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Bookends

WELCOME TO BOOKENDS

 

Starting with the November 2017 issue, we'll be adding the full book reviews from our monthly newsletters. 

 

We'll be happy to publish your review of a library book you've read. E-mail me by clicking my name below.

 

mario chioini

8-12 librarian

 
 
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Why Don't Students Like School? by Daniel T. Wittingham

 

180 pages

 

Call #: PRO 370.15 WIL

 

Reviewer: Anne Diss, US Science teacher

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Why Don't Students Like School is an easy read, presented in pretty terse chapters with a few illustrations and tidy recaps. I often mentioned this book to my students this year and hope they weren't too horrified at how long it took me to read the entire thing: after racing through the first two chapters (outlining two big cognitive ideas) I slowed considerably as I found some of the ideas got a little repetitive and at times a bit less striking. There are two big ideas I'm taking away from this friendly book: the difficulty in 'transfer', and Bubbe psychology. 


Massingham defines 'transfer' as the ability to use a concept or skill in a new context. He uses the example of a student who has just learned how to measure the area of an envelope, but is stumped when asked to measure the area of a desk. For this student, the two items are just too different and the student cannot transfer his/her skill of measuring area from envelopes to desks. Transfer is not easy to achieve but in my science classes I try to develop this by using different diagrams and models than the ones students learned from, so that they hopefully they can stretch their mind to recognize what is similar and different.


Bubbe psychology, Massingham explains, is when psychology (or any research I guess) takes a simple intuitive idea that your grandmother ('Bubbe') always knew about and gives it a fancy complicated name. We see this all the time and I love that Massingham gives me a term to use for it!

 

Thanks to Dr. Jamie Wehrli for recommending this book. It's aimed at a broad audience and high school students as well as teachers may well enjoy reading Massingham's friendly prose.

 

 

 

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The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay

 

158 pages

 

Call number: F TRE

 

Reviewer: Mario Chioini, US Librarian

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I was introduced to playwright and novelist Larry Tremblay through his novel Obese Christ a few years ago, a disturbing novel about good and evil - with an emphasis on "evil".

 

With The Orange Grove, Tremblay, a Québécois francophone, revisits the question of faith, this time with a story set in a world that is all too real and familiar. Identical twin brothers Amed and Aziz live with their family in a quiet village in a generic war-torn country. After a bomb kills their grandparents a group of religious insurgents come to the house asking for revenge (an eye for an eye) and for the ultimate sacrifice (death for martyrdom). But who, between Amed or Aziz, will wear the belt of explosives and be the sacrificial lamb? Years later, as part of a theatre project, the surviving twin, now living in Montreal, must confront a life-long secret and free himself from the grasp of his past.

 

The contrast between the slow and poetic prose of the text and its unbearable acts of violence create a strange and very rewarding reading experience. In the words of its author The Orange Grove "is a universal story told simply, allegorically, an emotionally immediate and important subject." A must-read for all students. 


The book was translated in at least six languages, won several awards and has been made into a play in French.

 
 
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The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

 

Call #: ebook

 

Reviewer: Mia Kwon

 

 

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In 1915, one of Kafka’s most celebrated work, The Metamorphosis first appeared in print. The novella was originally written in 1912; however, with the onset of a world war that had engulfed global affairs, its publication was delayed until October 1915. Along with many of Kafka’s work, The Metamorphosis is recognized as the icon of twentieth century literature. Ironically, the manuscript was never intended for publication; it was written as a diversion from Kafka’s writer’s block while writing Amerika, his incomplete novel published posthumously in 1927. Now, in contemporary literature and media, The Metamorphosis remains as one of the most commemorated works, its influence evident in modern works such as David Cronenberg’s most prominent horror film The Fly and tv series The Human Centipede

[SPOILER AHEAD]

