Tag Archives: science

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies by Joyce Sidman

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman. February 20, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 160 p. ISBN: 9780544717138.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.7; Lexile: 1110.

Bugs, of all kinds, were considered to be “born of mud” and to be “beasts of the devil.”  Why would anyone, let alone a girl, want to study and observe them?

One of the first naturalists to observe live insects directly, Maria Sibylla Merian was also one of the first to document the metamorphosis of the butterfly. In this visual nonfiction biography, richly illustrated throughout with full-color original paintings by Merian herself, the Newbery Honor–winning author Joyce Sidman paints her own picture of one of the first female entomologists and a woman who flouted convention in the pursuit of knowledge and her passion for insects.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 4-7. Considered by many to be the world’s first ecologist, Maria Merian broke ground through her meticulous observations of insects and beautiful depictions of them within their natural habitats. Born in seventeenth-century Germany, Maria was the daughter of famed engraver and printer Matthäus Merian and stepdaughter to a successful still-life painter, allowing her to study both art and nature from a young age. Sidman’s writing radiates Maria’s passion and curiosity for the natural world, and it is as absorbing as fiction. As Maria’s primary interest was in caterpillars—she worked diligently to discover their origins and connection to moths and butterflies, charmingly called “summer birds”—Sidman begins her book with a glossary of butterfly terminology and later reveals how Maria became the first person to discover and present the complete life cycle of these insects. Colored inserts give further historical and cultural context to Maria’s life, noting such things as the limitations placed on women during the seventeenth century and how the era’s curiosity cabinets lead to the creation of museums. A fantastic array of illustrations embellish the text with photos of butterflies, caterpillars, and chrysalises, and lovely images of Maria’s artwork and that of her father’s. Meanwhile, exceptional captions identify and establish each illustration’s relevance to Maria’s life. A vibrant, wonderfully rounded biography on a pioneering and prodigiously talented woman.

Horn Book Magazine (January/February, 2018)
Sidman introduces readers to Maria Merian, a seventeenth-century German naturalist whose illustrations of the life cycles of butterflies and moths included groundbreaking scientific details, such as the inclusion of eggs in the insect life cycle and the portrayal of the ecological interdependence of plants and animals. Excellent reproductions of the gorgeous botanical prints allow readers to appreciate their accurate scientific detail and artistry. Merian’s story, from childhood through her often unconventional and adventurous adult life, is told in twelve chapters, each titled with a stage in a butterfly’s life cycle; photographs illustrating each of the butterfly stages were taken by the author, who was inspired to raise the creatures herself. Merian was a prolific diarist, and the inclusion of numerous excerpts from her journals, along with historical illustrations and maps, gives the reader glimpses into this period of history and of the talented women who lived in it. A timeline, a glossary, sources, additional readings, and an informative author’s note are included. danielle j. ford

About the Author

The Newbery Honor winner Joyce Sidman is today’s foremost nature poet for children.  Accolades for her books include two Caldecott Honors, a Lee Bennet Hopkins Award, winner of the Claudia Lews Award, and many stars and best of lists.  For her award-winning body of work, she won the Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. She lives in Wayzata, Minnesota.

Her website is www.joycesidman.com

Teacher Resources

Maria Merian Lesson Plan

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The Future of Humanity by Michio Kaku

The Future of Humanity by Michio Kaku. February 20, 2018. Doubleday Books, 352 p. ISBN: 9780385542760.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 1190.

The #1 bestselling author of The Future of the Mind traverses the frontiers of astrophysics, artificial intelligence, and technology to offer a stunning vision of man’s future in space, from settling Mars to traveling to distant galaxies.

Formerly the domain of fiction, moving human civilization to the stars is increasingly becoming a scientific possibility–and a necessity. Whether in the near future due to climate change and the depletion of finite resources, or in the distant future due to catastrophic cosmological events, we must face the reality that humans will one day need to leave planet Earth to survive as a species. World-renowned physicist and futurist Michio Kaku explores in rich, intimate detail the process by which humanity may gradually move away from the planet and develop a sustainable civilization in outer space. He reveals how cutting-edge developments in robotics, nanotechnology, and biotechnology may allow us to terraform and build habitable cities on Mars. He then takes us beyond the solar system to nearby stars, which may soon be reached by nanoships traveling on laser beams at near the speed of light. Finally, he brings us beyond our galaxy, and even beyond our universe, to the possibility of immortality, showing us how humans may someday be able to leave our bodies entirely and laser port to new havens in space. With irrepressible enthusiasm and wonder, Dr. Kaku takes readers on a fascinating journey to a future in which humanity may finally fulfill its long-awaited destiny among the stars.

