Showing posts with label WORTHY!. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WORTHY!. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Emily's Runaway Imagination by Beverly Cleary


Rating: WORTHY!

Read competently by Christina Moore, this was a pleasant listen - not spectacular, but highly amusing in parts. In other parts it was slow, but overall, I considered it a worthy listen.

Set about four years after the author was born, in the early 20th century, this 1961 novel tells the story of Emily Bartlett, who is the young daughter of a farming couple in the hamlet of Pitchfork Oregon, and she has some peculiar ideas about what to do with her time. She seems to expend a lot of thought on how others will perceive her, and not enough though on whether what she's doing is smart or even makes sense, and she seems to have some sort of learning disability in that she never really learns!

Her biggest dream in life appears to be to read Anna Sewell's 1877 novel Black Beauty and so she enthusiastically helps her mother with a plan to start a local library, which they do in bits and pieces over the course of the novel. I'm not sure if 'runaway imagination' accurately describes Emily. It's not like she's a Walter Mitty character, but she does come up with one odd scheme after another. These are usually cooked up in pursuit of self-aggrandizement, but sometimes they're rooted in thoughts of helping others, such as when she tosses fermenting apples into the pig yard and gets the pigs drunk on the cider in the apples.

There's an arguably racist part near the beginning of the novel where Emily corrects a venerable Chinese gentleman who mispronounces her dog's name with the clichéd 'l' substituted for an 'r'. He greets the dog as 'Plince' rather than 'Prince' and Emily corrects him, so it goes viral (such as it was able in those days) and the dog is known by its new name for the rest of the story.

The dog and pony show really got underway though, when Emily decided to bleach her family's plough horse to make a white beauty in celebration of her cousin's visit. Black Beauty is her cousin's favorite story. My problem with this was that not once was any thought given to what the bleach - which was left on for fifteen minutes, might do to the horse's skin and health. If Emily had had the decency to try the bleach solution on her own skin for fifteen minutes, I'd have had a lot more respect for her, but she didn't have that kind of imagination, unfortunately.

But, given the age of the tale and the humor in it, I decided to let this slide this time and commend this as a worthy read, although I'd recommend some discussion with your child(ren) - after words afterwards (or during, if you read it to them!) about correct conduct and empathy. I would have thought a farm girl like Emily would have had a lot more smarts than she did, but the story wasn't bad, so there it is!


Friday, January 11, 2019

An American Plague by Jim Murphy


Rating: WORTHY!

The attribution of this audiobook is rather misleading in more than one way. Jim Murphy was really the editor, not the writer. I had initially thought that this would be a dramatization, but it was the dry reading (very dry and pedantic delivery by reader Pat Bottino) of a bunch of diary and journal entries, medical reports and newspaper articles (such as they were back then) about the epidemic of Yellow Fever that laid Philadelphia low in 1793. These were strung together with some narrative from the author.

The book was listed in the local library among the children's books, but I cannot imagine for a minute that very many children, especially not younger children, would find this remotely entertaining, or even educational because they wouldn't sit through it, or they would tune it out.

For me it gave me two different ideas which I can use in future novels, and it was interesting. It's a very graphic story which pulls no punches in describing bodily emissions under duress from this nasty disease caused by a virus carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Today we can vaccinate against this, and treat it for those who become infected, but with climate change already rampaging across the globe, this is one of many thoroughly noxious diseases that will doubtlessly spread.

Back in 1793, when Pennsylvania had an appreciable amount of skeeter-breeding swamp, and when the disease process wasn't remotely understood, this thing got out of control and eventually killed one in ten of the original population of the city. That's nowhere near the death toll exacted by the 'Great Plague' of medieval Europe, nor is it even a match for the same plague which struck the USA in 2015 killing one in four victims, although the death toll there was considerably smaller despite the higher rate.

Why Murphy chose to title this 'An American Plague', as though it affects no one else is a mystery smacking of self-importance and pretension. Not everything is about the USA! This book isn't even about the USA as such, it's about one city; although Philly was the seat of government, and relations between it and other cities are mentioned towards the end, including some shameful as well as generous conduct.