The Metamorphosis opens with Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman who wakes up and finds himself transformed into a large insect. Looking at the clock, he realizes that he will miss the train for his work. Yet, due to his mutilated body, he is unable to maneuver himself out of bed. When his transformation is first revealed to his family, the reactions are of horror and disgust. For the most of the plot, Gregor is a recluse in his room, fed by his sister, Grete Samsa, who forces herself to the job out of duty rather than concern for her tormented brother. The family, with their breadwinner no longer able to provide for them, sinks into poverty. Meanwhile, Gregor grows more comfortable with his new body, climbing the walls and the ceiling for amusement. Noticing such changes, Grete persuades her mother to move the furniture out of the room to allow him more space, which Gregor finds greatly distressing. He scuttles to save a picture on the wall of a women dressed in a fur hat. At the sight of her monstrous son, Gregor’s mother panics and passes out. Gregor runs out of the room into the kitchen where his father, who assumes that Gregor had attacked his mother, throws apple at him. One sinks into his back, causing a serious injury. As the plot further progresses, the family grows increasingly tired of Gregor. Listening to their complaints, Gregor decides rid his family of his presence, and slowly decays into his own death. 

Below are some of the thoughts from the members of the Book Club: 

The Title 

The novella’s title ‘metamorphosis’ refers to the change an organism such as a caterpillar undergoes to emerge as a butterfly from its pupa. Accordingly, in the novella, Gregor Samsa turns into what most translators write as an ‘insect’ or ‘bug’. However, the novella’s title serves an ulterior purpose beyond its literal reference. In the plot, Gregor does change form, turning into a horrendous bug; however, his personality remains largely unchanged. Many of his human qualities such as the conscience and self-awareness remain intact. Gregor himself is desperate to retain his human qualities, evidenced from his distress when his sister and mother tries to take away the furnitures that he associated with his life as a human. His physical and emotional attachment to the photo is also symbolic of his strife to remain ‘human’. Meanwhile, there is another character who also undergoes visible change, emerging as a mature and attractive woman by the end of the plot. Undoubtedly, the individual is the protagonist’s sister, Grete Samsa. Initially, it is revealed to the readers that Grete and Gregor share an intimate bond, which is the reason why she volunteers as Gregor’s caretaker. However, as the plot further unfolds, the readers witness Grete’s ‘metamorphosis’. Her affection towards Gregor starts to diminish and she comes to regard her job as a burden rather than a good act of love. Yet, she enjoys the new position she holds in the family given by her new responsibilities that depict her as an ‘adult’ over the weak and fragile girl she was reckoned to be. Eventually, she grows to resent the role as Gregor’s caretaker and suggests to get rid of him. At the end of the novella, her parents remarks how Grete has grown into a pretty young woman whose time has arrived to find a husband, thus completing her ‘metamorphosis’ into an adult. Likewise, the title carries a rather negative connotation unlike the elegant image of a butterfly emerging from its pupa. Perhaps, by doing so, it was Kafka’s intention to expose the unlovely and rather revolting nature of the human species. 

The Alienation

In the novella, the motif of alienation pervades the mood. Throughout the plot, the room is Gregor’s prison, isolating him from his family and the outside world. The alienation is also represented through the emotional distance between Gregor and his family, who refuse to directly confront him. For instance, Gregor hides under the bed when his sister enters the room, afraid that his appearance would scare off her like it did to his parents. Consequently, Gregor’s life becomes devoid of human interaction. Perhaps, the alienation is symbolic of Kafka’s own emotional distance to his father, whose forceful character and little appreciation for his son’s creative side had him painted as a tyrannical and narcissistic figure. The influence his father had on Kafka is evident in many of his works – The Metamorphosis being an example. 

 

From a book discussion with Mia Kwon, Flavie de Germay, Nicolas Julian and Lenoy Christy

 


 

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Metropolis by Martin Roemers

 

Call #: 770.994 ROE

 

Reviewer: Ido Kotler, 10th grade student

Jan. 2018

 

 

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Metropolis, by Martin Roemers is a gorgeous book, with some incredibly beautiful photos. In the book, Roemers takes photos of cities that represents them in the best way. In the beginning, I didn’t understand what that meant, I thought he was only going to show photos of the most famous monuments of each city, but I was wrong. Roemers uses a technique that shows movement and creates a vivid and unique portrait of each city. With this technique he captures the urban life and the speed at which it happens while creating beautiful pictures.


