Module 11: Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

bomb

Book Cover Image:

 Image Credit: Campbell County Public Library. (2015)http://www.ccpls.org.

Book Summary:

Sheinkin’s nonfiction account explores the discoveries, explorations, betrayals and experiments leading up to – and beyond – the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, at the end of World War II.  He begins at the end — with the investigation of the spying activities of Harry Gold, a United States chemist who spied for the Soviet Union throughout World War II.  Sheinkin then flashes back to the beginning of the story, presenting biographical information about Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who would eventually head up the U. S. team that developed the atomic bomb.  From there, Sheinkin skillfully leads readers through the scientific and political developments that led to the bombing; through multiple espionage campaigns involving the FBI, the KGB, and the OES; through the research and testing of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico; and through the final devastation of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  At each new development of the story, a photo gallery introduces the key players in that part of the action.  Sheinkin ends his thorough exploration by addressing the aftermath of the atomic bomb, the development of nuclear weapons, and the resulting arms race.

 APA Reference of Book:

Sheinkin, S., & Colvin, J. (2012). Bomb: The race to build–and steal–the world’s most dangerous weapon. New York: Roaring Brook Press., & R.R. Donnelley and Sons Company.
 

Impressions:

I have been delaying reading this book for several years, mostly because the book cover seemed uninteresting.  Although I understand the historical accuracy of the cover — a background of a mushroom cloud, with a representation of The Enola Gay in front — the color and images do not draw the reader in.   The cover, however,  belies what lies within the book.  From the beginning, Sheinkin creates an atmosphere of intrigue, suspense, and urgency, all while remaining historically accurate.  His explanations of the physics of atomic energy make the concept understandable for the target audience; his descriptions of the competing teams of scientists make real the concept that World War II was fought on many fronts.  Most interesting are the multiple stories of espionage.  His skillful placement of these spy stories in the midst of the most detailed scientific developments demonstrates his understanding of his audience:  at the point when the prose threatens to become too intellectual, the action of espionage draws the reader back in.  Despite the less-than-dramatic cover, this story engages the reader from the beginning.   Not only did I thoroughly enjoy Sheinkin’s book, I learned much about the atomic arms race, as well.

Professional Review:

” While comprehensive in his synthesis of the political, historical, and scientific aspects of the creation of the first nuclear weapon, Sheinkin focuses his account with an extremely alluring angle: the spies. The book opens in 1950 with the confession of Harry Gold – but to what? And thus we flash back to Robert Oppenheimer in the dark 1930s, as he and readers are handed another question by the author: “But how was a theoretical physicist supposed to save the world?” Oppenheimer’s realization that an atomic bomb could be created to use against Nazi Germany is coupled with the knowledge that the Germans must be working from the same premise, and the Soviets are close behind. We periodically return to Gold’s ever-deepening betrayals as well as other acts of espionage, most excitingly the two stealth attacks on occupied Norway’s Vemork power plant, where the Germans were manufacturing heavy water to use in their own nuclear program. As he did in the 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner The Notorious Benedict Arnold, Sheinkin here maintains the pace of a thriller without betraying history (source notes and an annotated bibliography are exemplary) or skipping over the science; photo galleries introducing each section help readers organize the events and players. Writing with journalistic immediacy, the author eschews editorializing up through the chilling last lines: “It’s a story with no end in sight. And, like it or not, you’re in it.”

Review Source:
Sutton, R. (2012). Bomb: The race to build-and steal-the world’s most dangerous weapon. [A review of Bomb: The race to build – and steal – the world’s most dangerous weapon by S. Sheinkin.] The Horn Book Magazine, 88(6), 127-128.  Retrieved from www.proquest.com.

Library Uses:

 Because of the less-than-interesting cover, this book would be a good candidate for a “Blind Date with a Book” display.  Cover the book, along with others, in colored paper; if desired color-code the books to depict their genre.  Then,  label the books with interesting words that draw the reader in:  for Bomb, use labels such as “Spies!”  “Bombs!” “Undercover Agents!”  Display along with several multi-colored books.

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Module 10: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly

Book Cover Image:

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 Image Credit: Campbell County Public Library. (2015) http://www.ccpls.org.