In 1793, Washington was president and the government was located in Philly, but heroic George wasted little time vacating the city. He fled so hastily that he left behind essential papers which would have enabled him to do his job. He wasn't so heroic either, when a foreign envoy arrived soliciting his help in siding with France, which had been instrumental in aiding the fledgling USA against Britain. He cold-shouldered the very people who had facilitated the very existence of the USA! He tried to blame this on not having his paperwork with him.

The contribution of African-Americans at least gets its fair due here, which is nice to see. Black nurses were of critical value in a disease-ridden city where everyone was panicking, those who could afford to were leaving in droves. Very few dared come near to others in this highly-religious society for fear of 'contracting' this disease. Germ theory wasn't even a remote twinkle in anyone's eye, and the so-called doctors of the period were obsessed with blood-letting and poisonous purges which did nothing to save lives despite dishonest claims to the contrary. More than likely such dire stratagems actually hastened many a shuffle off this mortal coil. (How is earth a coil? Anyone know? LOL!).

Given that they had some immunity to malaria, it was considered that slaves and free people of color would also be immune to Yellow Fever, but they were not. They died at the same rate as whites, but nonetheless they willingly acted as nurses. So popular were they that people tried to outbid each other for their assistance, and then these same assistants were maliciously accused of callous price-gouging by jackass racists.

It was interesting to read of the problems that people like Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams encountered in trying to attend to their duties. Government was moved (illegally as it happened!) to Germantown ten miles away and Jefferson could not get a decent room. The other two were forced to sleep on benches in a common area. Of course this was before any of them had become president, although they were each men of high importance even then. Another interesting aside was that Dolley would never have become first lady had not the Yellow Fever taken away her first husband, freeing her to marry James Madison later. The plague made a difference to a lot of things and in ways you might not consider at first blush.

As I said, I have grave doubts about both the suitability and utility of this for children, but I consider it a worthy read.


Pugs of the Frozen North by Philip Reeve, Sarah McIntyre


Rating: WORTHY!

The Chinese claim that this is the year of the pig (kick-off February 5th, 2019), but I hereby declare it the year of the pug! It's only a vowel away!

How could I, of all people, not want to pick this up and read it with a title like that? I couldn't resist it, and I was rewarded by an inventive and amusing middle-grade story which I have to say bears some resemblance at one point to the Homeric Odyssey Book 9, wherein Odysseus, having been blown about by the wind for over a week, finally makes it to an island. He discovers that the locals feed on the Lotus (which is often taken to be a flower, but more likely referenced the fruit of a tree). This bears a soporific fruit causing them to abandon all aspiration and industry, and from which he must rescue his men.

So in this novel, having become shipwrecked and abandoned, accidentally or otherwise by the crew, cabin boy Shen finds himself alone with sixty-six pugs, all of whom are shivering. Fortunately, the ship was carrying a cargo of small, woolly sweaters, with which Shen outfits each of the pugs, before embarking on an excursion to explore and find help. He comes across a small native village where he meets a girl named Sika, who curiously is in need of dogs to pull her sled in the local sled race to the top of the world, the winner of which has any wish granted.

The two embark upon the race pulled by the pugs and have several adventures, including meeting a large kraken, and being lured into the Yeti Noodle shack where they become prisoners. This is the Lotus-Eater phase. Yes, the noodles are dreamily good - they're made from special snow, so why wouldn't they be? But the imprisonment is to do the chore of washing dishes to pay for the noodles they ate! Of course they escape.

And after another adventure or two they meet the wish-granter. I thought this was great fun. They completely snowed me with it, and I'm going to see if I can get my icy hands on some of the other books Reeve and collaborator McIntyre have created together.


Friday, January 4, 2019

The Mechanical Horse by Margaret Guroff


Rating: WORTHY!

Subtitled 'How the Bicycle Shaped American Life', this book made for an informative and at times fascinating read and even gave me an idea for a novel - you never know where your next inspiration will come from!

It details the growth, retrenchment and regrowth of the bicycle (and it went through that...cycle...several times) from the earliest bike to modern times, discussing how it impacted not only the obvious - roads - but also other things, such as women's independence and military activities. It tells some great stories and makes for an engrossing book, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Cleopatra in Space by Mike Maihack


Rating: WORTHY!