Metropolis is not just an ordinary photo book, the photos seem like they are moving and it is interesting to look at all the small details. Every picture is interesting and colorful, and it is really fun to go through the book and to look at all the gorgeous photos. I recommend that if you have time during lunch, you should take a look in “Metropolis”, you will not regret it.

 

Submitted by Ido Kotler, 10th grade student

 



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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead


538 pages
Call #: F WHI

 
Reviewer: Mary Jean Lowe

College Admissions Counselor

Jan. 2018

 

 

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A native New Yorker who found herself at 16 years of age living in the capital of the Confederacy, I came face to face with a part of US history that was very remote from the preoccupations of Long Islanders who identified themselves as Irish, Italian or German (although few of them had ever left the continental United States). The statues along Monument Avenue, Lumpkin’s slave jail, the Stewart-Lee House (where Robert E. Lee stayed) among other reminders of the Civil War were constant fixtures in an environment where I was suddenly known as a “Yankee.” I learned the history of the period, including bits and pieces about the Underground Railroad, but I must admit to no more than a passing curiosity about a time I found upsetting and surreal.

 

Reading Colson Whitehead’s book thrust me much deeper into this history than I had ever thought to venture.  Following the escaped slave, Cora, and those she trusts, loves, loathes and fears on her journey, Whitehead blends the horrific and the magical.  From one state to the next, by way of an enchanted locomotive, the story is one that both repels and mesmerizes.  Told from various perspectives and jumbled timelines, the writing demands concentration, but is clean, sparse, often brutal and, at times, lyrical. Moreover, with an uncanny timeliness, Whitehead reminds the reader of the deep roots of unresolved sensitivities, injustices and contradictions roiling the fabric of American society to this day. Highly deserving of the praise and awards received to date, this book is as fresh and innovative and it is haunting and thought provoking.  Read it and encourage others to do the same. 

 

Submitted by Mary Jean Lowe, College Admissions Counselor

 


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On The Road 

by Jack Kerouac

 

408 pages

Call #: F KER

 

Reviewer: Flavie de Germay

Senior​, Dec. 2017
 



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Jack Kerouac's novel, On the Road,  shines with outrageous travels, soulful characters, and tragic humor. Kerouac's novel is definitely directed for the youth who are interested in the adventure of finding oneself. Living in the swinging 1950s and driving on the back roads of America, Dean Moriarty, Sal Paradise, and other friends following the Beat movement travel from New York to California and back. They experience the fifties underground culture of America: jazz, substance abuse, parties, generosity, hitchhiking, and loose or “no strings attached” lifestyles. 

 

Throughout the journey of this youthful group, the main conflict splits into two parts: straightforward and metaphorical. The straightforward conflict is the search for a place to settle down and establish a meaningful living. However, troubled Dean and Sal continue to roam the States and are constantly “on the road” in the search for something new, exciting, and satisfying, which leads to the metaphorical conflict: the characters do not just try to find a home but also try to find themselves. 

 

The theme of finding oneself is ubiquitous and certainly relevant in today's world. The book club discussed that just like the characters in the book, we students ( and staff) are always striving to learn. We strive to learn about who we are and where we will go, which is ultimately what the characters of On the Road try to achieve. Like many others in society, Dean and Sal are never satisfied. They can not find what they want and so wander aimlessly until they obtain at least some sense of themselves.  In the midst of trying find themselves, Kerouac presents the "beat generation" as a "holy" generation as it was liberated from the peril of ambition, materialism and ideology, and was in a constant search for some greater truth that life would teach them. 

 

After reading poring over this book for several weeks, the Book Club concluded that the novel succeeds in portraying a distinct snapshot of the Beat Generation lifestyle. We believe this book succeeds in teaching a lesson that everyone of us have gone or will go through. By exposing raw emotion, finding tragedy in humor and humor in tragedy, Kerouac illustrates the reality of one’s pursuit to live  a full life. We recommend this novel for the readers who do not mind chaos, can follow random action, and enjoy learning morals. Jack Kerouac's glum yet comedic On the Road brilliantly renders thought, discussion, controversy, and passion with its complex characters and themes fraught with heart and soul.