Book Summary:

Mattie Gokey lives in upstate New York at the end of the 19th century, and does the best to fulfill the role of her deceased mother to her younger siblings.  Her father, distant and aloof since her mother’s death, does not understand Mattie’s desire for an education, and particularly does not understand her love of writing.  For Mattie, however, writing is the one part of her life that brings her freedom and exhilaration.   Her teacher encourages her to apply for a college scholarship, but even though she fills out the paperwork, Mattie can’t see herself actually leaving home and her family responsibilities to pursue a college education.  Compounding this feeling is the fact that she has a suitor, Royal, who seems to yearn for Mattie’s family’s land as much as for Mattie herself.  It seems to Mattie that a life of marriage and family has already been decided for her.

When her family’s financial situation goes from bad to worse,  Mattie convinces her father to allow her to take a summer job at a nearby lake resort.  There,  a young woman named Grace Brown makes an odd request of Mattie:  she hands her a bundle of letters and asks Mattie to burn them; a day later, Grace Brown’s dead body is brought back into the hotel.  She had gone boating with her companion — Mattie is unsure if his name is “Carl” or “Chester” — and it appears that both drowned.  Mattie can’t burn the letters; compelled to discover the story within them, she stays up late reading.  Within Grace’s letters, and Carl/Chester’s replies, Mattie learns the truth about a murder case.  Although Grace is now dead, her letters help Mattie to step out into a life of her own design.

 APA Reference of Book:

Donnelly, J. (2003). A northern light: a novel. New York: Harcourt.
 

Impressions:

The powerful story of how societal norms and expectations destroy one young woman’s life, and threaten to destroy another’s, captured me from the beginning of Donnelly’s novel.  In particular, the innocent, unsuspecting voice of Grace, revealed  through the letters Mattie reads, is unforgettable.  Donnelly’s style masterfully weaves together Mattie’s story, Grace’s letters, and the subplots about family and friends in the North Woods.

However, when I read the author’s notes at the end of the novel, and there discovered the truth of the Chester Gillette murder trial, and of how Donnelly came to learn of the story, my appreciation for this well-written, historically accurate novel grew.  The letters from Grace are not fictional, but based on actual letters that were presented as evidence during the trial.  Adding to the authenticity of the story is the thorough bibliography upon which Donnelly based the facts of the novel.  Donnelly notes that, “My grandmother, who worked as a waitress in a Big Moose camp in the twenties, says Grace Brown still haunts the lake.  Her letters will always haunt me.” (p. 383)  I would add that this novel, one of the most well-crafted I’ve read, will haunt me, as well.

Professional Review:

“Jennifer Donnelly’s first book for adolescents is a love story, historical novel, murder mystery, and coming-of-age tale all rolled into one engaging work of literature. The novel is based, in part, upon the sensationalistic true story of the murder of Grace Brown, whose body was discovered in the waters of Big Moose Lake, on the edge of the Adirondack Mountains of New York state. Donnelly uses this event to spark and shape an intricate story that is large in scope and powerful in design.

The year is 1906, and 16-year-old Mattie feels trapped. Her mother has died, her elder brother has fled, her father is emotionally distant, and she is now responsible for domestic chores on the family farm, including taking care of her younger sisters. These responsibilities interfere with Mattie’s desire to write. Her liberal-minded teacher, Miss Wilcox, encourages her to apply to Barnard College. Mattie fears, however, that even if she is admitted on scholarship, she will not have the money to go and, more important, will not have the courage to leave her father and sisters when she thinks they need her most.

Mattie’s dilemma is further complicated by Royal Loomis’s romantic interest in her. Mattie admires Louisa May Alcott, Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, and Charlotte Bronte, all of whom refused to give up their writing. . . . Despite this realization, Mattie feels safe and secure when she finds herself in Royal’s arms.

When money gets tight, Mattie convinces her father to allow her to spend the summer working at Glenmore, a resort a few miles up the road from her rural community in the Adirondacks. There, Mattie and her coworkers learn of the death of one of the patrons, a young woman who drowned while boating with her male companion, Carl. Just prior to her death, the woman, Grace, gives Mattie a bundle of letters and begs her to dispose of them. Overtaken by curiosity, Mattie reads the letters and learns the truth behind Grace’s relationship with Carl. This truth drives her to make a difficult decision regarding her own future.”

