November 28, 2014
Galileo’s Leaning Tower Experiment
by Wendy Macdonald
illustrated by Paolo Rui
Massimo stands waiting on the bridge high above the river. He is dropping stone into the water and gadging how long it takes them to fall. It is his job to drop a wheel of cheese and loaf of bread down to his uncle with the boat passes beneath the bridge and he’s determined that both items will land in the boat and not the river.
A stranger watches as Massimo lets go of the bread and the cheese. Both land with a thud in the boat, surprising the man. When Massimo explains that they always land together, the man asks a strange question. “Could Aristotle be wrong?”
The man is a professor and he explains Aristotle to Massimo. Throughout the week, Massimo experiments around the farm, dropping a variety of objects from a variety of heights. He finally discovers two items, a feather and a hammer, that seem to fall at different rates. He heads to the University, determined to tell the Professor that Aristotle was correct and that he, Massimo, was wrong.
This is a fictional account of Galileo’s leaning tower experiment. By adding Massimo, the author makes the story more accessible to young scientists. Paolo Rui’s acryllic paintings give color and life to Pisa in 1589.
Although this is a work of fiction, it is an excellent introduction to science and how scientists ask and answer questions. As such, it belongs in the elementary science class and would make an excellent read aloud for slightly older elementary students. Use it to stir up a lively discussion about how they could test gravity and the rate at which different items fall.
November 24, 2014
by Mark Greenwood
illustrated by Frane Lessac
Many books about the Pilgrims focus on their life here and the first Thanksgiving. Author Mark Greenland covers that in The Mayflower but he covers much, much more.
The story that Greenland tells starts in Englad with the lack of religious freedom there and discusses the hardships of the journey, including the fact that one of the ships leaked so badly that they had to leave it behind. He even tells the story of a beam cracking in the the storm stressed Mayflower and the fact that the ship was saved with tools that the Pilgrims had brought along to build their new homes.
I’m not sure how many words are in this picture book for readers 4-8 but it feels short — not in a bad way. The book is simply concise but packed with a lot of information that goes beyond the typical. There’s the ship’s beam cracking, a boy washed overboard and even the fact that not all Pilgrims were Puritans.
Lessac’s gouache paintings are bright and a bit cartoony but they lighten up what could easily become a grim, dark tale.
The backmatter includes a timeline which begins when the Mayflower departs England and ends in the 1940s when FDR signs a Thanksgiving Bill into law. There is also a list of resources including the book written by William Bradford, second governor of Plymouth. I have to admit that I was a bit miffed that this was the only mention he got in the book but I may be a bit biased. Don’t understand why? Look again at my name.
This is a good introduction to the topic of the Pilgrims and is very historic in nature, meaning that there is social history, no examination of the Puritan’s idea of freedom, the irony there of, or what they thought about other people. In a book this short, that isn’t a problem unless that is the kind of book you want.
November 20, 2014
A Life in the Wild:
George Schaller’s Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts
by Pamela S. Turner
Melanie Kroupa Books
For those not familiar with Schaller’s name, he is a pioneer in animal studies and conservation. Schaller was among the earliest scientists to study a variety of wild animals without shooting and skinning them. Instead, he observed them closely and studied their environment. He got to know the other animals that shared their world and noted how a balance kept them and the countryside healthier.
The first great beast that Schaller studied was the gorilla. Sitting near the animals, watching them interact and feed, Schaller discovered that they weren’t the dangerous, violent monsters people believed them to be.
Next he studied tigers in India, even coming face-to-face with a tigress and sitting up in a tree while several young tigers lounged around the base. He learned how much game tigers took and how they supplemented this with livestock. He studied how much land each animal needed and how these creatures, called loners, crossed paths and interacted.
From lions to snow leopards and pandas to wild antelope and asses, he learned that to ensure that these animals would exist for future observers to study, he had to devote time to conservation, encouraging people and governments to set land aside for the use of animals alone.
Turner’s book tells a lot about Schaller’s science but the tone is conversational and easy to digest. The book comes in at just under 100 pages. Less able readers could easily focus on one chapter while rabid readers will find themselves turning page after page and reading the entire book. This would make an excellent gift for your future scientist or your wild life lover.