 

 

Submitted by Flavie de Germay, senior student


 

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Body & Soul 

by Frank Conroy

 

450 pages


Call #: F CON

 

Reviewer: Maryama Antoine

English teacher, Nov. 2017

 
 
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In a bustling New York City of the 1940s - where 'loneliness and privacy' hang haggard with the street lamps -- Music -- like some swooping god comes to the rescue of Claude Rawlings, elevates him to the highest social stratum and offers him life as a composer. 

 

Body and Soul by Frank Conroy is a masterpiece of a Bildungsroman that images the triumphant story of a piano prodigy. With grace and control, Conroy exposes the dim lit basement apartment where Claude is neglected by his fat and unstable mother, lives oblivious to the father he has never known, and loves the white piano where he sits hours on end picking sounds he has heard.

 

Claude Rawlings has a gift and the notes whose vibrations he feels deep within himself drive him to seek the teacher who becomes father, the hungarian maestro who allows him to practice on his magnificent Bechstein and upon his death wills it to him, and the world renowned Mozart pianist who opens for him the doors of the country's most celebrated concert halls. Indeed, such unthwarted success casts a sheen of the make believe upon the novel-- which though acknowledged by the reader, by no means diminishes its persuasiveness. We find ourselves suspending all disbelief as we move from scholarship afforded private schools to Juilliard, Carnegie Hall and the prospering Jazz scene whose syncopated rhythm interweaves itself into the classical parlance of the narrative. We want-- feel compelled to believe in this ascent of talent.

 

This novel, among its many strengths, also gives access into the mind of a musician. Our hero is both intensely passionate and emotionally detached -- one comes to understand the meditative numbness which precedes performances, the competitive nature of music festivals for young pianists, or the doors which will remained closed to so many aspiring artists because beyond the body of the technique there is the soul of music.

 

Submitted by Maryama Antoine, Upper School English teacher

 


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The Thirst by Joe Nesbo


538 pages
Call #: F NES

 
Reviewer: Michael Kopp

Social Studies teacher, Nov. 2017

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Fans of police procedurals, crime thrillers, and mysteries will find themselves right at home when reading the latest novel from Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. The Thirst is the most recent installment of Nesbo's fast-paced and wildly popular Harry Hole series, but you need not have read any of the previous novels to enjoy this one. Nesbo's works will undoubtedly become even more well-known with the recent release of a film adaptation of his previous novel, The Snowman.

 

If the thought of blood makes you squeamish, then think twice about picking this one up; however, Nesbo is so adept as a storyteller that the murder elements in his mysteries never come across as voyeuristic. He uses all descriptions and details in service of the narrative, which makes his books stand out from others of the same genre. If you enjoyed Steig Larsson's Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, then you will be pleasantly surprised to find in Jo Nesbo an author who can write with all the same suspense but with a great degree more style and craft. The Thirst breaks new ground for the Harry Hole series in that it brings in some interesting technological elements - a killer with a penchant for the Tinder App - as well as some further depth for the protagonist, who seems to be shaking free from his alcoholic past. You really cannot make a mistake with author Jo Nesbo, but if you are looking to get started on something quick and fun to read, then The Thirst is a good point of origin.

 

Submitted by Michael Kopp, Upper School Social Studies teacher

 


 
 

                          

Title: What If Everything You Knew About Education Was Wrong 
Author: David Didau
Pages:
 438 
Call number: PRO 370 DID
Reviewer: James Wehrli, Ph.D., Upper School Economics teacher, June 2017

 

On my very short list of favorite education readings (including Why Don't Students Like School, The Knowledge Deficit, and "Building Evidence Into Education"), this book might very well be added. It is most effective when it knocks down or calls into question long-held (false) beliefs in education, a field which has been held to a very low bar with regard to supporting its "research" often with little more than anecdotal evidence, common sense, and zealot faith. Books like this, which draw heavily on cognitive psychology findings, are trying to reverse this hundred-year momentum.

