Thursday, November 30, 2017

Brainstorm 127: ICS's favorite Christmas reads

It's now December. Christmas is just weeks away, so this for this Brainstorm I asked the faculty and staff at my school to share their favorite individual reads or favorite class/family reads for the Christmas holiday. I’ve also included some of the most popular books with students around this time of year. The top picks have been bumped up to the first in their sections, and after them it is alphabetical by title. So without further ado, here’s the International Community School of Bangkok’s favorite Christmas holiday reads.

Picture Books

How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
This modern classic was tied for the most popular picture book.

Twas the Night before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore, ill. by various 
And this poem was the other one tied for the top picture book spot. (There are many different illustrated editions. The ones by Jan Brett and John Steven Gurney are most popular at our school.)

Babar and Father Christmas by Jean de Brunhoff

The Christmas Mouse by Elisabeth Wenning

The Christmas Show by Rebecca Patterson

The Christmas Story for Children by Max Lucado, Randy Frazee, Karen Davis Hill, ill. by Fausto Bianchi

Country Angel Christmas by Tomie dePaola

The First Night by B.G. Hennessy, ill. by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

The Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett

I Spy Christmas: a Book of Picture Riddles photos by Walter Wick, riddles by Jean Marzollo

The Jolly Postman, or Other People’s Letters by Janet & Allan Ahlberg

Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert E. Barry

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Lower Grade Books

Christmas Catastrophe by Geronimo Stilton

A Christmas Tale by Geronimo Stilton

Heidi Hecklebeck and the Christmas Surprise by Wanda Coven

Middle Grade Books

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
This was the most popular lower/middle grade title.

Kringle by Tony Abbott

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

YA & Adult Books

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Hands down, this was the most popular holiday read of all.

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie

All Wrapped Up (Geek Girl, #1.5) by Holly Smale

The Bridge by Karen Kingsbury

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

Luke Chapter 2 (from the Bible)

Saving Red by Sonya Sones

Truce by Jim Murphy

Two from Galilee by Marjorie Holmes

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul

The Christmas break is also a great time to catch up on reading or have free time to devour your favorite book or genre. The following books were mentioned as titles/authors/genres that people like to read each year over Christmas break:

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

A book by Malcolm Gladwell or Tony Wagner

A historical fiction book

A science fiction book

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Brainstorm 126: The Brainstorm Guide to Bad Gift Receiving & Hazards of Being a Pet Owner

With American Thanksgiving next week and the impending declaration of open season on holiday shopping I thought it would be an appropriate time to provide some books which can help kids mentally prep for receiving gifts that are less than stellar or don’t exactly match up to what they had in mind, but which still require a polite thank you. And since kids frequently ask for some cute but unreasonable and high-maintenance pets, I’m also providing books on the hazards of pets. (Ok, so most of these are just for fun. But there’s also some realistic eye-openers to the responsibilities that come with owning a pet and that the pet will eventually meld from the cute and playful kitten into the lazy and cranky old cat who is not going anywhere for at least another decade.) Behold, the Brainstorm Guide to Bad Gift Receiving & Hazards of Being a Pet Owner.

Picture Books

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters by K.G. Campbell
Lester's world is neat and under control, until Cousin Clara moves in and starts making him sweaters. Truly dreadful sweaters. Completely awful sweaters. Something must be done.

Target Readers:
  • Creative Problem Solvers/Humor Fans: Wowsers did K.G. Campbell dream up some truly dreadful sweaters! I love the imaginative ends Lester dreams up for some of the sweaters. Great pick if you like silly reads. 
  • Ugly Sweater Party Hosts/Prep for Bad Gifts: This is THE perfect read for an ugly sweater party. Get inspired by Lester and dream up your own creative ends for the sweaters that attend. It’s also a great opportunity to stop and mentally prepare for how to deal with potentially horrendous gifts you’ll receive over the coming holidays. Can the giver take some honesty or do you need to practice a charming and grateful smile until you can do it even when you feel like you might throw up? (Ok, I hope no one gets a gift quite that bad. But you get what I mean.)
  • Prediction Exercisers: I never saw the answer to Lester's problem coming. This would be a challenging one for making predictions. 

Thank You, Panda by Steve Antony
Mr. Panda has decided to hand out presents. His poorly thought-out gifts are followed by his helpful lemur friend reminding everyone, "It's the thought that counts." The lemur also gets a present and Mr. Panda reminds him of what he's been telling everyone else.