November 17, 2014
Handle with Care:
An Unusual Butterfly Journey
by Loree Griffin Burns
photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
A package arrives at the museum. Inside a rectangle of foam cushions a wealth of chrysalis.
Your typical butterfly life cycle book takes the reader from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Loree Griffin Burns handles things differently. She shows how farmers in Costa Rica raise butterflies, keeping them and their young safe from predators, and ship some of the chrysalis to museums and butterfly houses world wide.
While many readers may know something about the monarch, this book focuses on the blue morpho butterfly but also explains that it isn’t the only butterfly raised for shipment. It should be noted that some of the butterflies are also released back into the wild.
I especially like the spread where Burns shows that the appearance of the blue morpho caterpillar changes as it grows, shedding its skin and growing some more. Workers use the appearance of the caterpillars to age them and tell when they will likely turn into a chyrsalis.
Adding to the book are Ellen Harasimowicz’s photos. She shows a variety of scenes at the farm in Costa Rica as well as the musuem where the butterflies eventually break out of their chrysalis. The photos on the end papers, just inside the front and back cover of the book, took my breath away. In the front are photos of various chrysalis. Some are plump, green and shiny. Others looks like folded leaves or sticks. My favorites are a glistening metallic gold. Inside the back cover are a variey of butterflies including the familiar monarch.
Make sure this book is on your classroom shelf. Share it with the young natural lover or read it before you study life cycles or conservation topics.
November 13, 2014
Mr. Ferries and His Wheel
by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
illustrated by Gilbert Ford
Ten months before the Chicago World’s Fair (1893), planners still didn’t know how they were going to top the Eiffel Tower. Taller than even the Washington Monument, the tower eclipsed everything beneath it. Desperate to do even better, the planners announced a contest. Entries poured in from all over the country but the majority were simply bigger variations on the Eiffel Tower. This fair needed something new.
George Washington Gale Ferris, a young mechanical engineer, considered the challenge a matter of national pride. That French tower couldn’t outdo the US fair. George and his engineering partner William Gronau got to work at their drawing boards. They wanted to create a soaring structure that moved. They worked carefully because even the smallest error could bring their dreams crashing down to the ground in a twist of metal.
The Fair’s construciton chief, an architect, didn’t think it looked sturdy enough. Without his okay, the judges couldn’t decide. Finally four months before the fair, they gave their okay but with one hitch – they refused to foot the bill.
Davis has done a wonderful job of condensing the struggle to build an engineering marvel, an 834 foot tall steel ferris wheel. She goes into his inspiration, the struggles to get the plans approved, find the funding and overcome construction problems. Once it was built, people still questioned if it was safe.
Ford’s illustrations combine digital mixed media with ink and watercolor to create pictures that combine an old time pen-and-ink feel with contemporary colors and a slightly cartoony feel. The festive feel lightens up the story and help keep it moving along.
This book isn’t suitbable for preschoolers but grade school aged inventors, young readers interested in history and kids who just won’t give up will appreciate this story of an inventor with a can-do spirit. Although it isn’t the scientific method, teachers will like this book for the lessons it teaches about modifying a plan as needed to achieve success. A must for the classroom.
November 10, 2014
The Kite that Bridged Two Nations
by Alexis O’Neill
illustrated by Terry Widener
Homan’s father doesn’t understand what it is about flying kites that attracts his son. Instead of wasting so much time with toys, Homan should focus on his studies.
But Homan does study. He studies the wind and how it lifts a kite into the air. He studies how much line to play out and what materials make the best kites. And when he finds the handbill advertising the contest, the studies that too.
Ten dollare to the first boy to fly a kite from one side of the river to the other, the first boy whose kite string stretches between the United States and Canada. The string will be used to pull a heavier line across the river, which will pull across a heavier line, which will pull across a slender rope and so on. Eventually a rope will haul across a cable and a bridge will be built.
Unlike the others, Homan knows the wind. As they try to fly their kites from the US to Canada, he takes the ferry across the river. He flies his kite higher and higher. He watches and waits. Just when he thinks he has won, the string snaps.
But that isn’t his only problem, now the river has iced up and the boy can’t get home again, home to his family, home where he can make another attempt at winning.
