Posted on | October 9, 2014 | 1 Comment
Each year the Royal Society awards a prize to the best book that communicates science to young people with the aim of inspiring young people to read about science. In the run up to the announcement of the winner of The Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize in the middle of November, I’ll be reviewing the books which have made the shortlist, and trying out science experiments and investigating the world with M and J in ways which stem from the books in question.
Have you ever thought how your genes could get you out of prison?
Or what the consequences might be if a company owned and could make money out of one of your own genes?
How would you know if you were a clone?
Why might knowing something about junk DNA be important if you’re running an exclusive restaurant with slightly dodgy practices?
Answers to these and many other intriguing questions are to be found in this accessible introduction to genetics, pitched at the 9-11 crowd. Arbuthnott does a great job of showing how relevant a knowledge of genetics is, whether in helping us to understand issues in the news (e.g. ‘Cancer gene test ‘would save lives’‘) or understanding why we are partly but not entirely like our parents. What makes you YOU? covers key scientists in the past history of genetics and crucial stages in its development as a science, including the race to discover what DNA looked like, the Human Genome Project, and Dolly the Sheep.
Arbuthnott portrays the excitement and potential in genetic research very well, leaving young readers feeling that this is far from a dry science; there are many ethical issues which make the discussion of the facts seem more relevant and real to young readers. Whilst on the whole I felt the author did a good job of balancing concerns with opportunities, I was sorry that in the discussion about genetically modified plants no mention was made of businesses ability to control supply to food stock, by creating plants which don’t reproduce, leaving farmers dependent on buying new seed from the business.
A timeline of discoveries, a very helpful list of resources for further study, a glossary and an index all make this a really useful book. Importantly, not only does the book contain interesting and exciting information, it also looks attractive and engaging. Lots of full bleed brightly coloured pages, and the use of cartoony characters make the book immediately approachable and funny – a world away from a dry dull school textbook.
What makes you YOU? provides a clear and enjoyable introduction to understanding DNA and many of the issues surrounding genetic research, perfect not only for learning about this branch of science, but also for generating discussion.
Extracting DNA is what the kids wanted to try after sharing What makes you YOU?. In the interest of scientific exploration we tried two different techniques to see which one we found easier and which gave the best results.
Method 1: Extracting your own DNA
What you’ll need:
We learned this method for extracting DNA from Exploratopia by Pat Murphy, Ellen Macaulay and the staff of the Exploratorium. Unfortunately it’s out of print now, but it is definitely worth tracking down a copy if you are interested in doing experiments at home.
Method 2: Extracting strawberry DNA
This second method is detailed in What makes you YOU? and involves strawberries, fresh pineapple, warm water and ice as well as washing-up liquid and salt. It also calls for methylated spirits but we swapped this for surgical spirit, as that’s what we had to hand.
This method is a little more involved than the first method but is a all round sensory experience: There are lots of strong smells (from crushed strawberries and puréed pineapple, as well as the surgical spirit), colours make it visually very appealing (perhaps this is why methylated spirits are called for in the original recipe as the purple of the meths adds another dimension) and there is also lots to feel, from the strange sensation of squishing the strawberries by hand, through to the different temperatures of the warm water in which the DNA-extracting-mix gently cooks followed by the ice water in which it cools down.
Look! Strawberry DNA!
Both methods were fun to try. We liked the first method because the result was seeing globs of our very own DNA, but the second method was a much more stimulating process, appealing to all the senses. Indeed this DNA extraction recipe alone makes it worthwhile seeking out a copy of What makes you YOU?.
Whilst extracting DNA we listened to:
The DNA song
Other activities which might go well with reading What makes you YOU? include:
What do you and your family look for in science books to really hook you in? Do share some examples of science books which you’ve especially enjoyed over the years.
Disclosure: I received a free review copy of What makes you YOU? from the Royal Society.
Posted on | October 6, 2014 | 2 Comments
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen is full of near misses but ends up being one big hit. Forget the treasure that may or may not be buried under your feet, pick this book up and you’ll have a real gem in your hands.
It starts like this:
Apropos of seemingly nothing, Sam and Dave decide to dig a hole.
They’re only going to stop when they find “something spectacular”.
They don’t have much luck, but… in a brilliantly crafted piece of drama they come oh so painfully, excruciatingly close.
Many picture book creators have talked about how they see their books as mini pieces of theatre, and this book delivers a very special theatrical experience; like in a pantomime when you might call out “He’s behind you!”, only for the innocent character on stage to turn and see nothing, the reader/listener has special knowledge that poor Sam and Dave do not. With beautifully textured, muted illustrations revealing something quite different to what is known from the text, children treated to this story get a special thrill from “being in the know”, from seeing the truly spectacular buried treasure that the poor protagonists keep missing.
This empowering experience is doubled up through association with Sam and Dave’s little dog. Despite being small and just a side kick (like many children sometimes feel), the dog seems to have all the brains. He is the one who keeps sensing just how close the diamonds are. He is the one who makes the breakthrough, resulting in Sam and Dave appearing to have dug all the way through to …
…well, to what? To where? Although this book was authored by Barnett, the ending feels like classic Klassen: It’s full of ambiguity and multiple possible readings. Have Sam and Dave dug all the way through from one side of the earth to the other? Have they managed through some Möbius-strip-like convolution to dig all the way through to end up back where they started? Or have they discovered something genuinely spectacular – some new dimension where slightly different rules are at play?
Finely honed, pared-back text and seemingly quiet illustrations which actually pack a very funny punch combine to make this a winner. Do look out for Sam & Dave Dig a Hole!
Inspired by Sam and Dave’s digging we decided to do a little bit of digging ourselves. Using these guidelines from Suffolk County Council, we dug what is known by archaeologists as a “test pit” in the middle of the lawn in our back garden.
We marked out a square and I took off the top layer of turf before the girls started digging down, retrieving any “treasure” they found on the way.
They used a large garden sieve to go through the soil they removed, and a toothbrush to wash what they found.
As you can see we found quite a lot of “treasure” including something metal but unidentifiable (top left of the photo below), a section of Victorian clay pipe stem, several pieces of pottery and a surprising number of large bones! (oh, and a hippo…..)
At some point when my back was turned the game developed into something a little different – M made a “time capsule” in an old icecream tub and insisted that it got buried when the time came to fill in our hole.
So I guess this means we’ll be digging another hole at some point in the future. Given how much fun we had with this one, I won’t be complaining.
We weren’t listening to music whilst we dug our hole, but were we to choose some music to match Sam & Dave Dig a Hole we might include these in our playlist:
Other activities you could enjoy along side reading this hilarious book include:
What’s your favourite hole? A hole you made? A hole you visited? A hole which allows you to sneak through into some secret space?
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book from the publisher but was under no obligation to review it and received no payment for doing so.
Posted on | October 4, 2014 | 131 Comments
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED
You could win a full set of signed Captain Underpants books, just by leaving a comment on this blog post!
Yes, Dav Pilkey is will be in London on October 11th and tickets are now on sale to see him. Full details of this event can be found here. But even if you can’t make it to London, do enter the giveaway; if not for you, how about for your school or club?
The nitty gritty
(1) Tweet about this giveaway, perhaps using this text:
Win a full set of signed Captain Underpants books over on @playbythebook’s blog http://www.playingbythebook.net/?p=30959
(2) Share this giveaway on your Facebook page, blog or other social media
You must leave a separate comment for each entry for them to count.
Best of luck and happy reading!
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. It was won by Robyn Logan Clarke. Robyn – I have emailed you so please get in touch