Target Readers:
  • Prep for Bad Gifts: Mr. Panda is that relative. Everyone has one in the extended family. That person who gives presents you've no idea what to do with until the next white elephant gift party or ugly sweat party comes around. Yeah. Those kinds of presents. If you need to prep kids for this kind of holiday gift receiving, Mr. Panda may be helpful. Or you can advise them to take the elephant's tactic (wait to open the gift till later without them present). 
  • Debaters: Kids can debate whether Mr. Panda does the bad gift-giving on purpose or just without really thinking. 
  • Animal Fans/Specifically Lemur & Octopus Fans: Mr. Antony gets bonus points for including a lemur and an octopus in the characters. Kids lit needs more lemurs and octopuses.

Caring for Your Lion by Tammi Sauer, ill. by Troy Cummings
A little boy orders a kitten but the company is fresh out of kittens so they send him a lion instead because they figure it is close enough. Thankfully, they send instructions for lion care with the new pet.

Target Readers:
  • Humor Fans/Animal Fans/Those Wanting an Example of How Text & Illustrations Work Together: The contrast between the instructions (which are illustrated) and the real life way that works out provide the humor in this book along with just the crazy idea of feeding and caring for a lion as if it were a pet. 

Don't Take Your Snake for a Stroll by Karin Ireland, ill. by David Catrow
A parade of unconventional pets is presented along with the hazards of taking them on outings. For example, your skunk might stink up the airplane or the waiter at the restaurant may think your frogs escaped from the chef.

Target Readers:
  • Humor Fans/Animal Fans: The pictures are fanciful and captivating. Kids will love the hilarious illustrations and variety of animals.
  • Would-Be Pet Owners: Use this to get the kids who think they want that unusual pet to think through all the needs and limitations of such an animal. Will it truly be able to be the pet they want? Will they be able to be a good pet owner?

Lizard from the Park by Mark Pett
Leonard find an unusual egg in the deepest part of the park forest. He takes it home and cares for the lizard that hatches from it. But as the lizard keeps growing and growing and growing, Leonard eventually realizes he needs to find a better home for his pet. A home where this lizard can be happy and won't scare anyone. With a very creative plan, Leonard moves his pet, and finds a place where he can still visit.

Target Readers:
  • Would-Be Pet Owners: Leonard’s pet provides a cautionary reminder to would-be pet owners that that little thing will grow. Do you have enough room for this pet you want? Do you have the means to meet its needs? Good questions to think through before you bring the cute thing home.
  • Dinosaur Fans: In case you didn’t guess, Leonard’s lizard is actually a dinosaur. A perfect read for every kid who has fantasized having their own pet dino.
  • Fan Fic Writers: Continue the story and tell the further adventures of Leonard's pet in his new home.

You Don't Want a Unicorn by Ame Dyckman, ill. by Liz Climo
An ill-informed child wishes for a unicorn against the narrator's advice and suffers many of the hidden pitfalls of having a unicorn as a pet.

Target Readers:
  • Unicorn Lovers/Humor Fans/Fantasy Fans: Oh dear. This appears to be a very important warning announcement. Who knew? As a fun compare/contrast, read this with Uni the Unicorn or some of the Phoebe and Her Unicorn series. (Phoebe might agree on some of these points, disagree on others, and have whole list of never explored before things to consider before unicorn ownership.) This is a fun "other side" to all of those unicorn books out there.
  • Would-Be Pet Owners: A humorous cautionary tale to real life pet owners that it is wise to listen to others' advice and do your research before getting the pet.

Lower Grade Fiction

Princess Cora & the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schiltz, ill. by Brian Floca
Princess Cora's parents realize that someday she'll be running the country so they start training her the moment she's born. After several years of boring economics books with her mother, endless baths with nanny, and strict military exercise with her father Cora is a bit fed up with her boring, maxed out days. She sends a wish to her godmother for a pet dog and gets an answer in the form of a crocodile. A crocodile who takes her place for a day while she runs free and eats wild strawberries and gets gloriously muddy. But will her godmother's plan work long term?

Target Readers:
  • Busy Kids: This is an important reminder to take a break and build some space into your schedule so you don’t get burnout. Cora and her family learn this lesson in a way readers will find funny.
  • Fairytale Fans/Fantasy Fans/Humor Fans: A fun fairytale about a Princess who just needs a break with the most unusual fairy-sent representative. The cure has surprising results for all. I thought this was going to be a picture book, but it is actually a fully illustrated chapter book. Not a bad thing, it just surprised me. Kids should love the antics of the crocodile.
  • Prep for Bad Gifts: Cora wishes for a dog. Her fairy godmother sends her a crocodile, but she makes the most of it. This is slightly different from the other bad gift preps on this list since the unwanted gift turns out to be an unexpectedly good thing. A good reminder to take a double look at that gift you weren’t happy with at first and to maybe trust that loving gift-giver a little more.

