Friday, September 22, 2017

A Truly Epic Read

Hey, guys, the word "epic" gets tossed around a lot. As in--"Wasn't that an epic party, man?" or "That was a truly epic hot dog, dude." Well, this book has the word in its title and it really does tackle an epic subject--a journey from earth to the giant outer planets of the Solar System and beyond. It's Voyager's Greatest Hits: The Epic Trek to Interstellar Space by Alexandra Siy and it is one amazing story!

Way back in 1965, some graduate students started thinking about "using gravity to propel a spacecraft from one planet to the next, indefinitely." That way an exploratory spacecraft could explore huge amounts of space with a minimum of fuel. Scientists then realized that a "rare planetary alignment would occur during the 1980's"--a perfect time to use the gravity effect to explore the outer planets. So NASA built two space probes, named each one "Voyager" and launched them on August 20 and September 5 of 1977. (Hey, that makes this the 40th anniversary!) The rest of the book tells this incredible story. It's amazing--two lone space craft, operating on 1977 technology  travel vast distances to discover things no one ever suspected existed in the Solar System, like volcanoes on a moon of Jupiter! And those Voyagers are still transmitting data to us today from interstellar space. If this doesn't qualify as an epic story, I don't what does!

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Photo of Saturn taken by Voyager
This book is truly an enthralling read and any guy will enjoy it. It can be read in about an hour and is full of great stories of interplanetary travel, thrilling discoveries, fascinating scientists (you'll be happy to know that a lot of them were women) and strange facts that people have still not figured out. Plus the story moves right along. It could have gotten bogged down in a lot of technical terms or lengthy scientific explanations but doesn't. You get enough background, maps and charts and to make you understand what's going on and appreciate the challenges the mission had to overcome but these don't interrupt the flow of the story.  Plus there are breathtaking photos taken by the Voyagers all throughout the book. Plus there is a really interesting final chapter on the "golden record," a very good note from the author on why she wrote the book, a very helpful glossary, good book recommendations and a fan-tastic list of websites, some of which I've checked out already and had to make myself stop before I spent all afternoon on them! Boys, this book is not just for astronomy nerds, not just for science geeks but for everyone! Go check it out. It's epic!

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A Voyager spacecraft--can you find the golden record?

All right, guys, you can stop here if you'd like but if you wouldn't mind, the Iron Guy would like to add a PS to my review and it's about what may be the most incredible fact of all. Try to wrap your brains around this--the two space probes that are still zipping through space at 35000 mph and still sending us data from outside from interstellar space were built with, equipped and still operating with 1970's technology!! Think about that for a moment. Would you use a computer from the 1980's? Or trust a phone or tablet that was more than five years old? Yet we are still hearing from equipment that was built before 1980. For crying out loud, the info on the Voyagers is recorded on eight track players!! Go ask your grandparents about those if you want to get a perspective on how ancient that technology is.

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Yes, boys, go ask your grandparents about eight track players (don't ask the  Iron Guy how he knows about them!)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Four Random Good Quick Reads

Hey, guys, one of the great things about working in a library is the chance to pull books at random that look really cool and then read them. You can find some good stuff that way and sometimes get introduced to a whole new series. Or even find a new book in an old series.

Which is exactly what happened when I saw Akimbo and the Snakes by Alexander McCall Smith. These books are truly terrific and I thought I'd read all of them, so imagine how great it felt to find one I had missed! Akimbo is a young boy who lives on a game preserve in Kenya, where his father is the head ranger. We find out, in this book, that his uncle runs a snake park. How cool is that! What's even better is that his uncle invites Akimbo to work at the snake park over the summer. Akimbo enjoys it, of course, and learns a lot about snakes when his uncle tells him some villagers have spotted the deadliest of all poisonous snakes--the green mamba! They go out to capture it but--well, I won't spoil it for you but I will tell you that what happens is one of the scariest things I've ever read in any book! This book is short, only 66 pages, but, man, does it ever pack a wallop! Plus, there are some good facts about snakes after the end of the story. (find out about more Akimbo books here)

I Survived The Great Chicago Fire, 1871Then I found out this great new series, the I Survived books by Lauren Tarshis. Well, I should say that they're new to me. I've seen these get checked out of the library all the time and decided it was time to read one for myself, so I randomly grabbed this one, I Survived the Great Chicago Fire 1871. And then it grabbed me! What an exciting story! I'm going to show you the summary from the library's catalog because it tells you better than I could:

Oscar Starling never wanted to come to Chicago. But then Oscar finds himself not just in the heart of the big city but in the middle of a terrible fire! No one knows exactly how it began, but one thing is clear: Chicago is like a giant powder keg about to explode. An army of firemen is trying to help, but this fire is a ferocious beast that wants to devour everything in its path, including Oscar! Will Oscar survive one of the most famous and devastating fires in history?

That really gives you the sense of danger throughout this edge-of-your-seat book. It's short, only 96 pages, but you won't stop after you turn that first page. And there's a section at the back with information about the actual fire with a recommended website and book to find out more.

Of course, that meant I needed to know more, so I read What Was the Great Chicago Fire? by Janet B. Pascal. Everyone knows how good the What Was... and the Who Was...books are and this one is every bit as good as all the others. There are lots of interesting facts, a myth or two exploded and exciting stories that you just wouldn't believe--except that they really happened! This particular book has something that most of the books in this series don't--photographs! Really good ones too. (why don't more books in this series have them?) And, as always, there are a couple of timelines and a list of recommended books and websites. At 108 pages, this book can be read quickly and is another that you just won't put down once you pick it up.

Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find ThemThe last one is another book that's not new at all but was completely new to me. It's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by the great J.K. Rowling. I'm sure all of you Harry Potter fans have already read it but if you're a new fan or just anyone who wants to have some fun, this is just the book you need. It purports to be a textbook for wizarding students and even has "comments" written all over it by a student--and just wait until you see who it was! There's no story but an alphabetical list of all the magical beasts that live in Harry Potter's world. This is one of those rare books that will make kids and grownups smile and smile all the way through. It's not long--only 88 pages--but one that you'll completely enjoy from beginning to end.

All right, boys, I know you all are busy now that school is back in full swing but if you need to take a break or even if you've got all your work done and have some free time, these are the books for you! They are what I call Good Quick Reads. (check that same label under this post to find more) And all you teachers and other grownups who are looking for books your boys would like, these are the ones you're looking for. Who knows--I bet you'd enjoy them yourselves!