Tag Archives: science

Planet Earth is Blue by Nicole Panteleakos

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by Nicole Panteleakos
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

12-year-old Nova is missing her sister, who promised to return before the space shuttle Challenger launches with Christa McAuliffe aboard. As Nova and her newest foster family count down the days until the launch, she writes her sister letters, telling her all about her new family, her new school, and how much she’s looking forward to seeing her sister again. The letters are never mailed, and even if they were, they’re illegible – Nova is autistic and nonverbal (though she can talk a little and make herself understood at times) and her writing “looks like chicken scratches.”

Nova’s foster parents are the only ones outside of her sister who ever knew how smart she was, how she can read and has a rich inner life. She’s obsessed with astronomy and could have answered questions from her special astronomy elective teacher if she’d had a way to communicate. One of her special ed classmates speaks sign language, and I found myself wondering why Nova didn’t. But it’s 1986 and it’s enough of a challenge to get the school to realize she can read.

Nova and her sister had previously lived in many different foster homes since being taken away from their mentally ill mother (possibly schizophrenia is hinted at) when Nova was 5. Their grand plan was to run away once Bridget turned 18 and could take care of them. But now Bridget is gone and Nova doesn’t know where. When the launch comes and goes (with disastrous results), Nova finally comes to terms with the truth about where her sister has gone and what it means for her.

Panteleakos is a special ed teacher with experience in the foster care world. She has a list of credentials as long as my arm and also did a ton of research with other experts. However, she is not herself autistic, and in light of recent scrutiny surrounding the ASD community, I have to remain skeptical unless a member of that community endorses this book.

The other caveat for me was that I would have liked the full lyrics to David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity,” which she quotes throughout the story (sometimes creating significant parts of the plot), which I only sort of know, and which was running around in pieces in my head the whole time.

Cardboard by Doug TenNapel

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
Cam’s dad needs a birthday present for his son that doesn’t cost anything. A mysterious man gives him some cardboard and challenges him to use his imagination. The cardboard comes with specific, if odd, instructions: to return every scrap they don’t use, and they cannot ask for more. Cam’s dad lugs it home feeling despondent, but Cam is surprisingly game to try it and they make a man who then comes to life. Things quickly spiral out of control when the evil kid next door, Marcus, gets hold of the cardboard replicator they’ve also built (out of the magic cardboard) and starts building his own army of cardboard people. They build a whole world and then turn on the humans and it gets very dark, very fast. Marcus and Cam also have a moment of connection at one point, and Cam’s dad comes around and opens up to the woman next door who has expressed her interest in him, but he has previously been too absorbed in grieving his late wife. All in all, a surprisingly deep story full of adventure and suspense!

Out of Left Field by Ellen Klages

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by Ellen Klages
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Ten-year-old Katy Gordon is the best pitcher in the neighborhood. Even a Little League scout thinks so – until he learns she’s a girl, and then it’s game over. With two tomboy sisters and a self-made woman for a single mom, it’s no surprise that Katy dreams big. But for 1957, she’s stuck in her gender role, until she learns about all the other women who have played professionally for the past 60 years. Katy’s best friend, Jules, isn’t quite as much of a tomboy as she is, but it’s easy to see why the two are friends, even through the awkward reunion scene when Jules gets back from camp. Katy’s story is set against the backdrop of the beginnings of the civil rights movement, the space race, and the end of San Francisco’s minor league era with the arrival of major league Giants.

There are some seriously strong women in this story. Katy’s family, for starters; but also her Aunt Babs, who is as into baseball as she is and takes her and Jules to a double header for her birthday. There’s also Jules’ student teacher; the middle school gym teacher; and her classmate Chip’s aunt, who played for the Negro Leagues (based on a real woman). There’s a scene where Katy goes to Chip’s family barbecue to talk to his aunt and is the only white person there; not much is made of it, but in the year of the Little Rock integration (which they had been discussing in school), I was surprised not to get more internal reaction from Katy. I did like that she got in the newspaper in the end, and that she got to spend a day shadowing a sports reporter to cover the brand new San Francisco Giants major league team.

Nothing changes for Katy on the Little League front, and won’t until she’s too old to play, but she learns that some rewards for your work come for others down the line, and the story ends with a sweet scene between her and a younger neighbor girl who looks up to her. I loved Katy’s relationship with her mother, who has two older daughters and is very relaxed about parenting Katy, talking to her like a grownup a lot and knowing when to let her play hooky for important life experiences. My partner’s aunt grew up in San Francisco in the 1940s and 50s and loves baseball; I plan to get her this book as a gift. I’ll also see how the kids in my 4th/5th grade book club like it! I also learned that Klages wrote two other books which appear to be about Katy’s older sisters, and this is not listed as being part of that series, which is curious to me.

