Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Reviews: Years of Dust and Science Alliance

As you can see my reading has been all over the place this month.
I'm not a big graphic novel fan but I liked this new one by Eleanor Davis, "The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook" Science whiz Julian Calendar is determined to be popular at his new school, so he hides the fact that he is smart and interested in inventing gadgets. His secret is discovered by two unlikely classmates, "the bad girl" and "the jock". The three join together to form the Secret Science Alliance. In their secret lab they invent glue bombs, a stinkometer and even a helicopter. The Alliance's invention notebook is stolen by an evil scientist who claims their inventions for his own. Can the trio reclaim their notebook and prevent the scientist from stealing a valuable artifact from the museum?
The adventure is fun and fast paced. I love the fact the author bursts some stereotypes and allows a jock and a girl to be gadget geeks. The artwork is incredibly detailed. I looked at the drawings several times and I'm sure I still missed something. There are even plans for enterprising kids who want to make their own inventions.
I thought I'd studied enough American History to be pretty knowledgable about the Dust Bowl, but I learned alot from Albert Marrin's "Years of Dust: the Story of the Dust Bowl". He begins by describing the ecology of the area and shows the impact man has had--killing the buffalo and plowing up the plains. And then shows how the environmental factors-drought, intense heat and billions of locusts, along with the Depression contributed to the suffering of the Dust Bowl.
The first person accounts are incredible. I can't imagine sitting in a sealed house while the wind blew non-stop for hours breathing dust. Children suffocated, people had dust pneumonia and animals went blind and starved to death. The photographs show the suffering and devestation caused by the dust storms.
I also associated the Dust Bowl with Oklahoma, not realizing that it also affected Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and other states. At the end of the book Marrin discusses trouble spots in the world today China, South America and Africa, where another dust bowl could happen.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Book Review: Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell

Almost 13 year old Jamie Dexter has been raised Army all the way. She is excited when her brother, T.J, enlists in the Army and is sent to Viet Nam. The colonel is not excited and in fact, he discourages T.J. from enlisting. Jamie is confused by her father's reaction. Why doesn't he want T.J. in the Army? Jamie can't wait until she get T.J.'s letter. She wants to find out what its like on the front lines. But instead of letters, T.J. sends Jamie pictures. Viewing the war through her brother's eyes causes Jamie to change her mind about the war.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Book Review : Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve

I really like Philip Reeve, but I have to admit when I picked up this book I wondered if I really wanted to slog through another retelling of the tale of King Arthur. Come on--hasn't it all been said before?
Reeve offers a different view of Arthur in his new book "Here Lies Arthur". Arthur is the Dux Bellorum, a petty warlord during the British Dark Ages. He is brutish and not very bright. The story is told by Gwyna, a young servant girl, whose village is sacked by Arthur's warband. She is rescued by Myrddin, Arthur's bard, who has her pose as the lady of the lake and then disguises her as a boy. Myrddin has no magic only stories. He is convinced Arthur is the one who will unite Britain and bring peace. So he spins his stories of Arthur's heroic exploits, like a modern day spin doctor. As puberty approaches Gwyna is forced to become a girl again. Myrddin places her in the household of Gwenhwfar, Arthur's wife. The story spins toward its inevitalble ending with the deaths of Arthur and Myrddin. Gwyna picks up Myrddin's harp and begins spinning her own tales of Arthur.
This is a very interesting take on the Arthurian legends and the power of story. This should definitely appeal to older teens.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book Reviews: "I'll Pass for Your Comrade" and "Chasing Lincoln's Killer"

I needed a change from dead bodies and the frozen places. Two very interesting books about some lesser known aspects of the Civil War crossed my desk.

The fact that women disguised as men served in both the Union and Confederate armies is one of the best kept secrets of the Civil War. No one knows exactly how many women served because only a few women recorded their experiences. What prompted these women to defy social conventions and put their lives at risk by going to war?
Anita Silvey explores why these women fought, how they hid their identities, what their lives were like as soldiers and what happened to them after the war.
Jennie Hodges enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry as Pvt. D.J. Cashier. She served three years in the Union Army. After the war she lived as a man and her true identity was not discovered until 1911, when she was treated by a doctor for an injury.

