Monday, June 24, 2013

danyelle recommends Stronger Than Steel by Bridget Heos

Because spider silk is stronger than steel and stretchier than nylon, it could, in theory, be used to make amazing artificial ligaments or tendons, parachute rope, fishing line, and bulletproof vests.  In theory.  This book, like others in The Scientist in the Field Series, examines the way theory becomes practical science.  Author Bridget Heos does that by taking readers inside Dr. Randy Lewis's spider silk lab.  Instead of presenting neatly wrapped-up answers, Stronger Than Steel looks at questions, ideas, and the search for answers.  By explaining concepts, problems, limitations, and the work in progress, Heos lets readers experience scientific process.

Why can't spider silk be harvested by domestically raised spiders?  Well, they would eat each other, and according to one of the scientists, Sherry Adrianos, "If you try to raise spiders together, you'll be left with one big spider" (12).  One solution might be transgenic goats that would produce spider silk in their milk.  Heos introduces readers to the scientists, the goats, and the ethical question surrounding genetically modified organisms.  Another solution might be raising silk worms that could spin spider silk, but although transgenic silkworms have spun silk that was a mixture of regular silk and spider silk, scientists don't know if the silkworms will be able to spin pure spider silk.

The balance between scientific explanation and human interest works nicely and may inspire readers to wonder, learn, and try some science of their own.

Beautiful photographs by Andy Comins show the scientists at work, the goats at play, and of course, the spiders.

Stronger Than Steel: Spider Silk DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures, and Parachute Rope
by Bridget Heos
photographs by Andy Comins
published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
February 2013
Recommended for ages 10 and up

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

tara recommends Jinx by Sage Blackwood

Life in the Urwald is dangerous and even the youngest children know it is treacherous to stray off the path.  In a land threatened by trolls, werewolves, werebears, firebirds, and elves - you have to grow up quickly in order to survive.

Jinx is a young boy who is not wanted by his stepparents and no matter how little he eats or how much he works, he is a definite inconvenience.  So one day, his stepfather takes him into the Urwald with the clear intention to abandon him there.  Unfortunately for Bergthold (the stepfather), once he steps off the path, he loses his way and can't find his way back.  As they are wandering around the forest, they run into a wizard harvesting mistletoe who is easily able to discern the troubling situation.  He offers to buy the boy and in the next moments, Jinx steps into a new fate.

The only wizard Jinx knows of is The Bonemaster, and he is not somebody you would want to cross.  In fact, the rumor is that he "sucks out people's souls with a straw."  Luckily for Jinx, he has a special ability to see people's thoughts in colors around their heads, and this wizard's (Simon) weren't "red and angry" but, were "green and blue" and seemed fairly safe.

While Jinx is living with Simon, he works for him and learns a little bit of magic.  And, even though Simon is gruff and secretive, "the thing that Jinx liked most about Simon, besides his cooking, was that he never hit Jinx at all.  Not once."  Clearly Jinx is not used to a safe, inviting environment, and even with witches visiting and Simon leaving for long periods of time - he has found a place to call home.

Simon's motives are always a little questionable, but when he takes Jinx's magic away, Jinx decides to set out on his own to try to get it back.  His journey unites him with Reven, a boy who speaks like an old fairy-tale prince using phrases like "a damsel in distress" and "Fear not, fair maiden!  We shall save you."  They meet up with Elfwyn, the girl in a red-hooded cape who is on her way to her grandmother's house (her grandmother also just happens to be a witch).  Elfwyn tells anybody who asks the frank truth and Jinx often finds himself regretting telling her anything important.

This story definitely plays on our well-known fairy tales (Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, etc.), but the elements that are familiar to us are twisted around in a tale of adventure and magic.  The origins of most of the characters are not fully developed, leaving plenty of room for more books in this series and they all have their own stories to tell.

Overall, this was a fun fantasy adventure with some darker magical elements.  Luckily, it had plenty of comic relief with Reven and Elfwyn's unpredictable behavior and their search to remove their own mysterious curses.  If you are a lover of fantasy, parts of this may feel familiar, but overall a fun read with interesting characters.

by Sage Blackwood
published by Harper Collins
January 2013
Recommended for ages 8 and up

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Summer Reading

School is out for summer -- yippee!!  I love summer days when I get to make my own schedule and my kids get to read whatever books they choose.  Here are the 2013 books that I've read this year:

I was feeling pretty good about having read so many of the books early in the year until I realized that my summer reading stack is really short now.  Any suggestions?  (I wish I had an early copy of The Lord of Opium or Ghost Hawk, but alas, I will have to wait until the end of August.)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Reading Rewards

I received this note from a student in the first-grade class I've been reading to this year:

I just hope that while he was getting "more smarter" he enjoyed the stories.