Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I was excited about this book because of the huge popularity of Alex Flinn's previous fairy tale book, Beastly, which had boys and girls clamoring for it at my middle school. This one is the story of Sleeping Beauty set in modern times. The princess Talia has been asleep for 300 years when a modern slacker teen named Jack finds the hidden kingdom of Euphrasia and decides to kiss the beautiful girl he finds there. Of course, she wakes up in the 21st century to a lot of problems—mainly that her father the king is furious with her. She runs off to Florida with Jack, who doesn't actually like the spoiled princess, and there suddenly becomes diplomatic and kind and brings out a new side in the formerly unmotivated Jack. Normally I can suspend my disbelief and just enjoy fairy tale stories, but I never got into this one. I thought both Talia and Jack changed rather suddenly and their romance seemed forced. And the return to Euphrasia seemed like a tacked on ending that didn't fit with the rest of the story. It wasn't a terrible book—I'm sure that some fairy tale fans will enjoy it—but I didn't find it as satisfying as Beastly or some of my other favorite fairy tale novels. And one more complaint—I am tired of middle school fiction containing scenes of wild drunken high schoolers partying. It's fine in a book like Speak where it's integral to a serious plot, but I just don't think it's necessary in every story about teenagers.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Many people have heard of frogs being found with extra legs and other strange deformities, but did you know that scientists have found many male frogs that are producing eggs instead of sperm? And did you know that frogs across the world are mysteriously dying out and going extinct? Many people think this is being caused by chemicals that humans use to kill weeds and insects. Dr. Tyrone Hayes is the Frog Scientist who is investigating the effects of these pesticides on frogs. In the excellent tradition of Scientists in the Field books, this is both a profile of a fascinating scientist and a lesson in biology and the scientific method. The writing is excellent, the photographs are stunning, and the fact that Dr. Hayes is a cool-looking African American scientist make this book a winner in every way. This ranks as one of my favorite nonfiction books of 2009. Give this to your middle or high school life science teacher today!
Friday, October 16, 2009
Can you imagine a place with 13,000 snakes per square mile? That's the reality on the island of Guam. The brown tree snake didn't used to be found there, but it moved in and has taken over the environment and scientists can't get rid of them now. And instead of trying to remove the snake from Guam, they just try to keep those snakes off of boats that go to islands like Hawaii so the snakes won't take over new islands. That's one of the invasive species covered in this book. The author also covers fire ants in Texas, melaleuca plants in Florida, and the zebra mussels in midwestern waters. (Minnesota is doing a great job keeping the zebra mussel out, and that is mentioned here.) This book goes in-depth on each of these invaders, but to keep kids' attention I think perhaps the book should have featured a few more invasive species examples in more general terms. It's a fascinating topic, but I'm not sure how many middle schoolers will stick with this text. But, as always, the Scientists in the Field series has excellent photos and information for kids who want to dig in to some fascinating nonfiction topics.
If you read this author's outstanding nonfiction book called Hitler Youth, then you have heard of Helmuth Hubner, the German teenager who was executed by the Nazis for daring to speak against Hitler. In this historical novel Bartoletti takes the facts of Hubner's life and works them into a story that will be eye-opening to many readers. You know from the beginning that Helmuth is imprisoned and could be executed at any time. Through a series of flashbacks you see how he grew from a trusting boy to a teenager who saw through Nazi propaganda and lies and dared to speak against them. Helmuth's weapon was his own intelligence and ability to write. His crime was distributing pamphlets that spoke against Hitler. Readers will see how he secretly listened to British radio broadcasts, selectively involved a few of his friends, and ultimately was betrayed but never lost his courage or moral outrage. Looking back we all like to think we would have done the same, but I think very few people could have shown his bravery. Recommended for readers with an interest in World War II or history in general. This doesn't have war action like Soldier X or Soldier Boys, but it goes a long way in explaining the terrifying conditions in Germany and the reasons for Hitler's rise to power.