I encountered this in my luscious local library, and I could hardly not pick it up after writing Cleoprankster! I was curious, since both Maihack's Cleo and mine are roughly the same age (middle grade) what he had done with her.

I'm happy to report that this graphic novel is entirely different from my chapter book. Whereas I tried to be historically accurate and make the book educational - both to an extent! - this one went the other way and made a complete fiction of it, but I enjoyed it and consider it a worthy read.

In this introduction story, Cleo is abducted from Egypt and transported to a futuristic school out in interplanetary space, where she learns combat and weapons inter aliens. Fortunately everyone speaks Greek (which was Cleo's native language, although she spoke many others - at least as an adult - including Egyptian, which none of her Ptolemic forebears ever took the trouble to learn) so there are no language difficulties. Or maybe there's a universal translator in the air. I don't know. It's been a while since I read this! Anyway, Cleo goes on a mission and performs exemplary work, and that's about it. But then this is volume 1, so presumably there's more to come. I don't feel any great urge to rush out and get volume 2, but I might at some point, assuming there's one to be had.

As it is, I commend this as a fun and breezy story, although it won't tell you a thing about Cleopatra. She never did, for example, have a Louise Brooks-style 1920's bob. More than likely she was bald! Because of the head lice which were rife in Egypt, everyone shaved their heads, and kids ran around butt-naked. Cleo would have worn, if anything at all at that age, a wig which she could happily take off and have cleaned and maybe a short skirt. But its fiction, so what the hell!


Lumberjanes Unicron Power by Mariko Tamaki


Rating: WORTHY!

My sometimes stretched love affair with Mariko Tamaki remains intact after this audiobook version of what was initially purely a graphic novel.

Despite this being aimed at a much younger age group than ever I can claim membership of, it was highly amusing, very cute, entertaining, and told a good solid story. It turns out that unicorns aren't what you thought they were. They never were what I thought they were, not after reading (and positively reviewing) Rampant by Diana Peterfreund back in 2013, but here they're altogether different again.

Lumberjanes are a topic over which I evidently have mixed feelings. I love the idea of them, but the graphic novel (Lumberjanes Vol 2 by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke Allen, Maarta Laiho) I picked up and negatively reviewed back in 2016 did not impress me at all. I found it boring and DNF'd it, so perhaps it's testimony to Mariko Tamaki's writing skills that I enjoyed this one so much. One small problem I had with that earlier work was that I could not understand how the title came about. These girls are not the female equivalent of Lumberjacks, not even remotely, so the name is misleading in many regards, but it is amusing.

The title just refers to a series of girl-centric comics, and is set in a summer camp (Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types if you must know). In process of enjoying a field trip, the girls encounter the unicorns and also get stuck on a cloud mountain later. The camp hands out badges, rather like the scouts do, but other than that, nothing much seems to happen except when the girls end up in trouble in one way or another from their own various activities, not all of which are camp sanctioned.

FYI, the Lumberjanes are:

  • Jo, a transgender girl who tends to be a leader and who has the most badges
  • April who is the princess of puns and who takes notes. She's very strong despite her apparently small frame.
  • Molly is an archer of Katniss skills, and is a great puzzle-solver. She wears a pet raccoon named Bubbles as a hat and is right behind Jo in number of badges earned.
  • Mal looks like some rebel girl, but isn't actually like that. She's a great maker of plans.
  • Ripley is young and fearless
On the camp staff are Rosie, the camp master, and Jen, who is the leader of Roanoke cabin, which is the lumberjane's cabin

I enjoyed this listen very much and I commend it as a great introduction to the lumberjanes even though it's not the first story in line.


Monday, December 31, 2018

Parfois by Emma Dodd


Rating: WORTHY!

Definitely the last review for 2018!

The author studied Graphic Design and Illustration at the famous Saint Martin's in London. This was a delightful novel which was perfectly intelligible even though written entirely in French (translated from the original English by Albin Michel Jeunesse). Why my local library had a book written entirely in French, I do not know, but since my French is very rusty and never was fluent, rest assured you would have an easy time too, no matter what state your lingo is in.

