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Mesmerizing

5 Nov

Some words are fun. Some words have fun origins, like sabotage, which finds its roots in the French verb saboter, which originally meant to make loud clattering noises with wooden shoes. These were the shoes of poor country folks, so the word sabotage was coined by a French anarchist to describe work done in a deliberately slow and clumsy way to cause damage.

The first explanation I learned for the word came from one of my HS history teachers. he told us that the word came from  sabot, the word for those French wooden shoes. During the industrial revolution, farm workers used to throw their sabot into the machines that were taking their jobs. This is my favorite explanation that causes me to conger up Romantic pastoral visions of French peasants gracefully throwing their sabot from gracefully arcing arms.

Mesmerize is another word with an interesting origin. It comes from Franz Anton Mesmer, an 18th century Viennese physician who founded a therapeutic movement called mesmerism.

This brings me to Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France written by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Iacopo Bruno.

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Publisher’s Summary: The day Ben Franklin first set foot in Paris, France, he found the city all abuzz. Everyone was talking about something new—remarkable, thrilling, and strange. Something called . . . Science!

But soon the straightforward American inventor Benjamin Franklin is upstaged by a compelling and enigmatic figure: Dr. Mesmer. In elaborately staged shows, Mesmer, wearing a fancy coat of purple silk and carrying an iron wand, convinces the people of Paris that he controls a magic force that can make water taste like a hundred different things, cure illness, and control thoughts! But Ben Franklin is not convinced. Will his practical approach of observing, hypothesizing, and testing get to the bottom of the mysterious Mesmer’s tricks? A rip-roaring, lavishly illustrated peek into a fascinating moment in history shows the development and practice of the scientific method—and reveals the amazing power of the human mind.

This was both a fun and interesting read. Bruno’s illustrations are marvelous

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and the text makes the use of the scientific method exciting. A good read anytime, this would be a great introduction to a science fair unit.

Some new twists on some old guys

6 May

How do you keep history books fresh for kids? How do you present the information na new and engaging way? Jonah Winter and Alan Schroeder have some good ideas.

Schroeder’s new book,  Abe Lincoln: His Wit and Wisdom from A-Z is illustrated by John O’Brien.

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As the title promises, this is an alphabet book that sheds some light  on the  key events, people and places in Lincoln’s life. Scattered throughout the book are also quotes by Abraham Lincoln–short, pithy statements that have lasted through the years.This is a very fun and interesting read.

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O’Brien’s illustrations really enhance the detailed information.

Jonah Winter’s new book, illustrated by Barry Blitt, is entitled  The Founding Fathers: Those Horse-Ridin’, Fiddle-Playin’, Book-Readin’, Gun-Totin’ Gentlemen Who Started America.  That’s a mouthful, isn’t it!

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As you might surmise from the title, the book takes a humorous tone while providing lots of facts and figures, quotes, and the good, bad, and ugly character traits of each one. Each Founding Father gets a two-page spread with a full-page portrait (name, sobriquet and dates included) along with a casual, colloquially phrased summary biography and then lots of stats presented briefly and intriguingly: height, weight, political leaning, education, wealth, and religious belief, in addition to hobbies, nickname and position on the Boston Tea Party.

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Two wonderful books that kids will certainly enjoy reading because of the excellent information and the way they are formatted.

Today’s Pre-Invention Convention Read Aloud

23 Apr

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Reading about Chester Greenwood yesterday got the kids thinking about things they use that can be improved. Today, our read aloud looks at Ben Franklin inventions that are still around because the basic design was good. His ideas have just been improved.

Now & Ben : The Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin, written and illustrated by Gene Barretta, features two page spreads that show a modern invention on the left and the Ben Franklin original on the right.

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The text explanations are simple but point out how Ben Franklin is still relevant today.The end pages playfully depict various inventions of Franklin and the year that they were invented.

This book is an excellent tool to add to an inventor’s toolbox.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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