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Author Interviews

Reviews

Booklist starred (May 15, 2018 (Online))
Kaku, the noted theoretical physicist and popular-science writer (The Future of the Mind, 2014), takes us on an adventure of the imagination. Colonization of other worlds used to be the domain of science fiction, but, at an ever-increasing pace, it’s becoming science fact. Leaving Earth, the author tells us, may no longer be optional, not if we want to survive as a species. In this deeply fascinating and energetically written book, Kaku explores how, exactly, we might go about colonizing other planets. Drawing on the work of a multitude of experts—Murray Gell-Mann, Buzz Aldrin, Gregory Benford, Fritjof Capra, and Jared Diamond, to mention just a small handful—Kaku lays out a detailed and entirely plausible plan for moving out into the solar system and—even beyond—into the stars. Kaku’s writings have garnered a reputation for combining hard science with clever speculation, and his latest book continues that winning trend. A breathtaking voyage through what is almost certainly the next major period in the history of humanity.

Kirkus Reviews (January 15, 2018)
Enthusiastic scientific speculation on the future of space travel.Acclaimed science popularizer Kaku (The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind, 2014, etc.), the co-founder of string field theory, confines his expertise to physics, but the 226 experts listed in the acknowledgements have plenty to offer on a variety of scientific disciplines. Alert readers will notice that the stirring words “we are entering a new golden age of space travel when exploring the universe will once again become an exciting part of the national agenda after decades of neglect” are not the author’s. That statement applies to China, the single nation with an active national manned space program and leaders eager to mortify the United States, its superpower rival. Having accomplished the feat of the Apollo moon landing in 1969, the U.S. government, it seems, feels no pressure to keep up with the Chinese. National rivalries aside, our current technology, writes the author, will get us to Mars. However, making Mars as habitable as Earth (“terraforming”), traveling to far planets and their moons, mining precious metals from asteroids, and voyaging to the stars will require technical advances that are well underway and a revolution in energy that, sadly, is not. Computer efficiency has increased astronomically since World War II, and rocket motor efficiency has perhaps tripled. Always optimistic and undaunted, Kaku delivers a fascinating and scattershot series of scenarios in which humans overcome current obstacles without violating natural laws to travel the universe. The author digresses regularly into related areas of study, including extrasolar planets, radical life extension, intelligent robots, and the details of settling other worlds. An exhilarating look at the future, although American readers may yearn for a Chinese bombshell (à la Russia’s launch of Sputnik in 1957) to stimulate the U.S. government to achieve at least one marvel during their lifetimes.

About the Author

Dr. Michio Kaku is an American theoretical physicist at the City College of New York , best-selling author, a futurist, and a communicator and popularizer of science. He has written several books about physics and related topics of science.

He has written two New York Times Best Sellers, Physics of the Impossible (2008) and Physics of the Future (2011).

Dr. Michio is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory.

Kaku was a Visitor and Member (1973 and 1990) at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and New York University. He currently holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics at the City College of New York.

His website is www.mkaku.org

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The Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery

They Hyena Scientist by Sy Montgomery. May 15, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 80 p. ISBN: 9780544635111.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.5.

The Hyena Scientist sets the record straight about one of history’s most hated and misunderstood mammals, while featuring the groundbreaking, pioneering research of a female scientist in a predominately male field.

As a scientist studying one of the only mammalian societies led entirely by females, zoologist Kay Holecamp has made it her life’s work to understand hyenas, the fascinating, complex creatures that are playful, social, and highly intelligent—almost nothing like the mangy monsters of pop culture lore.

Part of Series: Scientists in the Field

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews starred (April 15, 2018)
A practiced and proficient team returns to the African plains to visit a field camp in Masai Mara, Kenya, where zoologist Kay Holekamp has been studying spotted hyenas for 30 years. This surprisingly engaging title introduces a species whose bad reputation is nearly universal. Holekamp disagrees. Her study of eight generations of hyenas has revealed the spotted hyena to be “an unexpectedly brave, smart, and extremely social species” as well as the “most formidable carnivore in Africa.” During their 10-day visit, Montgomery and Bishop go with the researchers for morning and evening observations, watch one sedate a young male with a dart gun so all can take measurements and specimens, see a skirmish in a war between rival factions of the large Talek West hyena clan, and, during a downpour, when flood threatens, help evacuate precious specimens and equipment. Montgomery’s graceful prose draws readers into the experience with clear explanations and vivid description. Bishop’s striking photographs show off the doglike hyenas’ furry cuteness. He includes close-ups of cubs at play and rest, researchers at work, and adult hyenas interacting with one another, as well as tent scenes, other wildlife, and the always-impressive scenery. Readers may be inspired by the stories of the white scientist’s diverse team of assistants: a retired medical social worker, U.S. graduate students, and a young Kenyan who hopes to study in the U.S. An appealing, elegantly designed introduction to another much-maligned species. (fast facts, bibliography, acknowledgements, index) (Nonfiction. 10-15)