 

Didau, a long-time English teacher and more recent administrator, divides his book into four sections: "Why we're wrong" discusses the cognitive biases that have led the teaching profession astray on issues, such as the learning styles myth, group work ("Feel free to have your students work in groups if you must, but don't pretend there is sufficient evidence out there to support your preferences being foisted on others"), and lectures ("….on the whole, the teacher will be the most expert, knowledgeable person in the room. Expecting them not to share their knowledge and expertise is just silly.").

 

"Through the threshold" discusses how cognitive psychologists believe learning does take place (invisibly, gradually, and by forgetting) and does not take place (linearly and easily). The "What could we do differently?" section is refreshingly the shortest since so many education books (and consultants) claim to have all the answers. The main lessons to be learned are that learning should be "deliberately difficult," concepts should be "spaced" and "interleaved" with others, assessing and self-testing should increase, and feedback should be reduced (yes, reduced).

 

"What else might we be getting wrong?" is the final section of this lengthy and extensively cited book (the appendices, "Data by the numbers" and "Five myths about intelligence" are also worth reading). Among other topics, Didau brings to light the problems surrounding other sacred cows, such as formative assessment, lesson observations, differentiation, and praise. 

 

Though on the whole this is a very readable book, sometimes the author might overestimate the background knowledge of the average reader. Fortunately, there are many works cited that can help fill in some of the gaps. Some parts of this book can be read piecemeal, but most effectively might be reading chapters and discussing them with others who are also open to the many counterintuitive messages the book has to offer. 

 

 

 



Title: Discworld

Author: Terry Pratchett

Pages:
 -

Call number: F PRA (ff)

Reviewer: Chris Friendly, Upper School Social Studies and Psychology teacher, June 2017

 

Good characters make good books. Funny characters make terrific books. Add in relevant themes and a fantasy world where anything can happen and does, you get Terry Pratchett's Discwold series of unputdownable books. They combine the British humor of Douglas Adams with stories revolving around feminism, justice, love, politics, gods, magic and a luggage chest of sapient pear-wood with a hundred legs and a grumpy attitude.

 

 

 

                       

 

Title: My Brilliant Friend
Author: Elena Ferrante
Pages:
 331
Call number: F FER

Reviewer: Mario Chioini, US Librarian, June 2017 

 

If upon hearing the name Naples you get the urge to call your best friend, and take Italian lessons it probably means that you have succumbed to the charms of Italian literary sensation Elena Ferrante (pseudonym) and her Neapolitan Novels series.

 

The story of a friendship is never a straightforward story to tell. It may be for that reason that Ferrante decided to spread hers over four books. The tetralogy is about the life-long friendship of Elena Greco and Lila Cerullo. 

 

My Brilliant Friend tells the story of their youth and adolescence in a poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples during the 1950s. Narrated by Elena, their story is also one of a city in search of a modern self in post-war Italy. (see Elizabeth Lefevre's review below) Elena and Lila are intelligent, curious and like school but only Elena sees education as a way to escape her life while Lila prefers to continue working in the family business. Like most real-life relationships theirs is complex and not immune to challenges, doubts, jealousy, misunderstandings and a whole lot of introspection.

 

While the pace is at times a bit slow and you have to keep the long list of families and characters within a hand's reach My Brilliant Friend is a vivid coming-of-age story peopled with characters who are real and touching.

 

Note: The Neapolitan Novels was made into a 2-part play and a TV series is said to be in production.

 

 

 

                       

 

Title: The Neapolitan Novels
Author: Elena Ferrante
Pages:
 4 books
Call number: F FER

Reviewer: Elizabeth Lefevre, Upper School Art teacher, June 2017

 

The four books of the Napolitain Series, written by Elena Ferrante kept me interested until the end which I knew would not be resolved yet hoped would be.  Like a great meal with no desert! Or a movie with no real ending.  The conclusion is very important.  To leave a mystery is discouraging after getting to know the characters so intimately.  Almost like a liaison without closure.
 

Surprisingly I did not register the very first chapter of the first book either.  I must reread it.  I believe that this might be due to the complexity of that first chapter.  So many different people to meet, I kept getting lost on who was who.
 