This colorful and short book is aimed at very young children, and depicts a naughty baby elephant getting up to antics as such offspring do. It was elphantastic. I predict that this young elephant is going to become very big.


The New Color Mixing Companion by Josie Lewis


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a useful book for artists, going into some interesting and practical detail about color mixing, gradation, shading and tinting. It's patently evident that the author has put in some serious work here. It covers collage, mixed media, and pure paint, and works through examples you can follow practically, exploring various aspects of color mixing as you go.

The book includes a glossary of terms and goes above and beyond color wheels and simple paint-matching and contrasting into a more advanced appreciation of just what color can do and how it can impact the eye. It offers inexpensive solutions and provides a series of printed templates for the practical experimentation and emulation of the examples the author sets. Obviously it's intended as a print book, and presumably using photocopies of these images rather than paint directly in the book(!), but it would be no problem to take a screen-shot of the images in your ebook version, bring them into a computer so they can be printed out to work with them that way.

I found this to be a comprehensive, detailed, and eminently useful contribution to painting, and I commend it as a worthy read.


Creative Coding in Python by Sheena Vaidyanathan


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Erratum:
On page 57, the second text box has 'reminder' instead of 'remainder'.

Sheena Vaidyanathan, a computer science teacher in California, is a respected name in programming education, and this was a fun and easy-to-follow book that introduces anyone to the Python programming language. Python - named after Monty Python - was created by Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum in 1991 and version 3.0 was released in December 2008. It was designed to be sensible, simple in concept although powerful in execution, and very easy to read and understand.

Although I'm not a professional programmer by any means, I have a long programming experience in a variety of languages, so please keep that in mind when I talk about how simple and straight-forward this is! Your mileage may differ, especially if you have no experience, but that won't make any difference to your ability to learn this language if you're willing to apply yourself. As the author explains, the language and the development environment are free, so there is no outlay. It won't cost you a thing to play with it for a couple of weeks and see if you take to it - except for the time you spend on it of course. It's inspired me to try it out even though my main focus and the bulk of my free time these days is devoted to writing fiction.

This book explains simple concepts to begin with, to get you up and running, and expands on these until you're producing much more complex programs without feeling like it's been a pile of hard work to get there. It includes over thirty Projects in art, games, math, and other endeavors, but it doesn't simply tell you to do this and get that result, it opens up creative options whereby you can change the code to achieve new objectives. You can build a chatbot! The book references the first convincing chatbot, ELIZA, named after Eliza Doolittle of Pygmalion (and the better-known My Fair Lady) and created by at MIT by Joseph Weizenbaum, and which I remember tinkering with when I first started learning basic.

One of the benefits of Python is that it can import modules that expand the range of things it can do, so by importing what's known as the Turtle module, you can get it to create some amazing geometric designs and change those designs just be tweaking the code that you write. That's one of the nicest things about this book. In process of teaching, the book enables you to both learn the concepts and take advantage of them, and in tinkering with them, learn them more thoroughly. In the section on using Boolean logic (named after George Boole, a self-taught English mathematician who nevertheless became a professor of mathematics, and who wrote a book The Laws of Thought, which prepared the ground, a century later, for the information age. Here you can use his discoveries to create an adventure game! The book also covers arcade style games.

This is a fun, useful and educational book which will, in easy ways, introduce children and other novices to computer programming. I think it was wonderful; it teaches an important skill and sets up the mind for critical thinking, I commend it highly.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson


Rating: WORTHY!

OK, so I'm willing to admit that I may have overdone it with the graphic novels lately! Anyway, here’s another one, this time aimed at a younger audience, but which entertained me despite that! It was amusing, decently-written, and contained some fun antics. I think kids will love reading or better yet being read to about the escape plans of these classroom pets, especially if you sit ‘em on your knee and activate the story by jogging the kid around a bit to match the pets’ escape activities. I commend it as a short, but colorful and fun story.


Miss Don't Touch Me by Hubert, Fabien Vehlmann Kerascoët


Rating: WORTHY!