About the Author

Part Indiana Jones, part Emily Dickinson, as the Boston Globe describes her, Sy Montgomery is an author, naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and radio commentator who has traveled to some of the worlds most remote wildernesses for her work. She has worked in a pit crawling with 18,000 snakes in Manitoba, been hunted by a tiger in India, swum with pink dolphins in the Amazon, and been undressed by an orangutan in Borneo. She is the author of 13 award-winning books, including her national best-selling memoir, The Good Good Pig. Montgomery lives in Hancock, New Hampshire.

Her website is symontgomery.com

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The Hyena Scientist on Amazon

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The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements (Young Readers Edition) by Sam Kean. April 3, 2018. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 336 p. ISBN: 9780316388283.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1300.

A young readers edition of the New York Times bestseller The Disappearing Spoon, chronicling the extraordinary stories behind one of the greatest scientific tools in existence: the periodic table.
Why did Gandhi hate iodine (I, 53)? How did radium (Ra, 88) nearly ruin Marie Curie’s reputation? And why did tellurium (Te, 52) lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history?

The periodic table is a crowning scientific achievement, but it’s also a treasure trove of adventure, greed, betrayal, and obsession. The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoonfollow elements on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.

Adapted for a middle grade audience, the young readers edition of The Disappearing Spoon offers the material in a simple, easy-to-follow format, with approximately 20 line drawings and sidebars throughout. Students, teachers, and burgeoning science buffs will love learning about the history behind the chemistry.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 7-12. Even Amazon.com can’t claim “bubbles, bombs, toxins, money, alchemy, petty politics, history, crime, and love” in one place. This history of the periodic table of elements, a young readers edition adapted from the adult best-seller, turns a seemingly dull topic into a treasure trove of scientific discovery. As Kean introduces such essentials as the periodic table “castle,” what an element is, fathers of the periodic table, and where elements come from, he weaves in stories of awe and amusement about pioneering scientists. From the CIA’s (unattempted) plan to assassinate Fidel Castro with thallium to aluminum’s 60-year reign as the world’s most precious metal to the mood-stabilizing effects of lithium on poet Robert Lowell, the best tales derive from the elements themselves and bring together chemistry’s relationship with economics, social history, politics, psychology, and even the arts. Although the author does an excellent job of explaining elements and chemical properties, students with a basic understanding of chemistry will appreciate his narrative more. This solution to dry lectures will spark a positive reaction in readers.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2018)
This adaptation of a book for adults meanders through the history, uses, and misuses of the periodic table’s elements. After a promising introduction about the author’s childhood fascination with mercury, the first chapter bogs down in an explanation of atoms too brief for those new to chemistry to make much of it. A dull summary of the men who created the periodic table follows. Those who make it through the first chapters will be rewarded by more-interesting, even dramatic topics such as chemical warfare, atomic bombs, and poisonous elements. Kean has collected numerous anecdotes and groups them together loosely by similarities. While the stories within chapters tend to be chronological, the book zigzags back and forth through history. Almost all the players are adults, mostly white men, with the exception of a teenage boy who tried to build a nuclear reactor in his backyard. Occasional colloquialisms (“yuck”) seem aimed at younger readers, but overall the adaptation makes few concessions to its audience. For example, the terms “quantum mechanics” and “nuclear fission” appear with little explanation. (A closing glossary helps to compensate for this.) The text refers to Albert Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt about “starting the Manhattan Project” without further description, assuming readers have previous knowledge. Not for a general audience, this will most likely attract readers already in their element among beakers and Bunsen burners. (bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 11-14)

About the Author

Sam Kean gets called Sean at least once a month. He grew up in South Dakota, which means more to him than it probably should. He’s a fast reader but a very slow eater. He went to college in Minnesota and studied physics and English. He taught for a few years at an experimental charter school in St. Paul, where the kids showed up at night. After that, he tried to move to Spain (it didn’t take) and ended up in Washington, D.C. He has a master’s degree in library science he will probably never use. He wishes he had a sports team he was passionate about, but doesn’t, though he does love track & field.

His website is samkean.com/

Teacher Resources

The Disappearing Spoon Discussion Questions

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The Disappearing Spoon Publisher Page

To the Moon! by Jeffrey Kluger

To the Moon!: The True Story of the American Heroes on the Apollo 8 Spaceship by Jeffrey Kluger. March 20, 2018. Philomel Books, 288 p. ISBN: 9781524741013.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.9; Lexile: 1180.

