Monday, January 19, 2009
"there seems to be some kind of symmetry between the muscular movement of my hand and the flow of ideas"
Why Joseph J. Ellis writes his first drafts by hand.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Monday, January 5, 2009
11 Planets. David Aguilar, National Geographic Children's Books, 2008.
It's a geeky thing to admit, but I totally have a soft spot for the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Maybe it's because one of my college astronomy professors is married to a researcher there, and she took her students to visit the labs. Whatever the reason, I thought it was pretty cool that David Aguilar, a director at the CfA, is both the writer and illustrator of 11 Planets.
For a man who probably gets most of his images off the pixels of a CCD, Aguilar creates some beautiful drawings. He covers the eleven planets of the title, along with some other highlights of this solar system and a look at the solar systems that have only recently been discovered.
If the title count seems off to you, there's a good chance you went through science class before the International Astronomical Union decided to make everyone's mnemonics obsolete. There are now, according to the IAU, which gets to make the rules for this sort of thing, eight full-fledged planets and three minor ones. The minor planets include the now-demoted Pluto, the large asteroid Ceres, and Eris, which had the even cooler name Xena until the official body decided to weigh in. The name they chose is hardly inappropriate, though: in Greek mythology, Eris' domain is discord.
11 Planets is a Cybils Middle Grade/YA Non-Fiction finalist.
Sunday, January 4, 2009
Science on the Loose. Helaine Becker, Maple Tree Press, 2008.
Science on the Loose is a fun book.
I'm not saying that it isn't informative or filled with examples or anything like that - but fundamentally, it's about all the fun you can find in science.
From mini-volcanoes (did I miss something as a kid? I don't remember making one, but this experiment shows up in almost every science book) to testing whether images with eyes make people behave better to pointing out that Nature once ran an article called "Chickens Prefer Beautiful Humans" (apparently chickens are among the more discerning barnyard fowl; an unrelated experiment revealed just how little it takes to make a turkey happy), Science on the Loose is a great introduction to the idea of science as a subject that's simultaneously playful, joyful, and real.
Science on the Loose is a Cybils Middle Grade/YA Non-Fiction nominee.
Lincoln Through the Lens. Martin W. Sandler, Walker Books for Young Readers, 2008.
American political mythology gives John F. Kennedy credit for being the first president to use the power of televised images to sway public opinion. I came away from Lincoln Through the Lens ready to give Abraham Lincoln credit for doing the same with photographic images.
Martin W. Sandler points to Lincoln's deliberately mussed hair in one picture, the country lawyer's way of showing that even in his city clothes, he still knew where his roots were.
Lincoln thought a different photograph had a lot to do with his victory in 1860. In that image he's standing, using his height for added authority. "[Matthew] Brady and the Cooper Union Institute [speech] made me president," he said.
If you're at all into photography, pick up a copy of this book. It's almost as good as having the whole Life Magazine archive to pore over!
Lincoln Through the Lens is a Cybils Middle Grade/YA Non-Fiction finalist.
The Bite of the Mango. Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland, Annick Press, 2008.
I'll be honest: I really didn't want to read this book.
The cover copy left me squirming. Mariatu Kamara, who tells her story with the help of Susan McClelland, lost both hands when she was attacked during Sierra Leone's civil war.
But the story is so well-written and intriguing that I kept going, following Mariatu from the refugee camp to London and Canada, where she eventually relocated.
Go into this book aware of what you're getting into. Not only are the rebel attacks described in detail, but there's also a scene of genital mutilation. (Keep this one in mind when you join Readergirlz in discussing No Laughter Here in February.)
The Bite of the Mango is a Cybils Middle Grade/YA Non-Fiction nominee.
Super Crocs & Monster Wings: Modern Animals' Ancient Past. Claire Eamer, Annick Press, 2008.
Super Crocs & Monster Wings had me hooked by the time it offered instructions on "How to Become a Fossil." Because, really, who wants a textbook that sticks to the practical stuff?
Super Crocs looks at the ancestors of contemporary animals like dragonflies, beavers, and ground sloths, and it (metaphorically, of course; the target audience didn't even grow up on Jurassic Park) brings them to life.
Think you understand just how big dragonfly ancestor Meganeura was? Look for the picture of the researcher posed with a life-sized model, and try to imagine that settling on your knee.
There's a surprising amount of information packed into this thin paperback, but the presentation isn't overwhelming. Call-outs, photos, and artists' renderings, all in full color, break up the page without disturbing the flow of the text.
Super Crocs & Monster Wings is a 2008 Cybils Middle Grade/YA Non-Fiction nominee.