Set in 1930s Paris, this was a fun "naughty" (but not too naughty) novel about a young girl Blanche, who sees her sister Agatha murdered by the 'Butcher of the Dances'. No one will believe her, and Agatha is written-off as a suicide. Losing her job as a maid, Blanche seeks work at the Pompadour, an elite brothel, and the only place which might take her in. She's almost laughed out of even there, but once taken in, quickly establishes herself as a mistress of untouchability and the virgin dominatrix.

But she hasn't forgotten her sister and slowly begins to unravel the brutal crime, while fending off assaults from patrons, unwelcome attempts at relieving her of her prized virginity, and shifting allegiances among the call-girls. This made for a different and fun read and I commend it.


The Song of Aglaia by Anne Simon


Rating: WORTHY!

Based loosely on Greek mythology, this rather crudely-drawn graphic novel was a weird and wonderful exploration of the adventures of Aglaia, a sea nymph who is seduced and abandoned by a merman know as Ethel...no, I made that last bit up. There was a merman though, and the pregnant Aglaia is exiled from Oceanid by her cruel father and finds herself wandering until she's made welcome at Mr Kite's circus (yes, that Mr Kite!) and becomes friends with its star, Henry the waltzing horse. But it doesn't end there. It gets even more bizarre!

This first solo graphic novel by Anne Simon traces Aglaia's fall and rise and was a fun and different read from the usual retelling of myths. I commend it.


Rohan at the Louvre by Hirohiko Araki


Rating: WORTHY!

Also known as Toshiyuki Araki, this author's oddball graphic novel tells of a young man's arrival at a boarding house where he encounters a mysterious divorcée, with whom he has an oddball but platonic relationship. Rohan himself wants to be a manganeer of course, dreaming of creating his own comic book. It is this, rather than Rohan himself which attracts the attention of the divorcée, despite her violent treatment of his first effort - because he drew her as a part of it. In a moment they have together, she reveals to him the story of the most evil painting ever put on canvas, and which is kept locked-away in the darkest corner of the Louvre.

A decade later, Rohan discovers that the painting this woman told him of actually exists, and is everything she claimed for it! Beautifully illustrated and artfully told, this was an enjoyable and wistful fantasy tale in more than one way. I commend it as a worthy read.


Becoming Unbecoming by Una


Rating: WORTHY!

Most people outside of Britain have never heard of the Yorkshire Ripper aka Peter Sutcliffe, who attacked women over the decade from 1969 to 1980. He was stopped only when arrested for using false license plates on his car. The entire inquiry was a farce of incompetent British policing. Sutcliffe had been interviewed some nine times during the lengthy inquiry and not once actually suspected of being the perp. Even after his arrest, he was able to slip away from police and hide incriminating evidence under pretence of having to take a leak!

The fact that many of his victims were prostitutes meant that police did not give this murderer the attention required to catch him. This is all disturbing, but not nearly as disturbing as the fact that he somehow got to be that way in the first place. Unfortunately, that critical factor is not explored in this story - not for him, nor for the perps who assaulted the author.

This autobiographic novel is set in 1977 after Sutcliffe had assaulted several women and murdered at least two, and yet was still several years away from being caught. The author was twelve and became herself the victim of assaults. Though fortunately not fatal, they nevertheless left an indelible mark. These parallel stories build slowly, and sometimes the reading was frankly boring. Other times it was highly disturbing in a way that complacent people need to be disturbed if this continuing abuse of women is to be stopped, so this is an uncomfortable read, as it ought to be, but one that also ought to be required reading. I commend it.


Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick, David Serlin


Rating: WORTHY!

Created by married couple Selznick and Serlin, this is a fun children's book which follows PI Baby Monkey on several jobs, all of which seem to follow a curiously rote format. He has a problem reported to him; he reads books; he takes notes, he has a snack; he puts on his pants; he follows footprints, and nails the perp every time!

Have you lost your marbles? Er, jewels? Baby Monkey will find them with horse-sense (the zebra did it). Spaceship stolen? Baby Monkey won't space out! Pizza gone missing? Baby Monkey will slice and dice it and blow through the bologna. With Selznick's striking illustrations and Serlin's repetitive and instructional prose, any enterprising young child can learn to read more good with a book like this! I commend it as a fun read for young children and their grown-ups! You can read an amusing interview about the making of Baby Monkey here: https://www.shelf-awareness.com/max-issue.html?issue=270#m575 (URL good as of this posting).


