J Science

AN AMERICAN PLAGUE: THE TRUE AND TERRIFYING STORY OF THE YELLOW FEVER EPIDEMIC OF 1793 by Jim Murphy

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In the summer of 1793, Philadelphia was a hot and foul smelling place.  Sewage and the bodies of dead animals festered in the streets, swarmed by flies, mosquitos, and other insects.  When the first few people died, doctors assumed that they had succumbed to the typical summer illnesses believed to be caused by “foul smells.”  But more people began to fall ill, and soon the death count had risen to dozens—then over a hundred—each day.  Many fled the devastating disease that turned its victims yellow and caused them to spew black bile and blood.  But others risked their lives to stay in Philadelphia and search for a cure.  Jim Murphy tells the story of one of America’s most famous epidemics, focusing on the doctors and nurses who tried to treat the fever’s victims in a time of limited medical knowledge.  The story an interesting glimpse into the history of medicine, though it is not as gripping as some of Jim Murphy’s other nonfiction books which have a stronger “survival story” element.  An American Plague is more history than survival story, but is still a fascinating read.

If you liked An American Plague, you might like other books by Jim Murphy, Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, and A Time of Angels by Karen Hesse.

EXTREME SCIENTISTS: EXPLORING NATURE’S MYSTERIES FROM PERILOUS PLACES by Donna M. Jackson

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What would it be like to fly an airplane to the center of a deadly hurricane?  To squeeze through a tiny crevice hundreds of feet below the Earth’s surface?  Or to dangle from a tree branch hundreds of feet above the ground?  Donna M. Jackson describes the work of three scientists (hurricane hunter Paul Flaherty, microbiologist Hazel Barton, and ecologist Stephen Sillett) including the extreme perils of their missions and the scientific discoveries that make the danger worthwhile.  Readers who enjoy survival stories (like Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, Peg Kehret’s Earthquake Terror, or P.J. Petersen’s White Water) or readers interested in science should definitely check out this nonfiction book!

If you liked Extreme Scientists, you may also enjoy Written in Bone: Buried Lives of Jamestown and Colonial Maryland and Phineas Gage: a Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science. 

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS

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Here are a few engaging titles on a variety of topics!

alex_the_parrotAlex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird by Stephanie Spinner

People once believed that birds were unintelligent because their brains were so small.  But scientist Irene Pepperberg changed that with her experiments with the African grey parrot, Alex, who was capable not just of repeating words and phrases but of learning and using language and completing language and math tests at the same level of intelligence of a young child.

5-11-Ballet-for-MarthaBallet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan

Dancer and choreographer Martha Graham revolutionized the art of modern dance.  American composer Aaron Copland is famous for bending the rules of the nineteenth century to create unique twentieth century orchestral compositions with an American flare.  Together they collaborated on a musical suite and ballet that became a Pulitzer Prize winning sensation that is still well-loved today.

5502_LGThe Boy on Fairfield Street: How Ted Geisel Grew Up to Become Dr. Seuss by Kathleen Krull

This biography of Dr. Seuss focuses on his interests as a child and what led him to choose a career as a children’s book author.

Boy-Were-We-Wrong-about-Dinosaurs-9780142411933Boy, Were We Wrong About Dinosaurs! by Kathleen V. Kudlinski

Were dinosaurs dragons?  Did they slither and crawl like lizards or stand upright?  Did they have scales or feathers?  This book examines historical understandings of dinosaurs as well as the current scholarly opinions about how these great creatures looked, lived, and died.

dinosaur mountainDinosaur Mountain: Digging Into the Jurassic Age by Deborah Kogan Ray

In the late nineteenth century, dinosaur bones were discovered in America.  Thus began the Bone Wars, the race of paleontologists to the American West to try to discover and name new species of dinosaurs.  For years, Earl Douglass failed to make any big finds, until he stumbled upon an exposed dinosaur bone in a ravine in Utah.   Further excavation led to the discovery of ten different species of dinosaurs.