The true story of Apollo 8, the first crewed spaceship to break free of the Earth’s orbit and reach the moon.

The year was 1968, and the American people were still reeling from the spacecraft fire that killed the Apollo 1 crew a year earlier. On top of that, there were rumors that the Russian cosmonauts were getting ready to fly around the moon. NASA realized that they needed to take a bold step — and that they needed to take it now. They wanted to win the space race against Russia and hold true to President Kennedy’s promise to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. So in a risky move, a few days before Christmas of that year, they sent Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders to the moon!

This book tells the story of these three men, the frantic rush to get their rocket ready, and the journey that gave the American people — and the world — a new look at the planet we live on and the corner of space we inhabit.

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Reviews

Booklist (January 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 9))
Grades 6-9. In 1968, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders were training for their mission to orbit Earth when they learned that their planned flight had been changed. With only 16 weeks to prepare, they would be circling the moon instead. This young readers edition of Kluger’s Apollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon (2017) briefly traces Borman’s career, before focusing on those 16 weeks of specialized training and the memorable six-day journey. Full of details, this account of the astronauts’ experiences gives readers the sense that they’re along for the ride, keenly aware of the physical challenges of space flight, but sharing moments of awestruck wonder as well. After explaining the backdrop of the Space Race, Kluger tells the main story with a good balance of technological details and human-interest narratives, including the scenes of the astronauts’ families during the long, tense days between liftoff and splashdown. Illustrations (some not seen) include photos and diagrams. An engaging, informative account of the Apollo 8 mission.

Kirkus Reviews (January 1, 2018)
In this account of the Apollo 8 flight, astronaut Frank Borman and his crewmates take the first manned trip around the moon at the height of the 1960s space race. With the assistance of Shamir, Kluger introduces readers to the central figure, Frank Borman, as a boy with dreams of flying who becomes a groundbreaking astronaut. Though there were earlier flights, the book begins with the Gemini 7 and includes all missions through Apollo 8. The pacing until the Apollo flights is slow, but the fascinating details about eating, sleeping, and taking care of business while in space will keep readers turning pages. The co-authors thoughtfully and naturally explain unfamiliar concepts such as how rockets launch and what makes them fly. The writing is best when exploring the people behind the history—the astronauts’ families, friendships, and sorrow at the loss of the Apollo 1 crew—but these compelling details are too few. Similarly, the narrative paints an incomplete picture of the 1960s, with only brief mentions of the civil rights movement, anti-war protests, and the Cold War. Though the tone overall is matter-of-fact, there are a few beautiful, poetic lines. The epilogue is a romantic ode to the space race with reminders of its remarkable legacy. In an author’s note, Kluger briefly describes his process and sources, but there is no formal bibliography. This detailed account of a lesser-known space flight varies in narrative quality but does just enough to draw in readers who grew up well after the space race. (photographs, glossary, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Jeffrey Kluger is a senior writer for TIME. He joined TIME as a contributor in 1996, and was named a senior writer in 1998. He has written a number of cover stories, including reports on the connection between sex and health, the Mars Pathfinder landing, the loss of the shuttle Columbia, and the collision aboard the Mir space station.

In 2002, Mr. Kluger along with two other colleagues, won First Place in the Overseas Press Club of America’s Whitman Bassow Award for best reporting in any medium on international environmental issues for their “Global Warming” cover package (April 9, 2001).

Prior to joining TIME, he was a staff writer for Discover magazine, where he wrote the Light Elements humor column. He was also a writer and editor for New York Times Business World Magazine, Family Circle, and Science Digest.

Mr. Kluger is the co-author, along with astronaut Jim Lovell, of Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, which served as the basis of the “Apollo 13” movie released in 1995. He later wrote Journey Beyond Selene, a book about the unmanned exploration of the solar system, and is currently writing a book for Putnam about Jonas Salk and the Polio Vaccine.

Mr. Kluger is also a licensed attorney, and intermittently taught science journalism at New York University.

Jeffrey Kluger lives in Manhattan, New York, with his wife and two daughters. His website is jeffreykluger.com.

Teacher Resources

Apollo Space Program Lesson Plans

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To the Moon! on Amazon

To the Moon! on Goodreads

To the Moon! Publisher Page

Champion: The Comeback Take of the American Chestnut Tree by Sally M. Walker

Champion: the Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree by Sally M. Walker. March 6, 2018. Henry Holt & Co., 144 p. ISBN: 9781250125231.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.1; Lexile: 1070.

American chestnut trees were once found far and wide in North America’s eastern forests. They towered up to one hundred feet tall, providing food and shelter for people and animals alike. For many, life without the chestnut seemed unimaginable—until disaster struck in the early 1900s.