We Build Our Homes by Laura Knowles, Chris Madden


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a fun and educational story about animals that build. Be it homes or a means to attract a mate, they do a workmanlike and wonderful job, and they live all over the world.

In a series of colorful and beautifully-done illustrations by Chris Madden, and with some rather poetic prose from Laura Knowles, the story is told from the animal's perspective and describes (from the blurb): "mammals, birds, and insects [which] can be found building incredible things. From biggest beaver dams to tinniest caddisfly cases...." There are the exotic, such as ovenbirds, which build adobe huts on tree branches, and the amazing Darwin's bark spiders, which build gigantic webs, to the more mundane, such as moles, to the highly endangered by human stupidity and lethargy: polar bears, who can build a toasty home out of icy snow in bitterly cold weather, and then starve themselves for five months while their cubs almost literally suck them dry!

The book doesn't focus solely on fluffy mammals like too many children's books do, but covers some insects, reptiles, as well as birds, and features some more grown-up details in the back for interested adults - and every adult should be interested in what we're doing to our home even as these animals struggle to continue to build their own. Every kid needs to be raised with a deep appreciation for nature and for the damage humans can do when we think only of ourselves and not of our home - Planet Earth, Anything which can bring kids a keener awareness of nature, and how it works, and how delicate some of it is, is to be welcomed, and I commend this for being an important part of that education.


Colorways: Watercolor Flowers by Bley Hack


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've been posting several reviews on various art forms, and here's another to add to the collection, which will doubtlessly be my last art book review this year. This one, part of a 'Colorways' art series, focuses on the delicate art of watercolor flowers and how to achieve various looks and effects with this ethereal medium.

The author offers hints and tips from her own personal experience, including useful techniques such as wet-into-wet painting, washes, gradations, and glazing, as well as step-by-step instruction on achieving certain effects such as capturing a rose bloom for example, which by any other name still looks as sweet! The book includes advice on how to keep a painting frame of mind when your tools are not to hand - or better yet, when you have a camera to hand to capture ideas for future paintings, and in this day and age, who doesn't have a cellphone camera? Hey if you don't, go get one for art's sake!

The book goes beyond just watercolors and into collage with a step-by-step on creating a picture frame made from a watercolor, and I enjoyed reading this and adding to my stock of general knowledge even though I don't have any immediate plans to immerse myself in this demanding medium. I commend this as a worthy read, and a useful tool for anyone interested in improving their watercolor technique.


Calligraphic Drawing by Schin Loong


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I've been reviewing several books on art recently, including one on calligraphy, and this one adds to the collection of those I commend both for their artistry and their teaching.

This one particularly intrigued me because I've never seen a calligraphy book which really talks about art as opposed to writing. The closest most calligraphy books get to art (although arguably, calligraphy itself is art, but you know what I mean - I hope!) is in the flourishes and embellishments added to the written word, but this one goes a step further and is solely about art, with writing added here and there as a kind of embellishment!

Clearly the author is a master of this form, at least as judged through my amateur eyes. The creations she has on display here are charming, inventive, accomplished, and beautiful to behold, but this is not an art gallery, it's an instructional book which takes you through the steps she followed to make these images of (from the book blurb) "pigeon, swan, crane, rooster, jellyfish, goldfish, peacock, parrot, owl, raccoon, elephant, puppy, rabbit, fox, and zebra." That list doesn't do the book justice though, because the real art is in the hints and tips of how to get these ideas from your mind onto the page via your pen, and there are plenty of those, provided by someone who has clearly, been there, done that, and got the calligraphy art to prove it!

I was inspired by this and with the timely help of a Christmas gift card and the untiring assistance of a Barnes and Noble employee (you don't get this at Amazon!) was able to find and buy a modest calligraphy set myself, to start my own practice which will probably not make perfect, but which will give me a great deal of satisfaction, I don't doubt! Who knows, maybe a future book in The Little Rattuses series will have a calligraphic element? I doubt very much it will be to the standard exhibited by this author, but hope springs eternal in rats, you know! I commend this book highly, and not only for being a thing of beauty, but also being a thing of great utility. It'll be a joy to be holding this book in your hands!


