Book Review: Case Closed? Nine Mysteries Unlocked by Modern Science by Susan Hughes

Hi all!

Science and kids. For me, they’re like chocolate and peanut butter – a perfect mix. Unfortunately, science sometimes gets lost in the shuffle of standardized testing these days. Thankfully my daughters are in a school that promotes learning science and the art of experimentation from an early age. Even as young as kindergarten, both of my girls have been introduced to scientific concepts and techniques and hopefully will gain some of that thirst for exploration and explanation as they get older.

Books like Case Closed? by author Susan Hughes and illustrator Michael Wandelmaier can help show kids in a fun way how science is used in the real world with applications of science in other fields as diverse as archaeology, reconstruction of historical sailing vessels, and finding locations long lost to the desert sands. With each case, Hughes offers facts on how science, history, and investigation were used to discover the answers of nine different mysteries.

As a huge Egypt nut myself, I was engaged by the story of the lost mummy of the Pharaoh Queen Hatshepsut. She was a powerful pharaoh about 3500 years ago who dressed and acted like a king because women were not allowed to take the throne. Through it all she found ways to support the arts and Egypt was graced with years of prosperity under her reign. Unfortunately, when her successor Thutmose III assumed the throne, all traces of Hatshepsut’s reign were wiped clean from the archaeological record. Her body was moved from her sarcophagus and thought lost for the ages.

Thousands of years later, when Dr. Zahi Hawass, chief archaeologist of Egypt, found a mummy in an undecorated tomb, there were signs that it could actually be a royal mummy. Could it be the lost mummy of Hatshepsut? Hawass was able to use modern technology to get details about the body without disturbing it too much physically. Using a CAT scanner, the same scanner used on living people to see the internal organs and structures inside a body, scientists were able to identify that the body was missing a tooth. A tooth had been found in a box found in the same tomb and they discovered that it was a perfect match for the mummy’s missing one. And with additional DNA testing, they concluded that the mummy’s DNA matched that of Hatshepsut’s grandmother. Mystery solved!

Other mysteries detailed in the book include finding an ancient city consumed by the desert sand, determining whether a Russian princess managed to escape certain death, and discovering whether it was possible to cross the Pacific ocean on an ancient raft. Each of the nine mysteries offers a setup, a discussion of the tools used, and the conclusions experts arrived at after processing the evidence and data. It’s amazing how much technology continues to illuminate about discoveries and mysteries tens, hundreds, or thousands of years old.

Hughes does a great job of clearly laying out the facts and the processes in a kid-friendly way. And Wandelmaier’s illustrations offer a great amount of detail in a colorful way sure to keep a child’s attention. I hope this book will inspire many children to form their own hypotheses and explore the many realms science hopes to unlock.

If you have a child interested in science who wants to learn more about a variety of topics, I can’t encourage you enough to pick up a copy of Case Closed?. Science can be fun and the only way we keep moving forward is by encouraging future generations to follow the scientific method. Who knows what inspired kids will discover in the next few decades and centuries?

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this great science book for kids below!

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Trailer Time: Winnie the Pooh – July 2011

True innocence seems to be rare on the big screen when it comes to animated features these days. Sure, we’ve had our share of fun films like Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon, but they’ve dealt with monsters and mayhem mostly. It’s rare to see a simple, pure of heart, innocent kid’s film hitting theaters.

So I was shocked and when I heard of a new film from Disney in the traditional 2D tradition… Winnie the Pooh, which will be released in July 2011. The first trailers were just released this week and I have to say I went a bit nostalgic when I watched.

With two girls, Winnie, Eeyore, Tigger, Piglet, Owl, Rabbit, and Christopher Robin have been frequent visitors over the last 10 years. I’ll be happy to see Winnie and the gang back up on the big screen again.

The story looks very cute, centered around finding a new tail for Eeyore. And it appears to have some trippy honey-induced fantasies in it from a particular bear we all know and love. So I for one will be going to see this one in the theater.

Here’s the trailer… What do you think?