Graphic Novel

Puppy Love (Babymouse, #8) by Jennifer L. Holm, ill. by Matthew Holm
Babymouse’s latest fish has gone to the great fish bowl in the sky and it is time for a new pet. Babymouse would love a kitten or puppy, but her parents would like her to prove her pet owner skills with something less taxing first. And boy, does she fail epically! Somehow pet after pet after pet disappears quite quickly after arriving at Babymouse’s house. Eventually her mom draws the line and says no more, but when a lost dog shows up Babymouse gets one more chance. Babymouse quickly finds that taking care of a dog is no easy feat.

Target Readers:
  • Graphic Novel Fans/Humor Fans/Animal Fans: Typical Babymouse fun with a good message. The secret backstory of what’s happening to Babymouse’s pets is quite funny. It was my favorite part of the book. 
  • Would-Be Pet Owners: This is a good one for kids who think they want a pet. Babymouse learns the hard way all that pet care involves and will give readers a good reality check. Of course, she eventually enjoys some of the perks too, so it is well-balanced. 

Adult Nonficiton

The Birds of Pandemonium: Life among the Exotic and Endangered by Michele Raffin
What started as a rescue of a few unwanted or abandoned birds evolved over the years into a full-blown bird sanctuary with breeding programs for a few endangered species. Raffin relates how she accidentally meandered into the bird world, and how it grew and changed over the years, with stories of individual birds along the way.

Target Readers:
  • Animal Lovers/Fans of Balanced Writing/Curious Readers: Sometimes these books by animal lovers can be a bit over-the-top, but Raffin still has her feet firmly planted on the ground. She relates her adventures in bird world but doesn't attribute them with any super powers, and even the talking birds she explains (with research backup) are at about a toddler's intelligence level. It was quite interesting to find out how a woman in the business world found herself managing a bird sanctuary. The book is highly readable, and I enjoyed learning about the birds, but I feel completely free of any urges to go out and get a feathered friend (and definitely not starting a bird sanctuary). I think that was refreshing as well. I can support those like Raffin who feel this calling, but I don't feel guilt tripped by her to become one of them.
  • Those Considering Owning a Bird: Reading about abandoned bird after abandoned bird and all the hidden quirks of various species is a great dose of reality to get BEFORE you get that bird. If there’s one thing that Raffin would love for you to do, is to make sure you’re ready to be in it for the long haul before you get a pet bird!

The Medici Giraffe: and Other Tales of Exotic Animals of Power by Marina Belozerskaya
This book is as much a collection of obscure history as stories about animals. Ms Belozerskaya highlights eight different powerful people of history, tells their histories and how exotic animals played an important role in further establishing their authority or demonstrating it. As such, each chapter is a broader history on the life of each person to give the full setting of how exotic animals played this role.
Note: Some gore and violence.

Target Readers:
  • Curious Readers/Obscure History Fans: This flows quite well, and many of the histories focused on people or aspects of people/time periods that are often not the focus of study in typical history classes or books. I feel like I learned a lot reading this. 
  • Those Who Think They Want an Exotic Pet: If you’ve ever fantasized about owning an exotic animal, this should provide a good dose of reality as to how bad an idea that is. Wild animals do not make good pets. Just read the chapter on Rudolf II’s lions who roamed his palace freely. They tended to chew on the visitors.

The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell
Tom Michell was on holiday at the coast in Uruguay when he came across a host of animals washed up from an oil spill incident. Most of the animals were already dead, but when one penguin moved, Michell decided to do what he could for it. He cleaned it up best he could and then tried to set it free at a clean section of nearby beach. However, the penguin refused to leave him and Michell wasn't sure his feathers were still waterproof after the deep scrubbing. Since his holiday was ending, there was no local zoo, and he was due back at the international school he worked for the next day, Michell decided the best thing to do was take the penguin back to school in Argentina with him. Originally, Michell planned to drop off the penguin, now dubbed Juan Salvador, at the zoo or coast in Argentina. But after further investigation, Michell didn't have the heart to abandon Juan Salvador at the zoo where the penguins looked miserable, and the Argentinian coast was quite a ways away from the school. In the meantime, Juan Salvador seemed to be taking to the British boarding school life like a fish to water. He loved the boys, he had no end of people willing to fetch him fish, and he was getting healthier by the day. Recorded in this book are little stories from Juan Salvador's interactions with the students, other people and Michell, the ways he changed lives, and also stories from Michell's life as an expat in Argentina during the late 1970s. Overall, a this is a great multicultural experience, a touching pet story, a reminder to better care for our planet, and a fascinating biography.
Note: Some language and violence. Click on the title for more content details.