Review Source:
Glenn, W. J. (2003). A northern light. [A review of A Northern Light by J. Donnelly.]  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47(3), 265-265,268.  Retrieved from www.proquest.com

Library Uses:

The Chester Gillette murder trial, the historical event upon which A Northern Light is based, was also the inspiration for Theodore Dreiser’s play, An American Tragedy.  In a high school library setting, create a rotating display of novels, plays, and nonfiction books that correspond to the time period being studied in history classes.  When the early twentieth century is the focus of study, make arrangements with the history teacher to booktalk this novel; if one of the literature classes is reading An American Tragedy, booktalk the novel there, as well.

Module 9: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Book Cover Image:

verity

 Image Credit: Campbell County Public Library. (2015) http://www.ccpls.org.

Book Summary:

The friendship between Maddie and Julie begins when they meet as enlisted girls in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1939, at the beginning of Great Britain’s involvement in World War II.  It ends on a riverbank in occupied France in 1943. The story of the relationship that builds in between these times is revealed, scrap by scrap, by Julie, who writes on pieces of paper she earns by trading bits of British radio code with her Nazi captors.  Just before Julie – also known as Verity, Katharina, Eva, and Queenie — is captured, the plane she and Maddie are flying crashes in Nazi-occupied France.  Julie, under threat of torture and execution, gradually reveals British code and landing strip locations to the Gestapo, in exchange for her life and the ink and paper she holds dear.  Her rambling story of her friendship with Maddie, interspersed with almost casual descriptions of her suffering at the hands of the Nazis, builds the first half of the novel.  In the second half, the story is narrated by Maddie, who fills in details of how Julie came to be in France in the first place, tells of attempts to rescue her, and gives the reader the final, gut-wrenching conclusion.

 APA Reference of Book:

Wein, E. (2012). Code name Verity. New York: Hyperion.
 

Impressions:

In a good mystery novel, the ending shocks the reader, tears down all the inferences previously constructed, and yet concludes the story in a way that perfectly solves the puzzle.  This description perfectly captures my reaction at the end of Code Name Verity.  So many loose ends are suddenly, shockingly, tied up in Maddie’s portion of the novel, and the final conclusion, though terribly sad, is also profoundly satisfying.  Wein portrays the main characters, Maddie and Julie, precisely by not portraying them:  by instead letting the intrigue and mystery of the story carry the reader along just as it does Julie’s inquisitors.  Her masterful use of the technique of the unreliable narrator leaves the reader wondering what parts of Julie’s writings are truth, and what parts are fabrications; ironically, her code name, Verity, means truth.  Usually I can figure out a mystery novel halfway through, and then continue to read just to see if my conclusion is correct.  Not so in Code Name Verity:  I did not foresee the final ending until I read it, sobbing the entire time. Code Name Verity is more than a mystery novel: it is at once a mystery, a spy novel, and a brilliant example of historical fiction. This is a perspective of World War II not often seen in Young Adult novels; interestingly, the Nazi interrogators, though brutal, retain human qualities in Wein’s hands.  Ultimately, though, this is a story of love and friendship despite horrible circumstances, in the face of pure evil.  One friend sacrifices her life for the other; the other returns the favor by sacrificing her innocence.

Professional Review:

” If you pick up this book, it will be some time before you put your dog-eared, tear-stained copy back down. Wein succeeds on three fronts: historical verisimilitude, gut-wrenching mystery, and a first-person voice of such confidence and flair that the protagonist might become a classic character – if only we knew what to call her. Alternately dubbed Queenie, Eva, Katharina, Verity, or Julie depending on which double-agent operation she’s involved in, she pens her tale as a confession while strapped to a chair and recovering from the latest round of Gestapo torture. The Nazis want the codes that Julie memorized as a wireless operator before crash-landing in France, and she supplies them, but along the way also tells of her fierce friendship with Maddie, a British pilot whose quiet gumption was every bit as impressive as Julie’s brash fearlessness. Though delivered at knifepoint, Julie’s narrative is peppered with dark humor and minor acts of defiance, and the tension that builds up between both past and present story lines is practically unbearable. A surprise change of perspective hammers home the devastating final third of the book, which reveals that Julie was even more courageous than we believed. Both crushingly sad and hugely inspirational, this plausible, unsentimental novel will thoroughly move even the most cynical of readers.”

