Saturday, December 29, 2012

by Steve Sheinkin

Bomb: The Race to Build and Steal the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook Press

“In the end, this is a difficult story to sum up. The making of the atomic bomb is one of history’s most amazing examples of teamwork and genius and poise under pressure. But it’s also the story of how humans created a weapon capable of wiping our species off the planet. It’s a story with no end in sight” (Bomb, 236).

It is something we all learn about in school—the atomic bomb. We know how it ends—the United States and the Allies create the first atomic bomb. What Sheinkin’s Bomb does is it shows that it was a three way race to succeed first. The parties involved are the Germans, who are racing to finish it first. The Americans are trying to beat the Germans while the Soviets are trying to steal the American’s plans. It is a book about a story we thought we knew but end up learning so much more than we could ever expect.

Sheinkin, once saying he writes interesting historical narratives to atone for his previous job of writing history textbooks, has done an amazing job bringing this book to life.  It dips, twists, and races towards the end and left me wanting to keep reading and holding my breath.  Well documented sources, intriguing photographs and index all lend support to this well written and engaging work. Do not be afraid to recommend this title to reluctant readers or make the assumption that girls won’t want to read a book about bombs. 

Yankee Girl
by Mary Ann Rodman

Yankee Girl
Mary Ann Rodman
Grades 4 and up

Set in 1964, Alice’s world is about to be turned upside down. Her father works for the FBI and has been assigned to protect the Civil Rights workers and African Americans who are trying to register to vote in Jackson Mississippi. Moving from Chicago, life down in Mississippi is a lot different to say the least. Outright prejudice and hate against African Americans shows its face from not being able to try clothes on in a store to car bombings and other acts by the KKK. As Alice says, last year she read about the current events in the newspaper but now she is living the current events. Thinking Valerie Taylor, one of the handful of African American children in the entire Parnell Elementary School, would make a good friends since they are in similar situations, Alice learns quickly things are never as easy as they seem.

Similar in vain to A Friendship for Today, it shows even 10 years after the landmark decision of “Separate is not Equal” things were not quick to change, especially as far south as Mississippi. It’s interesting to see how each protagonist reacts given their experiences are very similar. In Friendship, Rosemary is a young African American forced to go to the previous all white school and is a minority. Alice’s story is from the Caucasian standpoint but is still very much in the minority of the way she thinks and acts towards African Americans. I enjoyed Yankee Girl though it does have some sad parts but that are very much true of American history. I have to admit it to took me several chapters to not flinch at the language but it is vital to the story for it to have an authentic feel.

One side note, this is marked as historical fiction even thought it is set 10 years later. The setting is integral to the story and the author intends it to be vital to answer Zena Sutherland’s question posed in the A Friendship for Today review.

All of the Above
by Shelley Pearsall

All of the Above
Shelley Pearsall
Grades 5 and up

Set in inner-city Cleveland, five unlikely individuals come together to break the world-record for the largest tetrahedron. Tetrahedrons are geometric solids with four faces. All four faces are equilateral triangles. Four 7th grade students, each with their struggles of their own, and one math teacher desperately trying to engage his students, set out to break the California school record of 4,096 pieces which stood seven feet tall.

Mixed into the story are the challenges each student tries to overcome. James Harris III lives with his brother and uncle, is the tough one who does not want to be there but has to be since he is flunking math. Sharice has to deal with life as a foster child. Rhondell is a bright student trying to overcome the odds stacked against her to make it to college. The last of the students is Marcel, whose dad wants him to follow his footsteps into the Army.

The story is told through the view points of all the students, Mr. Collins the math teacher and several other adults related to the students. It is a story of trials, destruction and satisfaction that is loosely based on the author’s experience with a set of students who did set out to build the largest tetrahedrons.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids
by Jerome Pohlen

Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities and Thought Experiments
By Jerome Pohlen
ISBN: 978-61374-028-6
Borrowed from the library

One of the nominated titles in the Nonfiction for Middle Grades and Teen category for the Cyblis awards this year, Albert Einstein and Relativity for Kids is an interesting combination of a biography with science experiments.

Covering Einstein’s life, the book skims over his childhood and years at college. Most of the book focuses on when Einstein was an adult, beginning with his time he sought employment and worked at the Patent Office in Bern, Switzerland to his final days in the United States. The information could get heavy to readers not keen on science, especially in the sections where Einstein’s famous miracle year—the year he produced four scientific papers that had the potential to change the world forever—could get particularly heavy as Pohlen tries to bring these concepts to middle grade readers.

While parts of it seemed rushed to me or random information was thrown in just for the sake of it, I do feel this book is interesting. It would make an intriguing choice for students having to do the dreaded biography assignment and also help those students needing to research a scientist during science class. Of added interest are the experiments included in the title as well as the breakout boxes that provide brief synopsis of additional information of people, concepts and places that are apart of Einstein’s life. Includes an index and resource listing which includes books, websites and places to explore.