Target Readers:

  • Penguin Lovers: Who can resist a story about a real, live Mr Popper?! I really enjoyed Michell's stories about Juan Salvador. They are cute and touching with just the right moments of humor. I like that he included his further understanding of why Juan Salvador refused to leave him at the beach in the epilogue (penguins need a pair to be re-released). My favorite part of the book was the story of how swimming with Juan Salvador helped one struggling boy at the school to come out of his shell and find his place. (Those of you who cry during Hallmark movies may need tissues for that chapter.) 
  • Those Who Think They Want a Penguin as a Pet: Though they are adorable and fun to watch, there’s a good dose of reality in here that penguins are not ideal pets and are best off in the wild. Because behind that cute exterior is a mean biter who wreaks of fish.
  • Expat Story Fans: I found Michell's stories of his expat teaching experience fascinating. It's fun to compare notes. I'm in a different part of the world and in a different time period, but some expat experiences just don't change with time or location. Of course, there are things that have drastically changed. Reading about ridiculously expensive plane tickets (yikes!) and international phone calls made me extremely grateful for modern advances in those areas (Hooray for Skype & internet!). And no matter where you are, there's the challenge of understanding and respecting the cultures of your host country. I really liked that Michell got to know various local people and respected their ways of life, no matter how different. His stories of Maria and her family were especially touching (and sometimes humorous, but still respectful).
  • Environmentally Friendly Book Fans: In the end, Michell shares a much later return visit to South America and what one organization is doing to help treat and prevent oil spills (this is where he learns why Juan Salvador wouldn't leave him). Though Michell obviously enjoyed his time with Juan Salvador, he regrets that the relationship was ever necessary (a very mature perspective) and uses this story to challenge people to help keep the oceans cleaner for other critters. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Brainstorm 125: Excellent Science & Math Reads

For today's Brainstorm I've got some excellent science and math reads. Lots of great ideas in here for curious readers and those looking for informational reads.

Biographical Picture Books

How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning by Rosalyn Schanzer
This is a very engaging picture book biography of Benjamin Franklin. Rosalyn Schanzer introduces kids to some of the amazing and crazy accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin, focusing on his scientific endeavors.

Target Readers:

  • Those Fascinated by Inventions/Biography Fans: Schanzer shares why the invention of the lightning rod was so important to people of the time, that's her main focus, but she does a great introduction to all Franklin's other various interests as well. 
  • Curious Readers: Between the cartoon Ben Franklin on each page to guide readers, the illustration style, and the kid-friendly writing style, this is one the kids should find both entertaining and informative.

John Muir: America’s Naturalist by Thomas Locker
A picture book biography of naturalist and preservationist, John Muir.

Target Readers:

  • Art Fans: The best thing about this book were the amazing illustrations. They are gorgeous and do a fantastic job of capturing the beauty of Yosemite. 
  • Biography Fans/Nature Lovers: There are quotes from Muir’s writings scattered throughout the book, as well as further information and a timeline in the back. A nice, simple introduction to Muir that is a feast for the eyes.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, ill. by Gilbert Ford
Before the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893, there was a contest for a feat of engineering. At the last World Fair, Paris had unveiled the Eiffel Tower, and the United States wanted something to rival that wonder. George Ferris came up with the idea for a giant wheel that would hold carriages of people. At first, the directors of the fair scoffed at his idea. But as the time for the fair drew closer and they had no better options, they told Ferris to build his wheel. Ferris had to overcome several obstacles along the way, but eventually his wheel was a smashing success and replicated the world over. There are interesting facts interspersed throughout the book and a handy bibliography with extra resource options.

Target Readers:

  • Biography Fans/Fans of Perseverance Stories/Those Interested in Engineering/Creative Thinker Fans: A very well-written, beautifully illustrated biographical picture book about a man who persevered through hardship and was eventually successful. 

Now & Ben: the Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta
A book that looks at ways that Benjamin Franklin's inventions and works impact lives even today.

Target Readers:

  • Biography Fans/Those Interested in Inventors/Curious Readers: This picture book biography of Franklin sets itself apart from the rest by looking at what we have now and tracing it back to Franklin's influence. If you're looking for one book that tries to measure the impact Benjamin Franklin has had on modern life, this is a good one. It's also an attractively illustrated biography, though it focuses entirely on his accomplishments and doesn't touch on his childhood or personal life much at all. Use this with some other Franklin bios if you want a more well-rounded picture of the man. If you're just looking at his inventions and accomplishments, this could be sufficient.

