Tag Archives: science

The Electric War by Mike Winchell

The Electric War: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Light the World by Mike Winchell. January 22, 2019. Henry Holt & Company, 272 p. ISBN: 9781250120168.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

The spellbinding true account of the scientific competition to light the world with electricity.

In the mid-to-late-nineteenth century, a burgeoning science called electricity promised to shine new light on a rousing nation. Inventive and ambitious minds were hard at work. Soon that spark was fanned, and a fiery war was under way to be the first to light―and run―the world with electricity. Thomas Alva Edison, the inventor of direct current (DC), engaged in a brutal battle with Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse, the inventors of alternating current (AC). There would be no ties in this race―only a winner and a loser. The prize: a nationwide monopoly in electric current. Brimming with action, suspense, and rich historical and biographical information about these brilliant inventors, here is the rousing account of one of the world’s defining scientific competitions.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Cruelty to animals, Violence


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Booklist (January 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 9))
Grades 7-10. Welcome to the late 1880s and the war of the currents, a furious battle over the viability and future of electricity. The combatants were, in one corner, the legendary inventor Thomas Edison, the inveterate champion of direct current (DC); in the other corner, the eccentric Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla and his partner, the formidable George Westinghouse, champions of alternating current (AC). It was an epic battle, for the stakes were enormous, being, in short, who would light and power America. It was a battle royal with the venerable Edison emerging as the villain of the piece. But will the good guys win? In his first book, Winchell does a fine job of investing his story with considerable drama; yes, his subject is occasionally a bit wonkish, but it will delight techies. As for his style: it’s serviceable but suffers when he reaches for colorful figures of speech; thus, a building “lit up like a mushroom on fire.” Nevertheless, readers will be electrified by his three main characters and further enlightened by numerous period photographs.

Kirkus Reviews (November 15, 2018)
The war of the currents and its larger-than-life personalities are illuminated by a flickering light. In the 1870s and 1880s, two competing systems of electrical current were backed by three very different men. Thomas Alva Edison, the “Wizard of Menlo Park,” advocated for direct current, while inventor Nikola Tesla, a Serbian immigrant, and George Westinghouse were leading proponents of alternating current. The potential for acclaim and riches was high, but it all came down to which system—direct or alternating current—would prevail. Edison had the name recognition but a flawed system, while Tesla and Westinghouse were confident in alternating current’s superiority, even when it was branded too dangerous in the press. It took a world’s fair, court battles, and worldwide financial panic to yield a winner in the war of the currents. Although the men and the historical events provide plenty of drama, Winchell (Been There, Done That: School Daze, 2016, etc.) blunts the impact by spending too much time at the beginning of the book on the development of the electric chair and its first victim. Black-and-white photographs and technical drawings supplement the text, which is based on extensive primary and high-quality secondary sources. There is unfortunately no mention of influential African-American inventor and Edison employee Lewis Latimer, who patented the carbon filament. The appeal of the events shines through despite a shaky start. (timeline, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 12-16)

About the Author

Mike Winchell is a veteran English teacher with a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. He is the creator & editor of the BEEN THERE, DONE THAT anthology series, and the author of the middle grade narrative nonfiction GILDED AGE series, beginning with THE ELECTRIC WAR: EDISON, TESLA, WESTINGHOUSE, AND THE RACE TO LIGHT THE WORLD (January 22, 2019), and followed by THE ROUGH RODE: THE GILDED AGE RISE OF THE ROUGH RIDERS (2020).

He lives in upstate New York with his wife and two children. His website is www.mikewinchellbooks.com.

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Dreaming in Code by Emily Arnold McCully

Dreaming in Code: Ada Byron Lovelace, Computer Pioneer by Emily Arnold McCully. March 12, 2019. Candlewick Press, 176 p. ISBN: 9780763693565.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This illuminating biography reveals how the daughter of Lord Byron, Britain’s most infamous Romantic poet, became the world’s first computer programmer.

Even by 1800s standards, Ada Byron Lovelace had an unusual upbringing. Her strict mother worked hard at cultivating her own role as the long-suffering ex-wife of bad-boy poet Lord Byron while raising Ada in isolation. Tutored by the brightest minds, Ada developed a hunger for mental puzzles, mathematical conundrums, and scientific discovery that kept pace with the breathtaking advances of the industrial and social revolutions taking place in Europe. At seventeen, Ada met eccentric inventor Charles Babbage, a kindred spirit. Their ensuing collaborations resulted in ideas and concepts that presaged computer programming by almost two hundred years, and Ada Lovelace is now recognized as a pioneer and prophet of the information age. Award-winning author Emily Arnold McCully opens the window on a peculiar and singular intellect, shaped — and hampered — by history, social norms, and family dysfunction. The result is a portrait that is at once remarkable and fascinating, tragic and triumphant.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: References to drug use