Review Source:
Kraus, D. (2012). Review: Code name verity. [A review of the book Code Name Verity by E. Wein] The Booklist, 108(17), 50.  Retrieved from www.proquest.com.

Library Uses:

Create a display about World War II, pairing fiction and nonfiction works.  Include Code Name Verity; The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak; Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepeyts; and The Boy who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti as examples of fiction.  Pair Code Name Verity with an autobiographical nonfiction book about a real female double agent, Code Name Pauline: Memoirs of a World War II Special Agent by Pearl Witherington Cornioley.

Module 3: Locomotive by Brian Floca

Book Cover Image:

FLoca locomotive
 Image Credit: Campbell County Public Library. (2015) http://www.ccpls.org

Book Summary:

Floca’s nonfiction picture book takes the reader on a journey across the United States, on the newly-constructed transcontinental railroad.  Floca begins his work with background information about the building of the line, and then follows travelers on  the long journey across the continent to California.  Along the way, the reader learns about the steam engines that powered across the country; about the daily, mundane details of railway travel; about the various characters who work the railroad and keep the trains running. Illustrations depict everything from the massive steam engines, to the workers and travelers on board the train, to the dusty towns along the way.   In addition to the story of Locomotive, Floca adds rich front- and back-matter for further reading and exploration.

APA Reference of Book:

Floca, B. (2013). Locomotive. New York: Antheneum Books for Young Readers.
 

Impressions:

Locomotive both won the Caldecott Medal in 2014, and was named an honor book for the Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal.  Floca’s work demonstrates the use of illustration to both educate and entertain.  In Locomotive, the illustrations of the trains are larger than most of the other illustrations in the book, sometimes even disproportionately: the train images take up entire pages, while images of entire towns fill only a small part of a page. In this way, Floca conveys – with complete historical accuracy – that in 1869, the railroad was king, and the people and towns along its way only existed to serve it. Images of the train, the people who work on the railroad, and the passengers are colorful and full of detail and movement.  Conversely, the images of the rail towns are dry, drab and desolate. Adding to the effect of the illustrations are the fonts of the actual text.  Floca utilizes large, elaborate fonts to depict varying  effects in the story: noise, growth, effort, or resolution.  In this manner, Floca teaches readers how text can be altered to convey additional emotion or meaning — an important concept in our visually-oriented world.

Professional Review:

From School Library Journal:  “It all started with “a new road of rails/made for people to ride” where “covered wagons used to crawl.” Almost 150 years ago–just after the Civil War–the completion of the transcontinental railway radically changed both this country’s landscape and the opportunities of its people. The book traces the advent of cross-country train travel, focusing on an early trip from Omaha to Sacramento. As in Moonshot (2009) and Lightship (2007, both S & S), Floca proves himself masterful with words, art, and ideas. The book’s large format offers space for a robust story in a hefty package of information. Set in well-paced blank verse, the text begins with a quick sketch of “how this road was built” and moves abruptly to the passengers on the platform and the approaching train. The author smoothly integrates descriptions of the structure and mechanics of the locomotive, tasks of crew members, passing landscapes, and experiences of passengers. Simply sketched people and backgrounds, striking views of the locomotive, and broad scenes of unpopulated terrain are framed in small vignettes or sweep across the page. Though a bit technical in explaining engine parts, the travelogue scheme will read aloud nicely and also offers absorbing details for leisurely personal reading. Substantial introductory and concluding sections serve older readers. There’s also a detailed explanation of the author’s efforts and sources in exploring his subject. Train buffs and history fans of many ages will find much to savor in this gorgeously rendered and intelligent effort.”

Review Source:
Bush, M. (2013, July 15). Pick of the Day: Locomotive. [Review of the book Locomotive by B. Floca] School Library Journal. Retrieved from http://blogs.slj.com/.

Library Uses:

Use Locomotive with 3rd or 4th graders to start a writing/publishing unit including elements of graphic design. Talk about how the bigger, more elaborate fonts convey meaning:  how should these words be read aloud?  What about words that are italicized?  How do the different fonts add to the mood of the story?  After discussing the visual elements of the text,  have students alter the text of a piece of their own writing; use Microsoft Word to vary fonts and sizes, according to the intention and mood of the text.