What began as a wound in the bark of a few trees soon turned to an unstoppable killing force. An unknown blight was wiping out the American chestnut, and scientists felt powerless to prevent it.

But the story doesn’t end there. Today, the American chestnut is making a comeback. Narrative nonfiction master Sally M. Walker tells a tale of loss, restoration, and the triumph of human ingenuity in this beautifully photographed middle-grade book.

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Reviews

Booklist (March 1, 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 13))
Grades 5-8. When Hermann Merkel was hired in 1898 to be New York Zoological Park’s chief forester, the 1,500 American chestnut trees were his favorites. In 1904, Merkel noticed a blight that was quickly destroying these beloved trees, and by 1911, only 2 remained. Merkel’s observations were the start of a scientific mystery with ramifications that still continue. Walker documents some of the many scientists, from the beginning of the blight to today, who have worked to save this American icon. Why all the interest in a tree? The author first explains the importance of the American chestnut on the eastern forests’ environment. The bulk of the investigative text, however, concentrates on the source of the blight and three different approaches to saving the American chestnut. In the process, Walker shows how the comeback of this tree can serve as a model to restore other species. The niche subject may be a hard sell to recreational readers, but with additional photos of scientists in action, this STEM volume is a boon to life-science and engineering units.

Kirkus Reviews (February 15, 2018)
Once a ubiquitous presence in North America’s eastern forests, the American chestnut tree was nearly brought to extinction by a deadly blight, but it was brought back from oblivion through the ingenuity of determined scientists. In 1904, forester Hermann Merkel discovered ugly wounds on some of the American chestnut trees in the New York Zoological Park. No other trees in the park were affected. By 1911, only two of 1,500 trees in the park remained. A scientist with the New York Botanical Garden identified the disease as a blight fungus. All attempts to find a remedy failed. A U.S. Department of Agriculture scientist discovered that the blight originated in Asia, brought to the United States through the cross-breeding of the American and Asian chestnuts. By 1940, nearly 4 billion trees succumbed to the devastating blight. Using clear, accessible language, Walker explains how research scientists have developed three promising approaches to restoring the American chestnut: backcross breeding, using weak strains of virus-infected fungus to attack lethal strains, and engineering transgenic American chestnut trees. These approaches are cause for cautious optimism for restoration of the trees, which Walker describes as a “gargantuan task,” requiring “time and patience.” Walker’s passion for her subject and her ability to convincingly explain how the American chestnut is an icon worth saving makes this stand out. A compelling, inspiring true story of a species rescued from extinction through decades of determined innovation. (photos, appendices, source notes, glossary, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Sally M. Walker is the author of the Sibert Medal winner Secrets of a Civil War Submarine as well as many other nonfiction books, including Boundaries: How the Mason-Dixon Line Settled a Family Feud and Divided a Nation. Sally M. Walker lives in Illinois.

Her website is sallymwalker.com

Teacher Resources

American Chestnut Foundation Educational Resources

American Chestnut Lesson Plans

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Champion on  Goodreads

Champion Publisher Page

Very, Very, Very Dreadful by Albert Marrin

Very, Very, Very Dreadful: The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 by Albert Marrin. January 9, 2018. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 208 p. ISBN: 9781101931479.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1040.

From National Book Award finalist Albert Marrin comes a fascinating look at the history and science of the deadly 1918 flu pandemic–and the chances for another worldwide pandemic.

In spring of 1918, World War I was underway, and troops at Fort Riley, Kansas, found themselves felled by influenza. By the summer of 1918, the second wave struck as a highly contagious and lethal epidemic and within weeks exploded into a pandemic, an illness that travels rapidly from one continent to another. It would impact the course of the war, and kill many millions more soldiers than warfare itself.

Of all diseases, the 1918 flu was by far the worst that has ever afflicted humankind; not even the Black Death of the Middle Ages comes close in terms of the number of lives it took. No war, no natural disaster, no famine has claimed so many. In the space of eighteen months in 1918-1919, about 500 million people–one-third of the global population at the time–came down with influenza. The exact total of lives lost will never be known, but the best estimate is between 50 and 100 million.