Out of School and into Nature: the Anna Comstock Story by Suzanne Slade, ill. by Jessica Lanan
A picture book biography of Anna Botsford Comstock a nature lover, scientist, artist, educational reformer, and author who produced amazing works of art, revolutionized how students learn about nature, and was Cornell's first female professor.

Target Readers:

  • Biography Fans/Art Fans: An amazing story about an amazing woman. I looked up some samples of Comstock's illustrations after finishing this. I recommend doing so. They are truly gorgeous. Some of them look like photographs. 
  • Nature Lovers/Hands-on-Science Fans/Science Teachers: I'd never heard of this woman before, but I definitely appreciate the ways she made an impact in this world. In my days of teaching science I most loved the forays out of the classroom into the wild with students, and so I'm especially appreciative of how Comstock paved the way for that to be a recognized successful science teaching method. 
  • Those Who Need a Little Push Outside: Hand this to a person who needs someone to coax them outside a little more often. Anna Comstock may just be able to do so.

Solving the Puzzle under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor by Robert Burleigh, ill. by Raúl Colón
A picture book biography of Marie Tharp, a scientist who was the first to map the ocean floor.

Target Readers:

  • Biography Fans/Curious Readers/Science History Fans/Geography Enthusiasts: I'd never heard of Marie Tharp before I found out about this book. She seems to have been a very interesting woman. The book is written as if Marie is narrating it, and is highly readable. Tharp was a woman in science when few women could make it in the field. She survived a very nomadic childhood and 17 different schools before college, and was still an excellent student. And her curiosity led her to some important discoveries that combined her knowledge of science, map making, and art. 
  • Extension Activity Fans: There are some fun extension activity ideas for kids in the back of the book. Look for the "Things to Wonder about and Do" page.

The Tree Lady: the True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins, ill. by Jill McElmurry
Kate Sessions was quite the innovative woman. She was the first woman to graduate from Univ. of California with a science degree and the visionary who helped transform San Diego's city park from a dry dust bowl to a green haven.

Target Readers:

  • Biography Fans/Community Impact Story Lovers/Nature Lovers/Botany Enthusiasts: I have never heard of Kate Sessions before reading this book. The story of how Kate repeatedly did the seemingly impossible and mobilized others to do so as well, and at a time when women weren't as commonly city leaders is inspirational. Oh, and I absolutely loved the illustrations in this book. A fantastic picture book about one woman who made a lasting difference, used her science knowledge and helped others in a way that has impacted numerous people over several generations.

Lower Grade Nonfiction Picture Books

Magnets Push, Magnets Pull by David A. Adler, ill. by Anna Raff
An introduction to magnets, polarity and electromagnets with simple experiments for kids.

Target Readers:

  • Those Studying Magnets/Curious Kids/Hands-on-Science Fans: A great introduction to magnetism for kids. It covers the concepts solidly from a science standpoint and provides some good experiments kids can easily do. 

Raindrops Roll by April Pulley Sayre
Close-up photographs and rhyming text illuminate raindrop activities before and after rain. Further notes in the back of the book dig deeper into the science of water.

Target Readers:

  • Art Lovers/Poetry Lovers/Nature Lovers/Curious Readers/Those Studying Water: Fantastic photographs with cleverly chosen spare text really make raindrops fascinating things in this book. Even kids who don't care about the science stuff will get sucked into looking at the pictures. A fantastic non-fiction book on water for lower grades.

Graphic Novel

Babymouse: Dragonslayer by Jennifer L. Holm, ill. by Matthew Holm
Babymouse fails her math test and her teacher offers her an unusual makeup option - joining the mathlete team. Babymouse isn't sure about this. She doesn't feel like she is very good at math or has much to contribute. The team really wants to win the Golden Slide Rule back from the Owlgorithms but is Babymouse the prophesied one or will she doom them all?

Target Readers:

  • Classic Fantasy Fans: This one incorporated some of my favorite fantasy stories in Babymouse's daydreams, Narnia and Lord of the Rings (also, nods to epic fantasy tomes that double as door stops...if only they all came with their own dollies like Babymouse's)! 
  • Math Lovers & Haters: Though many will agree with Babymouse's sentiments of math feeling like a horrifying dragon, the book does a fantastic job of encouraging readers like Babymouse to persevere and maybe they'll find math isn't so bad. Great message and cleverly executed.
  • Graphic Novel Fans: Babymouse is a daydreaming mouse with typical problems many middle graders will identify with.
  • Pun Lovers: There are some horrible puns in here, but I know there are some of you out there who will think that’s the best part of the book.