Leonardo's Science Workshop by Heidi Olinger


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a fun book advertised as a STEAM book, which to me was confusing until I realized it meant STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, (and) Mathematics. I've never known it to be referred to as STEAM, although it does have other acronyms that have been used from time to time. To the best of my knowledge, the America COMPETES Act of 2007 refers to it as STEM, although the companion book I also review today includes Art, so maybe that's where they're pulling the 'A' from.

Frequently referencing Leonardo da Vinci, who was not a steampunk (in case you wondered!), but an artist, inventor and innovator, this book introduces youngsters to his work and through it to a look at science, nature, and even some art. Growing up with no formal education, Leonardo from Vinci nevertheless mastered a multidisciplinary approach to topics and excelled in pretty much everything he explored.

And he explored a lot, which gives this book a huge platform to launch an assortment of explorations itself, including flight, motion, 3D illusions, and even an electron dance, as well as making your own fabric from recycled plastics. Yes, depending on the age/ability of the child, some adult help may be required here to pursue all these topics, especially since da Vinci isn't the only great thinker of yesteryear who is called upon. Other well-known names are Galileo Galilei, James Clerk Maxwell, and Isaac Newton, so you know this needs to be approached with a certain amount of gravity, although an Apple computer isn't required....

I do ahve to point out that the airfoil explanation on page 20 is not correct. NASA’s own web page here: https://www.grc.nasa.gov/www/k-12/airplane/wrong1.html explains. Wikipedia also has an explanation: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lift_(force) . It’s also questionable whether Galileo Galilei dropped lead balls from the tower in Pisa, but likely he did a similar experiment rolling balls down a ramp. He wasn’t the first, though. John Philoponus did it a millennium before Galileo, and it was definitely done by Dutch scientists in the late sixteenth century.

More spectacularly, astronaut David Scott did it on the Moon during his Apollo 15 mission using a hammer and a feather, which in the Moon’s near-vacuum, both hit the ground at the same time. And on the topic of Moon astronauts, Neil Armstrong actually said, "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” It’s just that the ‘a’ got lost. If you listen very carefully you can just about catch a brief hesitation where he says it. If the first person to set foot on the moon had been a woman, I'd be willing to bet she would have said 'humankind', but I guess we'll never know!

Anyway, I commend this book as a fun and entertaining occupation for young - but not too young - children.


Leonardo's Art Workshop by Amy Leidtke


Rating: WORTHY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This is a companion to the other book I reviewed today (Leonardo's Science Workshop), and is aimed at the arts, again through the lens of Leonardo of Vinci's accomplishments, and often referring to his own art and notebooks, of which he left many - although nowhere near as many as he wrote, it appears.

Leonardo never saw any separation between the topics of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, commonly referenced today under the acronym STEM (not STEAM, as these books term it). Leonardo always went deep into a subject if he went at all, wanting to understand not the superficial, but the integral, and this book follows his example, offering fun and delightfully messy topics like creating paints and dyes from food, as well as beautiful ones, such as working with prisms, and other aspects of using light for art, such as building a camera obscura, as well as understanding what light is.

Art of the past is explored in entertaining and practical ways such as in contour drawing, and to keep things in perspective, there's also a discussion of one-point perspective drawing. Science and art are brought together, in much the way Leonardo himself did, by exploring ideas and work by such artists as Sandro Botticelli and Paul Klee, and such scientists as Sir Isaac Newton and Leonardo Fibonacci.

There's a bad error on page 95 where an eight inch diameter circle is determined to have an area of fifty square feet! I think they meant fifty inches! Also page 109 on 'Spectacular Spans' has a color key which shows valley folds blue, but image shows them green. Whether this was just in my electronic copy I do not know, but if it's in the print version it needs correcting.

If you have time (and who doesn't?!), you can make your own sundial using information in this book, or even an infinity scope which sounds a lot more dangerous than it really is! The sundial isn't just a project. You learn in reading about it, not only how it was made, but why it was made the way it was - so please, do touch that dial! This is the approach throughout the book and is an excellent learning opportunity for any young child. I commend this book as a worthy read.