Booklist (March 1, 2019 (Vol. 115, No. 13))
Grades 7-10. Interest in Ada Byron Lovelace and other female pioneers of science has soared of late. This young adult biography is a particularly exemplary example of the burgeoning genre and should find a home in all libraries. Caldecott medalist McCully is careful to show Lovelace as a complex, and sometimes troubled, child, teen, and woman whose love of math was as passionate as love of poetry was to her famous father, the Romantic poet Lord Byron. While Lovelace’s mother, a controlling figure who reviled Lord Byron, was rather distant, she did cultivate her daughter’s intellect. She also introduced Lovelace to Charles Babbage, a well-known figure in England who was developing a protocomputer called the Analytical Engine. It was Lovelace who foresaw its implications and who ultimately wrote “code” for its use. While her life was tragically short, she is now generally acknowledged as “the first computer programmer.” McCully’s work is eminently readable, with short chapters and lavish illustrations. It also includes meaty appendixes and source notes for teen scholars. A worthy addition to biography bookshelves.

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2019)
A biography of Ada Lovelace, widely celebrated as the first computer programmer. McCully juxtaposes the analytical genius of her subject with her humanizing flaws and personality, painting a portrait of a turbulent soul and a visionary intellect whose promise was cut short by early death. After the acrimonious end of Lord and Lady Byron’s relationship, the intelligent Lady Byron sought to distance Ada from both her father himself and his unstable tendencies by giving her a challenging education focused on rational pursuits, math, and science. Lady Byron’s portrayal is complex—she’s cold and self-centered but determined to provide academic opportunities for her daughter. The book follows Ada’s education with her marriage and death from uterine cancer, but both the book and Ada focus on her collaborator, Charles Babbage. A temporary textual shift to focus on Babbage provides necessary context, establishing how advanced and revolutionary Babbage’s Difference Engine and Analytical Engine designs were. And yet, Ada was able to see far beyond his visions, conceptualizing the potential of modern computers and predicting such programming techniques like loops. McCully demonstrates that although Ada had the potential to achieve more, she was hampered by sexism, ill health, and a temperament akin to her father’s. Appendices summarize Lovelace’s notes on the Analytical Engine and present the British Association for the Advancement of Science’s rationale for refusing to support its construction. A sophisticated yet accessible piece that humanizes a tragic, brilliant dreamer. (source notes, glossary, bibliography, index [not seen]) (Biography. 10-14)

About the Author

Emily Arnold McCully was born left-handed in Galesburg, Illinois. She was a dare-devil tree-climber and ball-player who loved to write stories and illustrate them. Her family moved to New York City and then to a suburb, where she attended school. After college at Brown University, she earned a Master’s degree at Columbia University in art history. She worked as a freelance illustrator for magazines, advertisements and book publishers until a radio station commissioned a series of posters showing children playing. The first appeared in subway cars, where it was seen by a children’s book editor. It launched a long career, first as an illustrator, then as author/illustrator of picture books. McCully won a Caldecott Medal in 1993. She has two grown sons, one grandson and lives in New York City and Columbia County, N.Y., where she grows flowers and vegetables.

Her website is emilyarnoldmccully.com

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A Second Kind of Impossible by Paul J. Steinhardt

A Second Kind of Impossible: The Extraordinary Quest for a New Form of Matter by Paul; J. Steinhardt. January 8, 2019. Simon Schuster, 400 p. ISBN: 9781476729923.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

One of the most fascinating scientific detective stories of the last fifty years, an exciting quest for a new form of matter. The Second Kind of Impossible reads like James Gleick’s Chaos combined with an Indiana Jones adventure.

When leading Princeton physicist Paul Steinhardt began working in the 1980s, scientists thought they knew all the conceivable forms of matter. The Second Kind of Impossible is the story of Steinhardt’s thirty-five-year-long quest to challenge conventional wisdom. It begins with a curious geometric pattern that inspires two theoretical physicists to propose a radically new type of matter—one that raises the possibility of new materials with never before seen properties, but that violates laws set in stone for centuries. Steinhardt dubs this new form of matter “quasicrystal.” The rest of the scientific community calls it simply impossible.

The Second Kind of Impossible captures Steinhardt’s scientific odyssey as it unfolds over decades, first to prove viability, and then to pursue his wildest conjecture—that nature made quasicrystals long before humans discovered them. Along the way, his team encounters clandestine collectors, corrupt scientists, secret diaries, international smugglers, and KGB agents. Their quest culminates in a daring expedition to a distant corner of the Earth, in pursuit of tiny fragments of a meteorite forged at the birth of the solar system.