YA Biography

Breakthrough!: How Three People Saved “Blue Babies” and Changed Medicine Forever by Jim Murphy
The story of three medical personnel who worked together to develop a new surgery that would save the lives of children born with heart defects that prevented their bodies from getting enough oxygen. The woman who thought up the possible solution was Dr. Helen Taussig, a pediactric cardiac doctor. She approached her higher up, and chief surgeon at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Alfred Blalock with the idea. Dr. Blalock was focused on shock research (of primary importance during that WWII era) but asked his assistant, Vivien Thomas, to work on this new research idea in his spare time. Vivien Thomas did come up with a surgery that solved the problem replicated in lab animals. Dr. Blalock only observed Mr. Thomas doing the surgery once before a blue baby came into Johns Hopkins who needed the surgery or would obviously die within a few days. Understandably nervous, Blalock performed the surgery with Thomas looking over his shoulder and guiding him and Dr. Taussig also on hand. The patient lived and showed immediate improvement. It was a huge turning point in cardiac and pediatric medicine. Up until then, cardiac surgery was all but considered impossible. Also notable were that a female doctor and African American research assistant were so highly involved. It was a landmark cooperative achievement in racial and gender boundaries in medicine, as well as a life saver to thousands of children.
Note: Some descriptions of surgeries and shock treatment experiments. Nothing overly gory, but the super squeamish beware.

Target Readers:

  • Quick & Engaging Nonfiction Fans: I cracked the cover of this after getting home from a week-long school overnight trip with students. I was tired and thought I'd just read the first chapter. I was soon completely absorbed, and despite fatigue, devoured the whole thing in one sitting. It definitely helps that the font is large and generously spaced, and there's a lot of extra material in the back so this book isn't nearly as long as it seems. Murphy's writing definitely helps make the pages fly by too. He's not an award-winning author for nothing. He makes history come alive so well. 
  • Fans of Books That Deal Well with Sticky Issues: I really appreciated how Murphy tactfully dealt with several sticky issues. Racial issues, gender issues, and humane treatment of lab animals came up, but Murphy didn't ignore them or sugar coat them. Nor did he let them detract from the overall story. He balanced presenting the views of the time period while challenging thinking about these issues in the present. And he made it flow in the story. 
  • Biography Fans/Medical History Fans: Each of the three medical personnel involved gets their own moments (as does Johns Hopkins medical dept), but Vivien Thomas does get the most time...well-deservedly. He did end up doing most of the work, though not all, which is why it is fair to give Blalock and Taussig their moments too. Overall, a splendidly written and fascinating part of medical history that demonstrates what can happen when we all work together.

Middle Grade, Young Adult, & Adult Nonfiction

Biometrics: Your Body and the Science of Security by Maria Birmingham, ill. by Ian Turner
An introduction to the types of biometrics currently out there, how they work with side charts informing how invasive they are to record, how secure they are, and potential drawbacks.

Target Readers:

  • Curious Readers/Science Nerds: What a fascinating read! This was very well done in layout and language used. It breaks down the science and technology in easy to understand terms concisely. And it covers an array of common and not so common ways we can use physical traits and actions of our bodies to identify people. I had heard of some of these but definitely not all of them. 
  • Spy Story Fans: Kids & teens love spy stuff and much of this is the kind of equipment used in those spy stories (and also in everyday real life too…which the book does point out). This should be a huge hit with the middle grade crowd. 
  • Read Aloud Fans: This would make a great filler read aloud for classes or families that want a read aloud for little bits at a time.

Engineered!: Engineering Design at Work by Shannon Hunt, ill. by James Gulliver Hancock
A tour of various fields of engineering both traditional and emerging, with examples of real engineers in these fields and projects they have worked on. Each field of engineering gets 4-6 pages of information.

Target Readers:

  • Curious Readers/Problem Solvers/Engineering Fans/Biography Fans: This is attractively designed and intriguingly informative. I kept spontaneously sharing tidbits from this book with whoever I happened to be near at the moment. There were so many fascinating little things. That said, there’s a lot of information packed in here so I can’t see many middle graders sitting down to read this straight through, but it is good in little chunks over a few days. Highly recommended for any kids who like fun facts or problem solving. 
  • Science Teachers/Math Teachers: Snag this and read it aloud in filler time to your students! 
  • Those Looking for an Occupation: This would also be a good resource for those studying newly emerging career fields. Engineering is a popular career choice for students who graduate from our school and I’m hoping this will help make them aware of newer engineering fields.

Food Like Mine (DK Children Just Like Me)
A survey of the main food staples around the world. Primary focus is given to the top four staples: rice, wheat, corn (maize), and potatoes. Each staple gets a couple spreads on facts about that food, how it is grown and harvested, the varieties available, and various sample dishes made with it around the world. Then three to four recipes from around the world are provided with step-by-step photographed cooking/baking instructions. The end of the book includes informational pages and recipes for honorable mention food staples: dairy, chicken, sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and plantains.

