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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DVD Review: Shaun the Sheep: Spring Shenanigans (and Giveaway!)

Hey!

Whenever something new from Aardman Animation comes along, my family takes notice. Our fascination began when we found the Wallace and Gromit shorts on DVD. Stop-motion animation lovingly done in clay is tough to beat and A Grand Day Out and The Wrong Trousers quickly gave way to The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and A Matter of Loaf and Death. Like the animation addicts we are, we even liked the computer animated feature they did with DreamWorks – Flushed Away.

So when Shaun the Sheep left the comfy confines of Wallace and Gromit’s short film A Close Shave and started his own television series a few years ago, we were immediately fans as episodes began appearing on the Disney Channel in the United States. Slowly a great number of these episodes are finding their way onto DVD and we’ve been enjoying all of them!

If you don’t know who Shaun is, he’s the leader of a flock of sheep on a farm. However, he’s not like normal sheep. He’s actually more like a human kid with creativity and a love for anything fun. As such, he gets himself (and his flock and friends) into quite a bit of trouble. Along with Shaun are many other fun characters like Shirley (the huge sheep who is a veritable eating machine), baby Timmy and Timmy’s Mother (easy to spot with the curlers in her hair), Bitzer (the farmer’s dog who tries to keep Shaun out of trouble), the Farmer (a clueless bloke who runs the farm but has no idea of what goes on), and the Pigs (who are always trying to get the sheep in trouble).

Like Wallace and Gromit, Shaun and his friends are animated using stop-motion techniques in a moldable plastic. The sets and characters are all hand-created and every second of an episode is composed of 24 individual shots. If you’re counting, that amounts to more than 7,000 individual shots in a normal 5 minute episode.

What’s amazing is that there’s no actual speech in any episode except for grumbling and the lyrics of the Shaun the Sheep theme song at the beginning. By removing the language element, I think it’s much more easily translated from country to country and culture to culture. The comedy uses classic slapstick visual gags and I have to admit I don’t mind the lack of words!

The series has been garnering all kinds of awards lately as well, including an Honorable Mention in Audience Choice Award at the World of Comedy Film Festival (March 2010), the British Animation Award for Best Children’s TV Series, an International Emmy for Children and Young People (November 2010), the Children’s BAFTA for Best Animation (November 2010), and the Writer’s Guild Award for Best Children’s Television Comedy (November 2010). So we’re not alone in thinking Shaun the Sheet is a terrific series.

The new Shaun the Sheep: Spring Shenanigans DVD includes seven fun episodes. The baby sheep Timmy even gets top billing in a couple of them – “Spring Lamb,” in which he gets stuck on a spring and bounces around the farm while trying to avoid a bath; and “Supersize Timmy,” where he eats a tomato with “Miracle-Grow” on it and stomps through the farm destroying everything in his path King Kong-style. Also included are “Bagpipe Buddy,” “Cheetah Cheater,” “Lock Out,” “Draw the Line,” and “Ewe’ve Been Framed.”

Shaun the Sheep
Image via Wikipedia

We love that they’ve added a cat – Pidsley – to the mix in more recent episodes. He’s a vindictive little critter who gets himself and the rest of the farm into all kinds of trouble. In “Cheetah Cheater,” he watches a nature documentary about cheetahs on TV with the Farmer and decides he’d like to scare the flock a bit. He creates a cheetah suit out of one of the Farmer’s bathrobes and stalks the farm, scaring Shaun, Bitzer, and the rest of the farm. Eventually the flock catches onto his plan, but so does the Farmer – and he doesn’t appreciate the cat destroying his clothes!

“Bagpipe Buddy” shows how clueless and kind the flock can be at times. When a ball gets stuck in the junk pile, Shaun and Timmy go poking around and find an old set of bagpipes. They don’t know what it is until Bitzer finds a book and they decide it must be a sick duck. It’s hilarious to see them trying to fix the bagpipes and set them free so they can join their friends flying in the sky…

And in “Draw the Line,” a road line-painting machine is left nearby the farm and gets used in various odd ways. Initially, the Farmer uses it to draw the goalie box for a small game of soccer with Bitzer. Then Bitzer uses it to outline his doghouse and where his bowl and bone should go. But once Shaun and the flock get a hold of it, lines go everywhere around the farm as you might imagine. By the time the line painter gets his equipment back, the whole farm is in an uproar!

In addition to the episodes, the DVD also includes a game where you can shear the sheep on screen and a couple of extras from the new preschool series Timmy Time. If you’re looking for some family fun, my family will back me up when I say we highly recommend you check out Shaun the Sheep: Spring Shenanigans on DVD!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

I have one extra copy of Shaun the Sheep: Spring Shenanigans for some lucky reader. If you’re a fan, all you have to do is leave me a comment on this entry and let me know you’re interested. The contest is open to U.S. residents only (sorry, cost of shipping is prohibitive internationally) and will end on February 18, 2011 – I’ll let the winner know by e-mail who’s getting the prize!

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this and other great Shaun the Sheep DVDs below!

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Contest: Autographed Set of Girls Know How Books!

Hi all…

A while back I reviewed The Girls Know How: Smart Alex by Ellen Langas Campbell, a book about Alex Martinez, a smart but troublesome 7th grader who discovers that math can be fun and that it can be fun to teach someone about it. My eldest daughter (age 9) enjoyed the book and I definitely appreciated the positive message and role models for young girls trying to find their own paths.

Well, the kind folks of Girls Know How® are giving away a complete set of the three Girls Know How® books, each signed by the author. Just in time for Christmas, this could be a great gift!

Each chapter book features a girl presented with a challenge who is encouraged by an accomplished woman at the pinnacle of her career, a character based on a real-life successful woman. A bio and exclusive Girls Want to Know interview are included at the conclusion of each book to guide readers wishing to learn more about that particular career. They are ideally suited for children in grades two through six.

The first in the series, Will Stephanie Get the Story? focuses on journalism. Raising the Roof introduces children to the world of construction. and Smart Alex explores teaching as a career. The books have been received enthusiastically by young readers, parents and teachers, and recently were named among the best in family-friendly media, receiving the Gold Award for Juvenile Level 2 Books ages 9-12 from the Mom’s Choice Awards®.

The contest is open to anyone in the United States (sorry – only those with US addresses are eligible) and will run until Sunday, December 12th.

What do you have to do?

Leave me a comment with a valid e-mail address below (so I can contact you if you win!) and explain who you think would be a good role model for the young women of today. Who should your daughters, granddaughters, and nieces aspire to be like or even better than?

Remember that the contest is only open through this coming Sunday! Good luck to all who enter!

For more about the Girls Know How® book series and fun, free activities, check out the GirlsKnowHow.com website too!

UPDATE: Congratulations to Laura DeLuca on winning the trio of books!

–Fitz

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