Steinhardt’s discoveries chart a new direction in science. They not only change our ideas about patterns and matter, but also reveal new truths about the processes that shaped our solar system. The underlying science is important, simple, and beautiful—and Steinhardt’s firsthand account is an engaging scientific thriller.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist (December 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 7))
Two centuries after the French priest René-Just Haüy launched the science of crystallography, Steinhardt and a resourceful support team retrieved from the tundra of Kamchatka astonishing meteorite samples compelling researchers to rethink the fundamental principles of that science. As Steinhardt explains, the samples he helped discover reveal that in the astral fires of the Big Bang, nature created strange quasicrystals manifesting symmetries long thought to be utterly impossible. Readers see the culmination of years of arduous labors—conceptual, professional, legal, and logistic—as they learn how Steinhardt and a savvy research assistant transgressed the limits of the possible by imagining the radical structure of hypothetical quasicrystals, how Japanese researchers actually synthesized such quasicrystals in the laboratory, how an Italian scientist triggered an international debate by identifying a museum sample as a naturally occurring quasicrystal, and, finally, how that Italian scientist joined Steinhardt and other intrepid scientists to visit one of the planet’s remotest regions, there to verify their hypotheses about such quasicrystals and their origins. Cutting-edge science as high adventure.

Kirkus Reviews (October 15, 2018)
An admirable popular account of the quasicrystal, an oddball arrangement of atoms that seems to contradict scientific laws. Steinhardt (Physics and Astrophysical Sciences/Princeton Univ.; co-author: Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang, 2006), a pioneer in the field and a fine writer, makes a mighty effort to describe a complex chemical phenomenon; he mostly succeeds. Readers should carefully read his explanation of how pure substances such as minerals form periodic, symmetric arrangements of atoms called crystals, which must fit together with no gaps into which other atoms can squeeze. Only three forms qualify: the tetrahedron, the triangular prism, and the parallelepiped (six-sided box). Popular writers use the tiling analogy. To install a bathroom floor, only square, triangular, or hexagonal tiles fit perfectly. Just as you can’t fit pentagonal or octagonal tiles into the floor, no crystal can have five or eight or any larger-sided symmetry. This was the rule—not really a formal law—until Roger Penrose invented Penrose tiles in the 1970s. These can fill any room despite having bizarre shapes. Intrigued, scientists began producing five, eight, and other many-sided “quasicrystals” by heating and rapidly cooling metals in the laboratory. Thankfully, Steinhardt turns his attention from crystal theory to chronicle a gripping scientific quest. He and his colleagues searched the world’s mineralogical collections, drawing a blank until minuscule specks from Italy showed promise. Proof required finding similar pieces in a natural location, an exhaustive 10-year process that began with frustrating detective work to discover the specimen’s source, followed by an expedition to Siberia and success in 2009. Scientists figured out that natural quasicrystals form through temperatures and pressures that don’t exist on Earth; they’re found in meteorite fragments. The research continues, and it will hopefully produce technological marvels (or maybe not). Meanwhile, readers will enjoy this enthusiastic introduction to a weird but genuine new form of matter.

About the Author

Paul J. Steinhardt is the Albert Einstein Professor in Science at Princeton University, where he is on the faculty of both the departments of Physics and Astrophysical Sciences. He cofounded and directs the Princeton Center for Theoretical Science. He has received the Dirac Medal and other prestigious awards for his work on the early universe and novel forms of matter. He is the author of The Second Kind of Impossible, and the coauthor of Endless Universe with Neil Turok, which describes the two competing ideas in cosmology to which he contributed. With his student, Dov Levine, Steinhardt first invented the theoretical concept of quasicrystals before they were synthesized in a laboratory. More than three decades later, with Luca Bindi, he guided the team that led to the discovery of three different natural quasicrystals in the Kamchatka Peninsula. In 2014, the International Mineralogical Association named a new mineral “steinhardtite” in his honor.

His website is paulsteinhardt.org

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Seven Wonders of the Milky Way by David A. Aguilar

Seven Wonders of the Milky Way by David A. Aguilar. May 30, 2017. Viking Books for Young Readers, 80 p. ISBN: 9780451476852.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.9; Lexile: 1070.

Witness the wonders of the Milky Way in this stunningly illustrated book that will make you feel like an astronaut!

Blast off to the oldest star in our galaxy, zoom around planetary nebulae dubbed “the butterflies of space,” circle past humongous, ringed exoplanets, and close in on newly discovered orbs that just might support alien life. David Aguilar, former Director of Science Information at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and creator of Cosmic Catastrophes and Seven Wonders of the Solar System, takes us on a unique space journey through the Milky Way.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None


About the Author

David A. Aguilar  is an astronomer, artist, author of several notable books on space for children, including Cosmic Catastrophes: Seven Ways to Destroy a Planet Like Earth. He is the former Director of Science Information for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. As a member of the New Horizons Spacecraft Team, he handled the media coverage of the Pluto fly-by. He lives with his wife outside Aspen Colorado, where he’s built his own observatory. Asteroid 1990 DA was named in his honor by the International Astronomical Union.