Target Readers:

  • Those Who Like Their Books with Some International Flavor: I was super excited about the international variety in perspectives in this. It does a great job of highlighting foods that are staples over vast swaths of the world. And it also provides quite a variety of dishes from all over the world, displaying the similarities and differences in ways people prepare the same food. 
  • Chefs: There are 27 recipes included from all over the world and they are explained well. (And the recipes look yummy.) Highly recommended for little cooks who want to try something a bit more exotic.
  • Curious Readers/Foodies/Science Readers/Botany Teachers: The science information in this was solid and even though I have taught biological sciences in the past, I still learned some information from this. (The classification of potatoes was new. And why have I never seen popcorn on a list for people with anemia? I was shocked to learn it has a higher iron content than spinach or beef!) 

Inside Biosphere 2: Earth Science under Glass (Scientists in the Field) by Mary Kay Carson, photos by Tom Uhlman
Step inside Biosphere 2 in the Arizona desert and find out how scientists are using this huge encapsulated environment as a big laboratory to better understand how the Earth works and how to best manage it today.

Target Readers:

  • Random History Fans/Cutting-Edge Science Readers/Curious Readers/Science Teachers: Carson and Uhlman do a fascinating job explaining the history of Biosphere 2 when 8 people moved inside for two years, and all the major scientific experiments going on inside today. They explore the rainforest being used to track the flow of carbon, the ocean being revamped to study biodiversity and effects of carbon dioxide on ocean life, the Landscape Evolution Observatory being used to find out how fast dirt is made from lava and where runoff water goes, and the technical basement of the Biosphere where experiments are done in energy efficiency, water recycling and other sustainability ideas. Carson highlights how Biosphere 2 is a fantastic laboratory because it allows scientists to control variables like rainfall, temperature, wind, humidity, and other things impossible to control outside. I remember hearing about the scientists moving into Biosphere 2 back when I was in middle school, but hadn't really heard about it much since. It is great to hear how they've turned this into a well-used space that is benefiting science and many lives. This could be used in a number of science classes. Anyone close enough to visit Biosphere 2 could read this before taking the field trip.

Lift-the-Flap Periodic Table by Alice James, ill. by Shaw Nielsen
An interactive introduction to the Periodic Table and the groups of elements.

Target Readers:

  • Flap Flippers/Curious Readers/Chemistry Beginners: Who can resist lifting flaps to see what’s hidden underneath? And it gets even better when the flap flippers accidentally learn things. This is very attractively designed with lots of fun and informational facts under the flaps. There's tons of info packed into just 16 pages. Highly recommended to the curious and those just getting introduced to elements, the periodic table, and chemistry.

Molecules: the Elements and the Architecture of Everything by Theodore Gray, photos by Nick Mann
An exceptionally well-done look at some of the everyday molecules we come across. The book is both pleasing to the eye and informative. The first couple of chapters serve as a chemistry lesson on how elements form bonds and how molecules are scientifically named. After that is out of the way, then Gray launches into looking at what makes something organic or inorganic (and in the process does some excellent consumer info on the vague nature of "organic" labels on products and how you should never believe a product that says "no chemicals" on the front (because unless it is a package of nothing, it has molecules aka chemicals in it)). The chapters following are titled: Oil and Water: soap brings together ancient enemies - Mineral and Vegetable: the two worlds of sticky, oily, pasty things - Rock and Ore: rocks, minerals, and the source of all compounds - Rope and Fiber: yes, ropes really are made of long molecules - Pain and Pleasure: a family tree of painkillers and their cousins - Sweet and Double Sweet: sugar and all the tasty things that are not sugar - Natural and Artificial: who does a better job, us or Mother Nature? - Rose and Skunk: some molecules smell really good, and some really don't - Color Me Chemical: the beautiful palette of molecules - I Hate That Molecule: poor innocent compounds caught up in politics - Machines of Life: when is a molecule not a molecule? As you can see, he covers a vast array of molecules, but many are quite relevant to the average person. Each molecule discussed includes a picture of the substance (or something it is in), a diagram of the molecule, information on how it is used, and various other relevant information.