–Fitz

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DVD Review: The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss – There is Nothing to Fear in Here!

Hey there…

Stumbling upon fun shows I never knew existed is one of the fun things I get to do as a reviewer. And who doesn’t like to review anything related to Dr. Seuss? Ever since I was able to read, I’ve loved the tongue-twisting, rhyming stories of author Theodor Geisel (aka “Dr. Seuss”). Geisel managed to write more than 60 books in his career – starting with And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street in 1937 and ending with Oh, the Places You’ll Go! in 1990.

Some of his classics include How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, The Cat in the Hat, and Green Eggs and Ham. There are too many of his stories to count that have twisted my own tongue – such as trying to clearly enunciate Fox in Socks… “When a fox is in the bottle where the tweetle beetles battle with their paddles in a puddle on a noodle-eating poodle…”

But somehow I managed not to ever hear about a series on Nickelodeon (Nick Jr.) that was produced by Jim Henson Productions for a couple of seasons in the mid-1990s. The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss missed my radar entirely. So when it popped up from Lionsgate recently with a Halloween-themed collection of three episodes, I knew I had to see The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss – There is Nothing to Fear in Here!

This DVD gathers three episodes – “There’s Nothing to Fear in Here,” “The Blag-Bludder Beast,” and “Norval the Great.” Each is presented with Seussian rhyme and Henson Muppetry, making each episode seem almost surreal at times – though each was a lot of fun to watch with my two daughters. In each episode, we see the Cat in the Hat introduce a story to three Little Cats and provide a little narration or context now and then.

“There’s Nothing to Fear in Here,” the lights go out in a thunderstorm and the Cat in the Hat has to calm down everyone under the roof of the Cat’s Playhouse. The Little Cats and Terrance McBird (who lives in a tree in the middle of the house) are all afraid that the storm might get in and don’t know what to do while they’re stuck inside. The Cat invents games to play in the dark and tells stories to pass the time. The first story was about Sarah Hall-Small, who is scared by the noises in her closet – and she has to find a way to deal with whatever horrible monster might be lurking there (it turns out to be a couple of mice who are afraid of her). And the second story is about the Grinch who gets a taste of his own medicine after he scares everybody in Seussville and they decide to turn the tables on him.

In “The Blag-Bludder Beast,” we get to see the famous Yertle the Turtle get into trouble. Yertle is running from the last place he decided to “help” when he stumbles into a swampy pond filled with garbage. It turns out to be the site where the people of Troomph have been dumping trash to appease the scary but never-seen Blag-Bludder Beast. Well, when Yertle appears from the pond covered in garbage, he scares the Troomphians who were dumping garbage and hide their eyes to avoid being attacked. When Yertle turns around and knocks off the trash, the Troomphian thinks Yertle managed to vanquish the wicked creature, he becomes a hero in Troomph! However, as Yertle often does, he takes advantage of the situation and eventually gets the Troomphians angry at him even as they learn the Blag-Bludder Beast isn’t scary at all!

And finally, in “Norval the Great” we meet Binkham Tamino McDoyal the Third, who everyone calls Binky. He tells his friends that Norval is a talking goldfish and that they’ve gone on great adventures together. Though his friends don’t believe him at first, Binky tells a heck of a story that takes them to a tropical island, into space, and home again. Could the fish really talk? Did Norval and Binky really have the adventures? You’ll have to watch to find out!

Now, beyond the three episodes on the DVD there are a few trailers for other Lionsgate releases, but that’s it. I would have liked to have seen another episode or two at the least, or perhaps some extras of some kind on the disc. That said, the three episodes we watched were a lot of fun, mixing Muppets and Dr. Seuss to great effect for kids and parents alike.

If you’re a fan of Dr. Seuss and the Muppets and want to see this interesting combination, I’d definitely recommend you check out The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss – There is Nothing to Fear in Here! at your local rental or retail counter. I’m hoping the entire series is released on DVD so we can see more of the “Wubbulous World” in the near future. For more about this and other Henson-produced shows, be sure to check out Henson.com.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this DVD and others today!

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