David and wife Shirley reside outside Aspen, CO.

His website is davidaguilar.org.

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Backyard Bears by Amy Cherrix

Backyard Bears: Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife by Amy Cherrix. October 23, 2018. HMH Books for Young Readers, 80 p. ISBN: 9781328858689.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 6.1.

North Carolina’s black bears were once a threatened species, but now their numbers are rising in and around Asheville. But what happens when conservation efforts for a species are so successful that there’s a boom in the population? Can humans and bears live compatibly? What are the long-term effects for the bears? Author Amy Cherrix follows the scientists who, in cooperation with local citizen scientists, are trying to answer to these questions and more. Part field science, part conservation science, Backyard Bearslooks at black bears—and other animals around the globe—who are rapidly becoming our neighbors in urban and suburban areas.

What happens when conservation efforts for a species are so successful that there’s a boom in the population? Part field science, part conservation science, Backyard Bears looks at black bears—and other animals around the globe—who are rapidly becoming our neighbors in urban and suburban areas.
North Carolina’s black bears were once a threatened species, but now their numbers are rising in and around Asheville. Can humans and bears live compatibly? What are the long-term effects for the bears? Author Amy Cherrix follows the scientists who, in cooperation with local citizens, are trying to answer to these questions and more.

Part of Series: Scientists in the Field

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Horn Book Magazine (November/December, 2018)
The human population of western North Carolina is encroaching on the natural habitat of the region’s black bears. In this encouraging case study of efforts to manage black bear populations in and around Asheville, Cherrix emphasizes how conservationists are looking for sustainable ways to allow humans and wild animals to coexist. She accompanies a team of biologists conducting the North Carolina Urban/Suburban Black Bear Study as they locate a bear and her newborn cub (using radio collars and with the cooperation of the homeowners) on private property. The scientists anesthetize the adult bear and document her vital statistics as well as those of her cub. Photographs capture the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain environment and the care the scientists take in collecting data. Photos of children in contact with an anesthetized bear may raise some eyebrows but underscore the message that respectful coexistence is possible (and cautions on how to handle bear encounters are included in the back matter). In contrast to human-bear interactions from the last century, today’s collaborative efforts among scientists, residents, conservationists, and hunters acknowledge the importance of balancing the concerns of all parties. A chapter on wild animal populations in other communities, from leopards in urban Mumbai to feral chickens in Hawaii, emphasizes the global nature of the problem. Appended with web resources, a glossary, source notes, a selected bibliography, and an index.

Kirkus Reviews starred (September 1, 2018)
In Asheville, North Carolina, wildlife biologists study a growing black bear population, one example of city-dwellers and animals who try to coexist around the world. Around and within Asheville, black bears are proliferating. Four specialists, led by Colleen Olfenbuttel, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s black bear and furbearer biologist and a professor at N.C. State University, conduct field investigations that include capturing, tagging, and following bears fitted with radio collars. Cherrix writes with affection about her hometown, offering readers an immediate account of bear captures and the scientists’ work. Accompanied by local wildlife photographer Steve Atkins (who contributes many of the book’s full-color photos), she joins the scientists (who all present white) for two bear encounters. Photos show the splendid Blue Mountains scenery, bear habitat in suburban backyards, and the bears themselves, including an irresistible cub less than 2 months old. Readers see scientists in action as well as schoolchildren having a rare opportunity to see and touch a bear, temporarily sedated for a physical exam. The writer weaves in information about black bear life, the history of human-bear relationships in the area, habitat changes, and even tips for bear encounters. A middle chapter describes other examples of urban human/wildlife cohabitation: leopards in Mumbai, India; eastern coyotes across the United States; feral chickens in Hawaii; turkeys in Boston; starlings throughout North America; wild boars in Berlin; and the threat of capybaras in Florida. Another inviting example of scientific field work in a consistently appealing series. (glossary, notes, bibliography, acknowledgements, index) (Nonfiction.10-16)

About the Author

Amy Cherrix is no stranger to severe weather, having lived through six hurricanes, two floods, a desert sandstorm, and more blizzards than she cares to count. She has always loved science, especially meteorology.

Amy has published articles in newspapers and magazines, both in print and on the Web, about everything from celebrities for TV Guide to venomous pet snakes for her monthly pet column, Unleashed. She earned a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College, where she has also taught graduate courses in young adult fiction.