Silvey includes first person accounts, maps and period photographs, as well as an index and bibliography. This is a fascinating account of a little known part of the
Civil War.
The other book I read was "Chasing Lincoln's Killer" by James Swanson.
This is a YA version of Swanson's bestselling book, "Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer". Swanson is an engaging writer, making the events leading up to the assassination, the assassination itself and the 12 day manhunt read like a thrilling spy novel. He includes some interesting historical details, including photographic evidence that Booth and several of the co-conspirators were present at Lincoln's second inauguration. He also graphically describes the doctor's attempts to save Lincoln's life after the assassination (or at least to get the bullet out of his brain for historical posterity).
I found Swanson's switches in time and between what various participants were doing to be quite confusing in some places. Also, I would have liked to see some source notes, an index and bibliography. The map of Booth's escape route is at the end of the book, which is very unhelpful.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Book Review: Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial America

Imagine if someone found your body 400 years from now. What would they know about you? Would they be able to learn anything from your bones?
Just as forensic scientists can use their knowledge to solve crimes, archaeologists and forensic anthropologists can use similar skills to find out more about people who lived long ago. Sally Walker accompanied scientists on excavations of colonial gravesites in Virginia and Maryland. The burial sites revealed colonists from a variety of backgrounds including a teenaged boy hastily buried in a cellar, a woman of African descent who may have been a slave and a family of wealthy colonists who were buried in lead coffins. Historians knew nothing about these individuals. The scientists studied the gravesites, skeletons and objects nearby. From this information the scientists were able to tell how old the individuals were, whether they were male or female, how hard they worked, what country they came from, and what diseases they had. Anthropologists provided anatomical details of a recovered skull to artists, who then used the data to produce the first sculpture of an American colonist of African ancestry.
Sally Walker clearly explains the archaeological and forensic procedures. The book contains full-color photographs, maps, and other historical documents which help to shed light on the history of the area and the possible identities of the remains. This fascinating book allows us a glimpse into life and death in the colonial period of American history.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Book Review: Bodies From the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past by James Deem

I saw James Deem's new book "Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the Past on the new book cart and just had to read it. After all who can resist a book about mummies and mummies found in cold places makes it even better.
In 1991 a couple climbing a mountain in Italy saw what they thought was trash left behind my other hikers. Upon further investigation, it turned out to be the body of a man who lived 5300 years ago. As the glaciers slowly melt, scientists are discovering the remains of humans lost years ago-from mountain climbers in the Himalayas to child mummies in the Andes. These remains are providing researchers with a wealth of information about how our ancestors lived-what they ate and drank and in some cases, their religious beliefs.
But this new knowledge is being gained at the cost. With global warming glaciers all over the world are melting which is changing the climate and the environement of the area. Deem discusses why the glaciers are disappearing and what, if anything, can be done to slow down the process.
The text is accompanied by lost of interesting (and sometimes gruesome) photos. There is also an extensive bibliography, tips of preventing global warming and an index The subject matter is appealing to browsers and informative enough for school reports.
Check out Deem's other books about mummies: "How to Make a Mummy Talk", "Bodies from the Ash" and "Bodies from the Bog".

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Book Review: Emperors of the Ice by Richard Farr

Blind as a bat, a poor navigator and inexperinced with dogs Aspley George Benet Cherry-Garrad never thought he would realize his dream of becomming an explorer. He considers himself the luckiest man alive when he is chosen to accompany Robert F. Scott's expedition to Antarctica. In addition to reaching the South Pole, Scott had many scientific experiments planned for the expedition. One of these was to journey to Cape Crozier to gather the eggs of the Emperor Penguin. Cherry accompanies Bill Wilson and Birdie Bowers on this amazing journey. They endure temperaturs of -77 F, watch their frostbitten fingers swell like sausages and avoid ice chasms to gather 3 precious eggs. Cherry is also responsible for supplying on of the depots for the polar party and is there when the expedition members find the remains of the polar team. Cherry is deeply affected by the death of his friends.
Based on Cherry's writings and told in his voice, Farr does a remarkable job of bringing the expedition memebers to life. The book includes many contemporary photographs, maps and a list of sources. A must read for fans of adventure and survival stories

Monday, January 26, 2009

Happy Australia Day

Crikey Mate!
Happy Australia Day

Book Review: The Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World by Jane Yolen

Who can resist a book about pirates? Even better women pirates!
Jane Yolen tells the rousing stories of 13 villianous women pirates. Their stories are arranged in chronological order from Artemisia (500 BC) to Madame Ching (early 1800s). The pirates come from all walks of life and from all over the world.
Yolen debunks many pirate myths (walking the plank) and tries to seperate fact from fiction, noting that much of what we know about the pirates does not come from the pirates themselves.
The stories of the 13 women are enhanced by wood cut style illustrations. Sidebars provide additional information about piracy, geography and even some songs associated with piracy. There is also a list of other women pirates, though not much is known about many of them. Yolen has included an index, bibliography and a list of websites.
The large type and page layout make this book accessible for younger and reluctant readers. An informative and fun read.