In this powerful book, filled with black and white photographs, nonfiction master Albert Marrin examines the history, science, and impact of this great scourge–and the possibility for another worldwide pandemic today.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: War, Violence

Reviews

Booklist starred (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 9-12. Acclaimed for incisive explorations of America’s bleakest moments, from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire (Flesh & Blood So Cheap, 2011) to WWII-era Japanese internment camps (Uprooted, 2016), Marrin homes in on the “most deadly disease event in the history of humanity.” Raging from early 1918 to mid-1920, the influenza pandemic, aptly dubbed the “devil virus,” crescendoed in three lethal waves, spanned continents, and claimed an estimated 50- to 100-million lives worldwide. In six riveting chapters, Marrin examines the virus’s precursors, including past plagues and prior medical breakthroughs, its aftermath, and its festering backdrop—the congested trenches and training camps of WWI. While the pandemic’s scope is broad and undiscerning, Marrin’s approach is the opposite. With razor-sharp precision, he carefully presents genetic mutations, coffin shortages, the disease’s devastating grip on colonized Africa, the direct correlation between women working as nurses and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, and much more. Marrin’s conclusion, too, pulls no punches; after all, when it comes to future pandemics, it’s not a matter of if one will occur, but when. Fusing hard science and “jump-rope rhymes,” first-person accounts and crystalline prose, cold reason and breathtaking sensitivity, Marrin crafts an impeccably researched, masterfully told, and downright infectious account—complete with lurid black-and-white photos throughout. This is nonfiction at its best.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
A comprehensive history of the influenza pandemic of 1918, the worst global killer that humankind has experienced. Historian Marrin (Uprooted, 2016, etc.) begins four years earlier, at the beginning of World War I. Liberally referencing research, partial statistics, diaries, medical records, newspaper articles, art, photographs, poetry, song, and literature, Marrin works to give an accurate depiction of the circumstances and ill-timed incidents that led to the global catastrophe, which killed at least three times as many people as the war worldwide. The author does not neglect the squalor around the globe: ill soldiers in trenches and overcrowded barracks, suffering families, orphaned children, hunger and undernourishment, and deaths so numerous that bodies are stacked upon bodies. Marrin reveals how scientists and doctors knew little about influenza a century ago, as surgeons and physicians didn’t practice routine hygiene or quarantine and were often rendered helpless; in fact, he argues (albeit briefly) that nurses turned out to be most useful against influenza, for they provided supportive care. He then brings the eye-opening narrative to the present, detailing the search for the origins of influenza; recent scientific breakthroughs; the emergence of the H5N1 strain; and how, without intending to, scientists have brought the virus to a risky, imminent pandemic. Not one to shy away from unnerving details, Marrin relays what researchers and scientist express today: another influenza pandemic will unquestionably strike again. (notes, bibliography, further reading, picture credits, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Albert Marrin is an award winning author of over 40 books for young adults and young readers and four books of scholarship. These writings were motivated by the fact that as a teacher, first in a junior high school in New York City for nine years and then as professor of history and chairman of the history department at Yeshiva University until he retired to become a full time writer, his paramount interest has always been to make history come alive and accessible for young people.

Winner of the 2008 National Endowment for Humanities Medal for his work, which was presented at the White House, was given “for opening young minds to the glorious pageant of history. His books have made the lessons of the past come alive with rich detail and energy for a new generation.”

His website is www.albertmarrin.com.

Teacher Resources

Great Pandemic Resource Lists

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Very, Very, Very Dreadful on Amazon

Very, Very, Very Dreadful on Goodreads

Very, Very, Very Dreadful Publisher Page

 

Spineless by Juli Berwald

Spineless: The Science of Jellyfish and the Art of Growing a Backbone by Juli Berwald. November 7, 2017. Riverhead Books, 352 p. ISBN: 9780735211261.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

A former ocean scientist goes in pursuit of the slippery story of jellyfish, rediscovering her passion for marine science and the sea’s imperiled ecosystems.

Jellyfish have been swimming in our oceans for well over half a billion years, longer than any other animal that lives on the planet. They make a venom so toxic it can kill a human in three minutes. Their sting–microscopic spears that pierce with five million times the acceleration of gravity–is the fastest known motion in the animal kingdom. Made of roughly 95 percent water, some jellies are barely perceptible virtuosos of disguise, while others glow with a luminescence that has revolutionized biotechnology. Yet until recently, jellyfish were largely ignored by science, and they remain among the most poorly understood of ocean dwellers.

More than a decade ago, Juli Berwald left a career in ocean science to raise a family in landlocked Austin, Texas, but jellyfish drew her back to the sea. Recent, massive blooms of billions of jellyfish have clogged power plants, decimated fisheries, and caused millions of dollars of damage. Driven by questions about how overfishing, coastal development, and climate change were contributing to a jellyfish population explosion, Juli embarked on a scientific odyssey. She traveled the globe to meet the biologists who devote their careers to jellies, hitched rides on Japanese fishing boats to see giant jellyfish in the wild, raised jellyfish in her dining room, and throughout it all marveled at the complexity of these alluring and ominous biological wonders.