Her website is www.amycherrix.com.

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Something Rotten by Heather L. Montgomery

Something Rotten: A Fresh Lok at Roadkill by Heather L. Montgomery. October 16, 2018. Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 176 p. ISBN: 9781681199009.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 4.2; Lexile:.

When Heather L. Montgomery sees a rattlesnake flattened on the side of the road, her first instinct is to pick it up and dissect it–she’s always wanted to see how a snake’s fangs retract when they close their mouths, and it’s not exactly safe to poke around in a live reptile’s mouth. A wildlife researcher with a special penchant for the animals that litter the roadways, Heather isn’t satisfied with dissecting just one snake. Her fascination with roadkill sets her off on a journey from her own backyard and the roadways of the American South to scientists and kids in labs and homes across the globe. From biologists who use the corpses of Tasmanian devils to investigate cures for a contagious cancer, to a scientist who discovered a whole new species of bird from a single wing left behind, to a boy rebuilding animal bodies from the bones up, to a restaurant that serves up animal remnants, Heather discovers that death is just the beginning for these creatures.

This engaging narrative nonfiction is an eye-opening and irreverent look at the dead and dying animals that we pass by without a second thought–as well as a fascinating insight to the scientific research process.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Grades 4-7. Adding new dimension to the notion of recycling, Montgomery relates her own encounters with road-killed animals, sometimes with the explicitness of a trained biologist, while asking researchers and others, “How do you use roadkill?” She introduces readers to curators of “wet” and “dry” natural history museum collections, a New York “rogue taxidermist” who turns specimens into art, workers at a wounded wild animal rehab center, and, yes, a dedicated roadside forager. She also describes how roadkill is put to reuse as compost or zoo food and highlights efforts to cut down on the slaughter with fences and culverts. The author discourages readers from messing with dead creatures, but in context, her admonitions seem rather halfhearted. Though there are (for better or worse) no actual recipes, she does close with suggestions for some reasonably safe projects, as well as heaps of annotated leads to print and online resources. “The book is not,” she writes, “for squeamish souls.” But budding naturalists or eco-activists will find it a smashing read.

Kirkus Reviews starred (August 1, 2018)
The discoveries that arise from our flattened fauna will amaze you! Montgomery’s story—part memoir, part scientific overview—begins with a squashed snake and follows her as she learns more and more about the animals she finds run over on the side of the road. Animals explored range from snakes to coyotes and deer, and although some international animals are discussed, the primary focus remains on those squished Stateside. For all the literal blood and guts, the tone of the book is light and slightly irreverent, but it never mocks either the animals or the scientists and volunteers who work with roadkill. Footnotes abound to help explain the occasional tangent or help readers understand more complex issues that are alluded to in the text. O’Malley’s black-and-white illustrations are peppered throughout the text, sometimes illustrating a moment from the text, sometimes providing a visual description of an animal, tool, or related object. The icing on the cake is the wealth of backmatter, which is divided into three sections: “Simple Acts Save Lives,” which provides practical tips for readers on how they can make an ecological impact; an annotated bibliography that’s divided by chapter, allowing browsers to find out more info on their specific interests; and an index. There’s nothing rotten about this book—it’s a keeper. (Nonfiction. 10-14)

About the Author

Heather L. Montgomery writes about science and nature for kids. Her subject matter ranges from snake tongues to spider silk to snail poop. With a B.S. in Biology and a M.S. in Environmental Education, Heather’s passion for nonfiction comes out in her writing and presentations. When she is not writing, Heather can be found climbing a tree, hiking to a waterfall or paddling a river.

Her website is www.HeatherLMontgomery.com

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Endurance by Scott Kelly

Endurance: My Year in Space and How I Got There (Young Readers Edition) by Scott Kelly. October 16, 2018. Crown Books for Young Readers, 320 p. ISBN: 9781524764258.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 8.5; Lexile: 1070.

Newly adapted for young readers from the New York Timesbestseller comes the awe-inspiring memoir from NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a record-breaking year in space. 

How does a boy struggling in school become an American hero and a space pioneer?

Daredevil behavior? Check. Whether it is sailing leaky boats in the Atlantic Ocean or joining an ambulance corps to race to the rescue, living on the edge is required behavior for an astronaut.

Sibling rivalry? Check. An identical twin brother who both cheers you on and eggs you on is the perfect motivator.

Inspiration? Check. Finding the right book can unexpectedly change the course of your life by providing a dream and a road map for achieving it.

Courage? Check. Mastering skills that could mean the difference between life and death as a fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut takes bravery.

Endurance? Check. The grit and can-do spirit that enables you to get up every time you’re knocked down and fuels the power to meet each challenge head-on and then ask, “What’s next?”