(Update: After I finished this, I was very much in the mood to rewatch A League of Their Own, which held up exceedingly well. I had forgotten entire scenes, like when the African American woman throws a baseball back to the main characters – the briefest and subtlest of nods to the fact that there were African American female baseball players then too, and I wondered why the movie didn’t talk more about them. And then, the next day, the Jewish Women’s Archive shared an article about one of the Jewish women who played on the team, and I realized I forgot to address Katy’s Jewish heritage! Both Katy (and, to a lesser extent, Jules) are very assimilated, which is maybe not surprising for post-Holocaust Jewish Americans. There’s also an article called The Hidden Queer History Behind a League of Their Own, which was really good, and reminds me that Katy’s aunt, who loves baseball, is very briefly referred to as having a roommate, subtly informing the reader that she might be gay.)

For fans of: The Lions of Little Rock and It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel (though not as funny)

Sandwalk Adventures by Jay Hosler

9781482385007

by Jay Hosler
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

A graphic novel about two mites living in Charles Darwin’s eyebrow follicles who believe him to be God. Throughout their conversations with Darwin, they learn that not only is he not a god, but all about natural selection, survival of the fittest, and evolution. The lessons are both explicit and implicit, told through allegories of what is happening in the storyline on a meta level. Overall, very creatively and clearly done. And also, ridiculous – for the naturalist/atheist in your life! (There is a tiny little bit about reproduction, just fyi.)

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

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by Victoria Jamieson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Now that Imogene is 11 years old, she is ready to leave her Renaissance Faire family behind and attend public school for the first time. For a little while, things go fine – she makes friends relatively easily and keeps her weirdo family secret, and even gets to be a (paid!) knight in the Faire instead of just helping out her mom and little brother at the store. That is, until the ringleader of the group starts being mean. Impy meets another classmate, Anita, at the Ren Faire. Impy doesn’t understand middle school social structures that dictate that they must never be seen together at school, so Anita spells it out for her and things go on. Eventually Impy’s family “secret” comes out, but even then it’s not so bad. Her lab mate is cute and seems to like her, and things are good. But then Imogene, in an attempt to win the mean girl’s approval, draws caricatures of the teachers and other kids and mean girl copies them and tapes them up all over school and it all comes crumbling down. Imogene is suspended and her parents learn that she’s failing science. And it gets worse from there. But take heart! Our fearless knight eventually figures out how to make amends to Anita and to her brother (whom she’s also hurt in the process) and everything gets better. She learns that she can’t just run away from her mistakes and go back to being homeschooled, and she even figures out a little bit of how to deal with mean girls and have friends who will help her stand up to bullies.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

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Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi… he already knew they were being set up by their parents, but she didn’t. So when he led with “Hello, future wife,” she understandably freaks out, throws her iced coffee on him, and runs away. Unfortunately, they’ve both signed up for the same 6-week pre-college app coding program, so getting away from him for good turns out to be futile, as is resisting his charms. Somehow, he’s the total package: nerdy, cute, funny, sensitive, suave (well except for the future wife part). Dimple, however, is not interested. She isn’t even sure she wants to get married, ever, since it would (she thinks) detract from her life goals of coding apps and programs to help change people’s lives.

After an alarmingly short time, Rishi has won Dimple over, so clearly that’s not the real conflict of the story. The real conflict is in two parts: one in which Dimple helps Rishi discover his real career ambitions, and one in which Rishi helps Dimple realize she can be in a relationship and be a career woman. There’s also a couple of side plots involving Dimple’s roommate at the summer program, a girl named Celia whose new friends turn out to be jerks. Celia and Rishi’s brother, Ashish, have a past that comes back up, and also Celia has to figure out how to dump her new friends – and come around to the understanding that she needs to lose them.

I guess I was expecting that the main story would be Rishi winning Dimple over, but in the end I’m glad that’s not what it was. I’m glad that Dimple was a little bit more complex than that, and really grappled with commitment to a relationship AND to her career ambitions, and all at the low low age of 18. Rishi is so level-headed that he stops them from having sex on not one but two different occasions so that they can really sort through how they feel about it (it’s the first time for both of them). I was a little disappointed that neither of them walked us through their thought process at all, or seemed to give it any thought other than when actively making out and heading down that road. And it didn’t seem to have any great effect on either of them, not even, most surprisingly, for Rishi the romantic. Both of their relationships with their parents (and, for Rishi, his brother) had plenty of nuance, which I loved, and things came together neatly and satisfyingly.

Geek love like: Geek’s Guide to Unrequited Love

Generic love like: Anna and the French Kiss

 

Timeless Thomas: How Thomas Edison Changed Our Lives by Gene Barretta

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by Gene Barretta
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This nonfiction book explores several of Edison’s more well-known inventions and how they were precursors to today’s modern life. The large, color cartoon illustrations are appealing and feature diverse children. I really liked that each page spread started with something in the present day on the left, and then explored which of Edison’s inventions it came from on the right. There is also a timeline, a little information about many of the scientists Edison employed, and Thomas Trivia. My favorite fact is that, while Edison championed the use of “hello” for answering the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell wanted people to answer the phone by saying “ahoy hoy.” Try it – it’s fun!