Gracefully blending personal memoir with crystal-clear distillations of science, Spineless is the story of how Juli learned to navigate and ultimately embrace her ambition, her curiosity, and her passion for the natural world. She discovers that jellyfish science is more than just a quest for answers. It’s a call to realize our collective responsibility for the planet we share.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Author Discussion

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Reviews

Booklist (October 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 3))
Jellyfish are so alien to us as spinal cord-bearing, land-based animals that we can’t envision how a brainless blob of jelly can even be alive, let alone move, eat, and behave like an animal. And yet there are several thousand species of jellies in the world’s waters, and their enigmatic lives fuel the fascination of science writer Berwald in her quest to understand their role in the fate of the oceans. The author first became enamored of marine biology during a field course in the Red Sea, but marriage and kids sidetracked her into writing textbooks and science articles. Stumbling across jellyfish while writing for National Geographic, she discovered an obsession that took her around the world to talk to the scientists who study jellies. She swam with jellies, watched how quickly they disintegrate in fishers’ nets, ate them in Japan, and kept them in a home aquarium, and as she revels in these spineless animals, she teaches us to delight in them, too.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2017)
A close look at the biology and behavior of jellyfish combined with a personal history of the author, a former ocean scientist who was pulled back to the sea by these enigmatic creatures.As science writer Berwald notes, details about jellyfish—whose species number in the hundreds—are scant in comparison with what is known about other marine animals despite the fact that they have been on Earth for at least 500 million years. Because they reproduce quickly and can adapt to different environments, they’re notorious for disrupting ocean ecosystems and devastating fishing economies. For beachgoers, they are often just nuisances with a painful sting. But the further the author dives into her research, the more she suspects that jellyfish behavior may provide clues about how the Earth’s changing climate is affecting ocean life. In addition, jellies have sophisticated propulsion systems and collagen-based bodies that may guide bioengineers in developing new products. In this appealing combination of solid science writing, investigative journalism, and memoir, Berwald chronicles her travels around the globe interviewing leading jellyfish experts and viewing all types of jellies in aquariums and native habitats. What the author discovered is that jellyfish science is growing as it becomes more apparent that the animals are a robust source of information about the ocean’s conditions as well as many other facets of the natural world. After years of research, Berwald is convinced that “to research jellyfish is not just to look at a creature unfamiliar and bizarre to most, but to study the planet and our place in it.” While writing this lucid, eye-opening book, the author discovered that her place was, in part, inextricably entangled with jellyfish. In this lovely exploration of the mysterious jellyfish, Berwald both entrances and sounds a warning: pay attention to the messages sent by ocean life, and act to protect their environment, and ours.

About the Author

Juli Berwald received her Ph.D. in Ocean Science from the University of Southern California. A science textbook writer and editor, she has written for a number of publications, including The New York TimesNatureNational Geographic, and Slate.

She lives in Austin with her husband and their son and daughter. Her website is www.juliberwald.com

Teacher Resources

Jellyfish Lesson Plans

Around the Web

Spineless on Amazon

Spineless on Goodreads

Spineless Publisher Page

Lighting Up the Brain by Marc Zimmer

Lighting up the Brain: the Science of Optogenetics by Marc Zimmer. January 1, 2018. Twenty First Century Books, 80 p. ISBN: 9781512427523.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1120.

What if neuroscientists could look inside the human brain and watch individual brain cells send signals to one another? What if they could then control these brain cells to direct thoughts and actions?

This may sound like science fiction, but it’s actually a scientific revolution called optogenetics. Neuroscientists would like to use this new technology on human brains to uncover secrets about how the brain processes information and drives human behavior. Doctors hope to use optogenetics to restore sight and to treat Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, and other debilitating or deadly health problems. Discover how the innovative work of leaders in the field is poised to radically transform science, medicine, and human health.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Booklist (November 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 5))
Grades 8-11. In concise text, this book explains optogenetics, which uses light to control cells in living tissue, particularly the neurons in the brain. It also explores the groundbreaking innovations and tools developed to do this and how they work. Neuroscientists genetically modify lab animals so specific neurons within them will produce light-sensitive proteins. When flashes of light are directed onto these neurons, it triggers them to send signals to other neurons, helping scientists map the brain’s neural circuitry and explain how the brain directs behavior and processes information. Inherent risks are acknowledged, and the controversy over animal testing is mentioned, but the hope is that this will ultimately lead to treatment of certain disorders and diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, depression, narcolepsy, and perhaps even visual impairments. This attractively designed book is full of color photos and includes a table of contents, source notes, a glossary, a selected bibliography, further information, and an index. It will be useful for students doing reports on new research techniques in the field of neuroscience.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2017)
It may soon be possible for neuroscientists to look inside the human brain and see exactly what it is doing thanks to pioneering technology called optogenetics. Neuroscientists are already using optogenetics in mice and other laboratory animals, activating neurons inside their brains. In a two-step process, animals are genetically modified in such a way that certain neurons produce light-sensitive proteins. Researchers can direct flashes of light onto these neurons, triggering them to send signals to other neurons. Using optogenetics on human brains would allow neuroscientists to map the brain’s complicated neural circuitry for the first time in history. It could conceivably enable scientists to control neurons to direct thoughts and actions. Optogenetics also has the potential to be used to treat conditions such as blindness and neural disorders like Parkinson’s, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. Zimmer’s accessibly written text offers a good deal of background information to put the subject in context. He includes a discussion of the ethics of using animals as test subjects. Well-organized and appealingly designed, the text is complemented with numerous color charts, diagrams, and photographs. An intriguing and informative introduction to the field of neuroscience and the frontiers of modern brain research. (photos, source notes, glossary, bibliography, further information) (Nonfiction. 14-18)

