubble. Such a large number might only puzzle young readers.
I went back to the Guinness record photo and stared at the mammoth soap bubble. What might fit inside that a kid would find familiar? How about a bus, or better yet, a school bus?!
An Answer—at last!
After several e-mail exchanges and phone calls with bus companies, I found my experts! An engineering team at the Blue Bird Corporation gave me confirmation of cubic meter volume of their largest school bus. And guess what? I am now able to share with you, and with future readers of my poetry book, that: One record-setting soap bubble was so big that a large school bus could fit inside!
You don’t have to be a children’s author to ask crazy questions. Next time something makes you curious, ask a question. Keep looking for an answer to share with someone. But if you can’t find a reliable answer, you may need to reframe your question. After all, I still don’t know how many elephants can fit inside a soap bubble!
Award-winning author Janet Lawler has published more than twenty fiction and nonfiction picture books for children. Watch for WINTER CATS (Albert Whitman, fall, 2019).