Target Readers:

  • Smart Consumers/Smart News Readers/Curious Readers/Science Teachers: This is a book anyone who wants to be a wise consumer should read. You can skip the intro to chemistry chapters if that's too much science and still be able to understand the rest of the book. Gray gives you solid facts, explains the science behind it, and frequently shows how people just use ignorance of chemistry to confuse and dupe people. In the process, he does a fantastic job of debunking myths, and helps readers better understand food labels. 
  • P.S. If You Like This One...: Gray has another book Elements, featuring facts about each element and their common uses that is also highly recommended. He also just released a brand new book on Reactions that’s sitting in my TBR pile waiting to be enjoyed. And if you're looking for more help in becoming a wise consumer and debunking common myths, I recommend checking out How Food Works: the Facts Visually Explained from DK Publishing lots of great infographics on diets, nutrients, food products, and nutrient-related medical conditions.

The Next Wave: the Quest to Harness the Power of the Oceans (Scientists in the Field) by Elizabeth Rusch
A fascinating look at the research and ideas currently being generated in using ocean waves to create energy. Rusch introduces readers to several different engineering teams and their varied designs. She follows several of them from concept to full ocean testing, and thereby highlights many of the challenges faced by these scientists but also the great potential of wave energy to provide a renewable energy source.

Target Readers:

  • Renewable Energy Fans/Curious Readers/Oceanography Fans/Physics Fans: A great resource for classes studying the process inventors follow from design to finished product, oceanography, or energy. Rusch's writing is very readable, and I like how her conclusion emphasizes that these different design teams aren't necessarily competitors but could all be useful.

The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
Shortly into the 20th century, as forensic science was gaining ground and scrabbling for notoriety, a doctor named Charles Norris championed his way into the position of New York City medical examiner. He was the first one to get the position who had an actual medical license, some forensics know-how and the first who had to pass a test to get the job. Prior to Norris' entry into the position, the medical examiners of New York City (and most other cities of America) came from a variety of backgrounds with expectedly varying levels of quality in fulfilling their roles. In the corruption of early 1900s New York City, the job was a cushy spot for someone who'd earned favor with the right people. And it was done horribly. Norris' predecessor was well-known for showing up drunk, drunk enough it was unlikely he could tell if a person was truly dead or not, let alone the cause of death. Crimes were being swept under the rug, and the entire criminal justice system was largely a joke. But Charles Norris had some firm ideas about what was acceptable. He hired only those with credentials for the positions in his offices, most notably, a chemist by the name of Gettler. It was an uphill struggle for Norris and Gettler to get the police and juries to accept their new methods of using science to solve crimes. This is their story. A story of revolutionizing forensic medicine in the United States case by case, fighting the crooked crime bosses of New York and the murderers on the street, and slowly building the public trust in the reliability of their methods.
Notes: Occasional swear words in quotes. The entire book is spent investigating deaths, both accidental and premeditated murders, so the body count is high and there's some gory details occasionally. Gettler did not have the nice machines of today, so many of his experiments involved guts and gore and animal test subjects who frequently didn't live through the experiment.

Target Readers:

  • Biography Fans/Medical History Fans/Forensics Fans/NYC History Readers: I had never heard of Charles Norris or Alexander Gettler before reading this, but it turns out they were extremely instrumental in establishing the criminal science units of today. You see their legacy in many common forensic routines and procedures taken for granted now. Their story is told through many of the poisoning cases they investigated and social ills faced in New York City. Some of the poisonings explored turned out to be from products commonly assumed safe at the time, and Norris and Gettler had a hand in getting those products removed and regulated. Many of the years they worked in New York City fell during Prohibition, and it was very interesting to see that time period through their eyes and observations. These men faced enormous hurdles, but eventually lived to see their struggles bear fruit in changes. They were truly something else. And I couldn't help but picture Charles Norris as an earlier rendition of Chuck Norris (did the actor borrow his name???) because the original Charles Norris was just as legendary, though he fought with test tubes and scientific reports more than fists. A fascinating history.

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (Scientists in the Field) by Loree Griffin Burns
Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer has spent many years studying ocean currents, but many of his tools for these studies are a bit unconventional. Because Dr. Ebbesmeyer tracks things that have been lost to the ocean. In fact, his interest in ocean currents was really sparked when 100s of Nike shoes started popping up on beaches in one region and beachcombers reported them. Using the help of beachcombers, he tracked the shoes back to a shipping container that was lost at sea in a storm and from there, figured out the path the shoes had taken. With some scientist friends (and beachcomber friends) of his, Dr. Ebbesmeyer has used the information gathered from this incident and several other similar ones to study how ocean currents change and predict where masses of plastic trash in the ocean will eventually gather.

Target Readers:

  • Recycling Proponents/Environmental Readers/Curious Readers/Ocean Lovers: If you want to convince kids to reduce, reuse, and recycle, this is a powerful tool with the images of massive areas of ocean covered by trash. I found it more interesting though for the information on ocean currents and the way shipping containers lost at sea are helpful in this research. A great resource for any classes studying oceanography or ways to help the environment.