That being said ….Elena's character's questioning and introspection lead us to an analyzation of people that is nonexistent today.   There are not many people who live where they grew up and can have the depth of place and people that Elena describes.  The story comes to life through the time period of post WW2 Naples and its political and industrial events.  This is also interesting for someone who knows very little about that time in history.  Events are described as if they are actually happening.   Elena writes so well with a prose so beautifully constructed that even when parts of the novel seem long it does not matter.  I often felt that I would like to quote some of the things she said.
 

I suppose that the novels left me hungry for the same type of communication.  I could not put them down.   This happens in older films, where the dialogue is interesting, complex and beautiful not just a few words with not much depth.  People are watching more and more series on TV so that they can feel a connection to people.  We live in a fast world with no time left for relationships and where communication is done with text messages…. What a pity!

 

 

                            
 

Title: Behold the Dreamers

Author: Imbolo Mbue

Pages:
 382

Call number: F MBU
Reviewer: Maryama Antoine, Upper School English teacher, 
May 2017

 

Reviewer: Maryama Antoine

The huddled masses of Africa yearn for the American lifestyle: its opportunities, its decadence- but how far will they go to get it?  Where does one draw the moral line when desire peppers survival? These questions are at the core of Imbolo Mbue's debut novel: Behold The Dreamers. It is a heartfelt story that images the struggles and hopes of those for whom the statue of liberty still stands as shining beacon and the disappointments of the established where fractured marriages crumble under the pressure of golden handcuffs.

 

It is the tale of Jende Jonga and his wife Neni and their lives as immigrants from Cameroon in New York city.  It is also the story of Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers as the banking institution shakes in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, his attractive wife Cindy who drinks a little too much and the children gone elsewhere in search of truth.

Imbue samples from the top and bottom of American society and interweaves the lives of these two couples in order to make her case about corruption.

 

If you are looking for superb writing, sentences worthy of a frame - this novel may fail you. It is nonetheless a good read, profound and riveting in the pace it keeps and its lessons about class and immigration in America.


 

 

                        

 

Title: The Girls
Author: Emma Cline
Pages:
 355
Call number: F CLI
Reviewer: Filipa Pavic, Middle School English teacher, May 2017

 

Have you every wondered why anyone would ever join a cult of their own volition? If you do, you will enjoy Emma Cline's novel The Girls. Set in the 1960s, the story follows the life of teenage Evie Boyd who is longing for friends and a sense of place. She becomes infatuated with the dynamic and beautiful Suzanne who is able to lure Evie into the clutches of an infamous cult. 

 

As one reads the story, it is easy to understand why Evie was mesmerized by Suzanne and the offerings of her group given how well the story was written by Cline. The use of flashbacks and descriptive language kept the reader engaged and curious. One learns the final outcome of the cult in the initial pages of the novel but only at the end does Clive weave through the lurid details. The anticipation of the 'event' keeps one hooked! It is evident that the book is an allusion of the notorious Manson Family and the description of the cult leader mirrors that of Charles Manson. A compelling read for those looking for a well told story and for those interested in culturally significant periods in American history.  

 

 

 

                       

 

Title: While Glaciers Slept

Author: M Jackson

Pages:
 222

Call number: 551.31

Reviewer: Sofia Camacho Ferral, Senior student, April 2017

 

While Glaciers Slept by National Geographic researcher and expeditioner M Jackson is a powerful memoir in which she draws parallels between personal grief and her scientific experience as a glaciologist. Focusing on change, the story tells how a change of climate, whether within a family or out in nature, can have devastating effects. Jackson breaks down the complexities of her research to a more understandable narrative in which her parents' death and glacial findings are intertwined, allowing the reader to understand the urgency of climate change on a very human level. M Jackson's beautiful and powerful images of her work in the field, along with her accessible prose will help every reader understand her message.

 

Jackson teaches us that science is not just a catch-all term, but a symbol of valiant steps taken towards a specific goal. Regardless of whether or not science is of interest to you, While Glaciers Slept will definitely give you a fresh and unique perspective on scientific research and what it means to us as humans.