About the Author

Marc Zimmer is Professor of Chemistry at Connecticut College. He has published articles on science and medicine for the Los Angeles Times, USA Today and the Huffington Post, among many other publications.

Edgar, Marc’s glowing axolotl, accompanies him to most local book/science talks.

Around the Web

Lighting Up the Brain on Amazon

Lighting Up the Brain on Goodreads

Lighting Up the Brain Publisher Page

When I Was a Turkey by Joe Hutto

When I Was a Turkey: Based on the Emmy Award-Winning PBS Documentary My Life as a Turkey by Joe Hutto. November 7, 2017. Henry Holt & Company, 192 p. ISBN: 9781627793858.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 5.7; Lexile: 910.

When I Was a Turkey is a middle-grade adaptation of the remarkable true story of a naturalist who raised a flock of wild turkeys using imprinting.

After a local farmer left a bowl of wild turkey eggs on Joe Hutto’s front porch, his life was forever changed. Hutto incubated the eggs and waited for them to hatch. Deep in the wilds of Florida’s Flatlands, Hutto spent each day living as a turkey mother, taking on the full-time job of raising sixteen turkey chicks. For two years, Hutto dutifully cared for his family, roosting with them, taking them foraging, and immersing himself in their world. In return, they taught him how to see the world through their eyes. Here is the remarkable true story of a man with a singular gift to connect with nature.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mentions of animal injury and death

 

Video Trailer

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 4))
Grades 4-7. In 1991, naturalist Joe Hutto obtained two clutches of wild turkey eggs. He incubated them and encouraged the 23 hatchlings to regard him as their mother. For a year, he lived with the growing birds almost full-time in a swampy, wildlife-rich area of Florida. Wanting to understand “what it is to be wild,” he tried to enter their world, communicating through the wild turkey sounds and gestures he knew, while learning others through observation. The young birds required constant attention, but as they grew, their needs and behaviors changed. Eventually, they went their own ways. The experience of living with them was transformative for their surrogate parent, whose tale is often fascinating. This book is based the PBS documentary My Life as a Turkey (2011), which was in turn inspired by Hutto’s Illumination in the Flatwoods (1995). Guiberson has written many good science books for children, including Life in the Boreal Forest (2007). Hutto’s precise, shaded pencil drawings illustrate his story along with two maps and a section of photos. An unusual, engaging choice for animal-lovers.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2017)
A naturalist recalls his year as a turkey “mother.”In 1991, wildlife lover Hutto hatched, imprinted, and raised two clutches of wild turkey eggs, entering their wild world for over a year. He later published a book about this experience, Illumination in the Flatwoods: A Season Living Among the Wild Turkeys (1995). A re-creation of his experience by actor Jeff Palmer became a PBS documentary, My Life as a Turkey, the basis for this chronologically told account, which is chock-full of details about turkey life and even some deaths. Co-written with Guiberson, the third-person narrative reflects Hutto’s thoughts at the time. It’s both a record of an intense experience and a reflection on human relationships with the natural world. After the eggs hatched, the new “mother” spent most of his daylight hours watching and exploring with his turkey family, seeing his Florida fields and forest through their eyes. He was especially surprised to discover how much more wildlife he saw as part of the flock. After his jakes and hens had matured and left, he missed the window they offered. He was thrilled when one, Turkey Boy, returned to share a few more months with him before disappearing for good. The author’s drawings and a section of photographs complete the package. Young nature lovers will gobble this up. (glossary, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 9-14)

About the Author

Joe Hutto is a nationally recognized naturalist and wildlife artist. He lives in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. He is the award-winning author of Illumination in the Flatwoods, the book that inspired the documentary film My Life As a Turkey.

Around the Web

When I Was a Turkey on Amazon

When I Was a Turkey on Goodreads

When I Was a Turkey Publisher Page