Scott Kelly believes, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” This checklist put Scott on a rocket that launched him into space, allowed him to break a record during his inspiring year aboard the International Space Station, and showed human beings the qualities needed to go from Earth to Mars–and beyond.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Alcoholism


Book Trailer


Booklist (September 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 2))
Grades 6-9. Kelly, the author of My Journey to the Stars (2017), an autobiographical picture book, now presents a young readers’ edition of Endurance: A Year in Space, a Lifetime of Discovery (2017). Like the original book, it traces Kelly’s childhood, his initially unpromising academic background, and what motivated him to change. But mainly, it focuses on his years as an astronaut and the accomplishment for which he’s best known, living for almost a year continuously on the International Space Station (ISS). Few people have such an unusual story to tell, and Kelly makes the most of his experiences as an astronaut, offering vividly detailed accounts of daily life in orbit, anecdotes about hair-raising moments during space walks and reentry, and heartening stories of cooperation between Russians and Americans working and living together on the ISS. Black-and-white photos appear throughout the book, and a 16-page insert offers color photos. While the amount of detail may be daunting for some readers, those who are intrigued by space travel will find this a fascinating book.

Kirkus Reviews (July 15, 2018)
Kelly recalls piloting space shuttles and living aboard the International Space Station. Pared down from the 2017 version for adults, stripped of its profanity, and rearranged into a linear narrative, this memoir still manages to be slow off the launch pad, woodenly conventional (if infused with deadpan humor), and anticlimactic at the close. Kelly begins with his very earliest memories and traces his youth from an epiphanic encounter with Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff (“I closed the book that night a different person”) to military-style nautical training (“a different person”) and graduation from New York’s Maritime College (“a completely different person”). Experiences as a U.S. Navy test pilot led to astronaut training, two shuttle flights, and two ISS gigs. In an apparent bid for attention from young readers he comes off throughout as positively obsessed with space toilets and the diapers American astronauts wear when bathroom trips are not an option. Of (perhaps) greater interest are his memories of working and living with colleagues from Russia and other countries after the space shuttle program ended. These are enlivened by comments about space food (“The Russians also have something called ‘the Appetizing Appetizer,’ which it is not”) and other details seldom if ever found in other astronaut biographies. He closes with a tally of general-issue life lessons. Finished photos and backmatter not seen. Occasionally amusing, rarely fresh, this expands the author’s picture-book account, My Journey to the Stars (illustrated by André Ceolin, 2017), without adding much significant. (Memoir. 10-16)

About the Author

Scott Kelly is a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and NASA astronaut. Kelly retired from the Navy at the rank of captain after twenty-five years of service. A veteran of four spaceflights, Kelly commanded the space shuttle Endeavour in 2007 and twice commanded the International Space Station. He has spent more than 520 days in space and holds the record for the longest single mission by a U.S. astronaut. He lives in Houston.

Her website is www.scottkelly.com

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Extreme Longevity by Karen Latchana Kenney

Extreme Longevity: Discovering Earth’s Oldest Organisms by Karen Latchana Kenney. August 1, 2018. Twenty First Century Books, 104 p. ISBN: 9781512483727.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1100.

Meet the science experts who study specimens of extreme longevity in both the plant and animal kingdoms, such as the 80,000-year-old root system of Pando (a colony of male quaking aspens), 11,000-year-old deep-sea sponges, and 400-year-old sharks. Learn about technologies used to determine age and longevity, including DNA sampling, growth rings, and radiocarbon dating. See how scientists located these long-lived species were and why and how they resist disease and aging. And delve into how scientists are using what they know about aged plants and animals to research how we can promote longevity in humans.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None



Booklist (October 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 3))
Grades 8-10. Did you know that the longest-living human on record died in 1997 at age 122? This well-researched and informative book includes intriguing facts about the world’s longest-living organisms. Familiar ones, like giant tortoises, sequoias, and bristlecone pines are described, as well as lesser ones, like hydras, stromatolites, creosote bushes, and quahogs. Scientists are eagerly studying these long-lived organisms to see how they can help extend human longevity and prevent diseases—fluids from clamlike ocean quahogs, for example, who can live to be hundreds of years old, may help scientists prevent Alzheimer’s disease. The book describes the methods scientists use to determine various organisms’ life spans. In 2007, biologists were able to calculate a captured bowhead whale’s age (approximately 130 years) by analyzing the age of the antique harpoon fragment found still embedded in it. Fourteen scientists were consulted by the author in the writing of this book, which also includes a comparative time line, source notes, glossary, bibliography, further information, and index. Readers will enjoy learning about these amazing organisms.

Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
Immortality may still be the stuff of legend for humans, but it’s a real possibility for a jellyfish native to the Mediterranean Sea. Biologists are studying specimens of flora and fauna that live extraordinarily long lives. The longest living human on record is Jean Louise Calment, a Frenchwoman who lived 122 years and 164 days, but that’s nothing compared to the Greenland shark that may live over 500 years. In an accessible, informative text, Kenney (Healing Plants, 2018, etc.) introduces biologists and geneticists who study examples of extreme longevity in the plant and animal kingdoms, such as the possibly 80,000-year-old root system of a colony of male quaking aspens. One potentially immortal specimen is the hydra, a small freshwater animal described as “a simple tube without internal body organs”; the secret to its longevity is that its body is made of stem cells that repair and replace damaged body parts. Kenney discusses the technologies scientists use to determine age and longevity, including DNA sampling, growth rings, and radiocarbon dating, and how scientists are using their discoveries about aged plants and animals to research drugs to promote longevity in humans. High-quality color photographs and clear diagrams help explain the material. Useful for reports or reading for pleasure, this is an engaging and informative volume. An intriguing look at some of world’s oldest organisms and the scientists who study them. (timeline, source notes, glossary, bibliography, further information, index) (Nonfiction. 12-16)

About the Author

My favorite book as a child was an educational book titled I Want to Be a Reporter. It was about the job of a reporter and described the skills needed to tell stories in writing. I asked my mom to read it to me every night. It was fascinating to me! Since discovering that book, I have loved the idea of writing for a living.

As a K-12 educational writer and editor, I get to work on books and teaching materials that inform and inspire students. I have written about everything from the underwater home of a spider to the history of hip-hop music and WWI history. While I love researching and writing about all kinds of subjects, my experience so far has been mostly in science, social studies, biographies, music, and arts and crafts topics.

Her website is latchanakenney.wordpress.com.

Around the Web

Extreme Longevity on Amazon

Extreme Longevity on Barnes and Noble

Extreme Longevity on Goodreads

Extreme Longevity Publisher Page

How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. October 16, 2018. Viking Books for Young Readers, 160 p. ISBN: 9780425287781.  Int Lvl: 5-8; Rdg Lvl: 7.7.

Did you drink a glass of water today? Did you turn on a light? Did you think about how miraculous either one of those things is when you did it? Of course not–but you should, and New York Times bestselling author Steven Johnson has. This adaptation of his adult book and popular PBS series explores the fascinating and interconnected stories of innovations–like clean drinking water and electricity–that changed the way people live.

Innovation starts with a problem whose solution sets in motion all kinds of unexpected discoveries. That’s why you can draw a line from pendulums to punching the clock at a factory, from ice blocks to summer movie blockbusters, from clean water to computer chips.

In the lively storytelling style that has made him a popular, bestselling author, Steven Johnson looks at how accidental genius, brilliant mistakes, and unintended consequences shape the way we live in the modern world. Johnson’s “long zoom” approach connects history, geography, politics, and scientific advances with the deep curiousity of inventors or quirky interests of tinkerers to show how innovation truly comes about.

His fascinating account is organized into six topics: glass, cold, sound, clean, time, light. Johnson’s fresh exploration of these simple, single-syllable word concepts creates an endlessly absorbing story that moves from lightning strikes in the prehistoric desert to the herculean effort to literally raise up the city of Chicago to laser labs straight out of a sci-fi movie.

In other words, it’s the story of how we got to now!

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None


Author Talk


Booklist (October 15, 2018 (Online))
Grades 5-8. Adapted for young readers from an adult book and PBS series, this volume explains six innovations that have changed the world: glass, cold, sound, clean (water), time, and light. It explores how these building blocks have inspired technological breakthroughs that have transformed our lives. The discovery of glassmaking, for example, led to the creation of clear glass, eyeglasses, microscopes, telescopes, cameras, fiberglass, laser beams, and fiber optic cables. Readers may be surprised that some technologies common today were actually developed more than 100 years ago, even if they weren’t refined until more recently (electric cars were first developed in the 1890s). Although it mostly features contributions by men from North America and Europe, Ada Lovelace and Marie Curie are mentioned. Not only does this praise scientists’ successful undertakings but it also recounts their erroneous beliefs and failures. Vintage photographs, recommended resources, and further back matter are included. The intriguing information here (Louis XIII didn’t bathe at all until he was seven!) will inform and fascinate report writers and casual browsers.