I’m not going to tell you how the story ends, you’re going to have to read the book to find out!
O’Neill has created a fictional story of a true event. She chose fiction because, in spite of all of her research, she had no way of knowing what was in Homan’s head as he made his plans. To write from his point of view, she had to write fiction. Author’s notes at the back of the book reveal what parts of the story are true and what parts are fictionalized.
Terry Widener’s acryllic paintings bring the story to life, somehow even depicting the still and cold of a winter’s day on the river bank, the play of a kite string feeding out, and the sudden collapse as it goes slack.
This is a picture book but will appeal more to first through third graders than to preschoolers. Share it with the kite flyer in your life as fall nights grow cold.
November 6, 2014
At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasure of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins
At Home in Her Tomb:
Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasure of Mawangdui
by Christine Liu-Perkins
The mummy of this Chinese noble woman is an unusual sight. Well preserved like the very best mummies, the isn’t the least bit dried out. All of her soft tissue, including her internal organs, were preserved in a pliable state. Scientists don’t know why or how this type of preservation took place although they have found several more of these lifelike Chinese mummies.
In the 1970s, workers uncovered a tomb covered in a layer of white clay over one of charcoal. When they broke the seal, methane gas escaped and they knew they had something special. This tomb had remained sealed and from the construction and artifacts they knew it was from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 220 CE).
Eventually they discovered a series of three tombs. The central tomb, the first discovered, was the best preserved. They weren’t sure who the nobel woman was until they explored the tomb of the older man. A series of seals inside his tomb revealed that he was the Marquis of Dai, Li Cang, a high ranking Han official. The woman was his wife, Lady Dai. The third tomb belonged to one of their sons who, based on the artifacts, had probably been a Han General.
Between the three tombs, archaeologists found a wealth of material unknown to modern scientists and scholars. In addition to the mummy, other early surprised included food preserved as perfectly as Lady Dai.
In the son’s tombs they found a map and a series of books writte on bamboo strips. Scholars knew that some of these books existed, because other ancient writers talked about them, but the books themselves had been lost — burned by critical emperors or simply rotted away. These were the first copies seen in over a 1000 years. Games, ancient musical instruments and more emerged from the tombs.
Every excavation is like a mystery as archaeologists work to piece together the story of what had happened. This particular excavation revealed not only the lives of these three people but also the time in which they lived.
Although heavily illustrated, this book isn’t a picture book. Add it to your shelf if you have a young reader who is interested in China, history or the science of archaeology. Author Christine Liu-Perkins gives a strong introduction to the Han Dynasty and also explains how this find expanded on what is known about this vital period of Chinese history.
November 3, 2014
A Giraffe’s Journey
by James Rumford
Houghton Mifflin and Company
If you didn’t know what a giraffe was and couldn’t look it up online, what would you think the first time you saw the towering, spotted beast? The first Chinese to see a giraffe thought that it was the mythical chee-lin. This rare and amazing horned creature, with the body of a deer, the tail of an ox and the hooves of a horse was considered a sign of good luck. Given the description of a chee-lin, it isn’t surprising that when a giraffe was given to the Emperor, he and his people believed the animal was their mythical sign of good luck.
How did a giraffe make it all the way to China? No one knows for certain except that it arrived on a treasure ship. During the Ming Dynasty, a fleet of treasure ships led by admiral Zheng He, roamed the seas. They traded with various rulers and returned with a wide variety of treasures for the emperor. One of these treasures was a giraffe.
From a surviving painting and a few historical references, James Rumford has imagined this story. He populates it with a variety of people some of whom do a good job caring for the chee-lin and others who don’t do nearly as well. Still, near the beginning of his life and again near the end, he is fortunate enough to have young people who care for him, whispering in his ear and bringing him treats. Rumford works in a variety of details about life at this time, including the manual labor of the poor, the life of luxury of the wealthy and the building projects of a thriving dynasty.
I especially enjoyed Rumford’s art work. The backgrounds of each spread contain designs from textiles from the countries in which this story takes place — Malawi, India and China. The paintings themselves are made with a type of milk based poster paint that yield bright, vibrant colors.
Although this book is too long for a very young reader, the details will interest children who love animals as well as those interested in China and ancient exploration.