duelDuel! Burr and Hamilton’s Deadly War of Words by Dennis Brindell Fradin

Although many people contributed to the creation of an independent American government, not all of them got along.  Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were two of them.  Their public insults of one another’s philosophies and abilities as statesmen eventually led to a violent duel that resulted in Hamilton’s death and the end of Burr’s political career.

mutinyMutiny on the Bounty by Patrick O’Brien

On a return voyage from their trip to Tahiti, the crew of the British ship The Bounty, decided that they’d had enough of their demanding and disrespectful captain.  Led by the first mate, the sailors rebelled, taking control of the ship and leaving the captain and all of the sailors loyal to him adrift in a life boat.  Miraculously, the captain and some of his crew members survived and returned to England.  The mutineers, hiding from the British law, began a new society on a nearby island.

caveThe Secret Cave: Discovering Lascaux by Emily Arnold McCully

When a group of school boys in France were playing in a cave, they stumbled upon a cavern full of prehistoric artwork.  Their discovery was hailed as “sacred” by archaeologists and has become a great tourist attraction.

worstWorst of Friends: Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and the True Story of an American Feud by Suzanne Tripp Jurmain

Founding Fathers Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were best friends.  They did many things together–including helping to found an independent nation of the United States.  But when a disagreement about presidential power turned them against each other, it seemed that Jefferson and Adams had lost their friendship for good.  Could they forgive each other and resolve their differences before it was too late?

WRITTEN IN BONE: BURIED LIVES OF JAMESTOWN AND COLONIAL MARYLAND by Sally M. Walker

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Skeletons speak to forensic anthropologists, the scientists who study the bones found in archaeological digs.  Simply from looking at bones which have spent hundreds of years buried underground, forensic anthropologists can determine the age, sex, race, and sometimes even profession of the person to whom they belonged.  By comparing to historical records the information gleaned from the bones, they may even be able to pinpoint the skeleton’s name.

Sally M. Walker describes archaeological digs in Colonial Virginia and Maryland that uncovered a number of graves from the 17th and 18th centuries.  She frames her story almost as a mystery, as the scientists seek to uncover the identity of the person whose bones they have rediscovered, and she describes both the science and the history that surround their process.  Written in Bone is a fascinating and engaging nonfiction story.  I highly recommend this book to middle grade and teen readers who enjoy science and/or history.

If you liked Written in Bone, you might like Phineas Gage: a Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science or Extreme Scientists. 

THE LONGITUDE PRIZE by Joan Dash

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By the eighteenth century, the world had made great advances in science and technology.  Yet no one had a scientific way of calculating the exact position of a ship at sea, a problem which resulted in thousands of deaths in shipwrecks around the world.  Desperate to prevent future tragedies like the Royal Navy shipwreck off the Scilly Islands in 1707, British Parliament offered a £20,000 prize (roughly equivalent to £3 million or $4.8 million today!) to anyone who devised an accurate way of measuring longitude at sea.  The world’s finest astronomers rose to the challenge, but a quick-tempered village carpenter and clockmaker set his mind to the task, as well, and created an invention that would revolutionize ocean travel for years to come.

Readers who are interested in ships, sea-faring stories, or inventors should definitely check out this fascinating non-fiction book which uses a blend of history, science, and biography to tell the story of John Harrison’s amazing clocks and his race against all odds to win the longitude prize.  I would recommend The Longitude Prize especially to readers in grades 4-8. 

If you liked The Longitude Prize, you might like Revenge of the Whale, Phineas Gage, or Black Hands, White Sails.

GIANT SQUID: SEARCHING FOR A SEA MONSTER by Mary M. Cerullo and Clyde F.E. Roper

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 If you find these real-life sea monsters fascinating, you will definitely want to check out this new non-fiction book.  Written for an upper-elementary age audience, Giant Squid shares facts about the giant squid and its biology as well as exploring the history of scientific knowledge about the giant squid and the legends that once grew up around the enormous sea creature.  The book has many illustrations and photographs (some of them fantastically gross!) and may appeal to reluctant readers.  I highly recommend it!