Kirkus Reviews (September 15, 2018)
Beginning with ideas that emerged thousands of years ago, Johnson tracks a series of innovations that led world culture to where it is now. In an adaption for younger readers of his adult work of the same name (2014), he tracks six pathways arranged along the following themes (which also serve as chapter titles): glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light. The chapter on glass begins with the discovery of natural glass in the Libyan desert about 10,000 years ago and tracks it through use as jewelry, the creation of windowpanes, the development of glass that was clear, the creation of eyeglasses (necessary as books became more common), the development of other types of lenses and the scientific advances they inspired, and finally to fiber-optic cables in the digital age and creation of a massive telescope in Hawaii. Each engaging chapter remains fully grounded in the fundamental concept that advances inspire further developments, serving to present history in a nutshell that is still shown as a grand sweep of progress. A single minor gripe is that in the chapter on time, a detail on early photography is off by a few years. Excellent backmatter rounds out a balanced and thoroughly engaging presentation. Altogether, a fine exploration of technologies emerging over the eons and their remarkable interconnectedness. (Nonfiction. 11-14)

About the Author

Steven Johnson is the bestselling author of ten books, including Wonderland, How We Got to Now, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You.

The founder of a variety of influential websites, he is the host and co-creator of the PBS and BBC series How We Got to Now. Johnson lives in Marin County, California, and Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and three sons.

His website is www.stevenberlinjohnson.com

Teacher Resources

How We Got to Now Classroom via PBS

Around the Web

How We Got to Now on Amazon

How We Got to Now on Barnes and Noble

How We Got to Now on Goodreads

How We Got to Now Publisher Page

Camino a las Estrellas by Sylvia Acevedo

Camino a las estrellas: mi recorrido de Girl Scout a ingeniera astronáutica (Path to the Stars: My Journey from Girl Scout to Rocket Scientist) by Sylvia Acevedo. September 4, 2018. Clarion Books, 352 p. ISBN: 9781328534811.  Int Lvl: 5-8.

The inspiring memoir for young readers about a Latina rocket scientist whose early life was transformed by joining the Girl Scouts and who currently serves as CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

A meningitis outbreak in their underprivileged neighborhood left Sylvia Acevedo’s family forever altered. As she struggled in the aftermath of loss, young Sylvia’s life transformed when she joined the Brownies. The Girl Scouts taught her how to take control of her world and nourished her love of numbers and science.

With new confidence, Sylvia navigated shifting cultural expectations at school and at home, forging her own trail to become one of the first Latinx to graduate with a master’s in engineering from Stanford University and going on to become a rocket scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Spanish translation of Path to the Stars.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racial insensitivity, Domestic abuse



Kirkus Reviews (August 1, 2018)
Acevedo debuts with an inspirational autobiography detailing how she bucked expectations while growing up in 1960s New Mexico. Though born in faraway South Dakota, where her father was completing his service in the U.S. Army, Sylvia grew up in the southern New Mexico town of Las Cruces. Growing up in a tightknit community of extended family, church family, and fellow Mexican-Americans, Sylvia soon discovered that her interests did not align with many of her peers’. While the cultural expectation for young women, especially Mexican-American women, was to marry and stay home to raise a family, Sylvia longed for adventures. She found a community and home away from home with the like-minded girls within her Girl Scout troop. The skills she acquired selling cookies and earning badges gave her confidence and self-efficacy as she moved through school taking honors courses, refusing home ec, playing drums in the band, and ultimately pursuing higher education in engineering. Acevedo’s narration is frequently repetitive, and she breezes past the many instances of racism and sexism she experienced both within and outside of her home in a matter-of-fact tone. All’s well that ends well, she seems to say. Though the redundancies cause hiccups in the narrative flow, and at times it feels like a long-form advertisement for Scouting, those seeking stories of female STEM trailblazers will find much to love here. Encouraging and uplifting. (Memoir. 8-12)

School Library Journal (September 1, 2018)
Gr 5 Up-A gem of an autobiography. As a girl growing up in New Mexico in the 1950’s, Acevedo recognized and confronted bias in many forms. She fought against the notions that girls should only become wives and mothers, and she strived to be a success in all aspects in her life: a focused student, a successful Girl Scout, a talented musician, and, above all, a young woman who never believed that her future was already written by someone else. Particularly touching is Acevedo’s recollection of her mother’s determination and dedication to her family: she acted as an advocate for her daughter’s success even as she and Sylvia faced domestic abuse. The text is accessible, and the story of Acevedo’s life touches upon a number of salient points for readers including racism, gender roles, and educational inequality. The importance of the Girl Scouts and of always being prepared resonates throughout. The author’s experiences working as a rocket scientist are fascinating, though these recollections come at the very end of the book.

About the Author

Sylvia Acevedo is a rocket scientist and award-winning entrepreneur who served on the White House Commission for Educational Excellence for Hispanics and is currently the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the US.

Her website is sylviaacevedo.org

Around the Web

Camino a las Estrellas on Amazon

Camino a las Estrellas on Barnes & Noble

Camino a las Estrellas on Goodreads

Camino a las Estrellas Publisher Page