Small Friends Considered

My latest post on the microbiology blog Small Things Considered, hosted by the American Society for Microbiology, features a trio of brief book reviews that should actually be of interest to a broad audience, not just microbiologists. See the reviews here.

The first two are of children’s picture books that tell fictionalized stories telling the biology of symbiosis in the microbial world. They also include fantastically illustrated appendices explaining the science in more detail:

25022719The Squid, The Vibrio & the Moon
by Ailsa Wild (Illustrated by Aviva Reed)
Scale Free Network – September 2014
ISBN 9780992587208 – 36 Pages – Paperback
Source: Publisher

25022897
Zobi and the Zoox
by Ailsa Wild (Illustrated by Aviva Reed)
Scale Free Network – December 2014
ISBN 9780992587215 – 44 Pages – Paperback
Source: Publisher

The third book reviewed is of a new graphic novel from the publisher that unfolds on two levels: a macro level from the point of view of a Victorian nurse during World War I, and a micro level from the point of view of the resident gut microbes (including the roles of phage) that fight to keep the nurse alive when she contracts dysentery.

30916514
The Invisible War: A Tale on Two Scales
by Ailsa Wild (Illustrated by Ben Hutchins)
Scale Free Network – August 2016
ISBN 9780992587253 – 88 Pages – Paperback
Source: Publisher

Please check out the post on Small Things Considered to read more about these. Also keep your eyes here for an upcoming link there to reviews I’m now writing on The Hidden Half of Nature: The Microbial Roots of Life and Health by David R. Montgomery & Anne Biklé, and of Ed Yong’s new release I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life.

Free eBook Debut Offer for Illustrated Microbiology Children’s Book

I wanted to let readers know about this beautifully illustrated children’s book that is having its debut as an eBook today, and is on special FREE download offer for this week! This and a newer volume are in my pile for a future posting on Small Things Considered, but I was able to get the electronic version to preview in the meantime to check out before letting you know about it.

SquidVibrioMoon_free_eBook

The Squid, The Vibrio, and the Moon
By Ailsa Wild and Gregory Crocetti
Illustrated by Aviva Reed
Scale Free Network – 1s January 2014
ISBN 9780992587208 – 36 Pages – eBook

If you don’t know about the bacteria species Vibrio fischeri and its symbiotic relationship with the Hawaiian bobtailed squid, then this is a perfect introduction to the fascinating pair – whether you are a child or not. It is told in two parts, first from the perspective of the bacteria and then the point of view of the squid in a way that explains how the two species are mutually beneficial in their pairing. A science section that follows the story goes into greater detail of the microbiology.

I’ll write up some more on this in the future along with the authors/illustrator’s new book Zobi and the Zooxon coral symbiosis.

For the promotional period this week of 1st – 7th May 2015 follow this link to get your FREE copy of The Squid, the Vibrio, and the Moon, in iBook or GooglePlay format, or (if like me you prefer the physical beast) order a printed copy.

Real Teachers: True Stories of Renegade Educators, by Stuart Grauer

Real Teachers: True Stories of Renegade Educatiors,
by Stuart Grauer
Publisher: SelectBooks
ISBN: 1590799704
240 pages, paperback
Published February 2013
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

It’s been a little over a week since I finished this book, and am now finally getting to post a review amid the busy flow of teaching this semester. Upon finishing it, and since, I vacillated between what ‘star’ rating I should give this collection of essays. In terms of expectations it was a bit of a disappointment to me, but in terms of judging it solely on what its own being it warrants higher consideration; so I went for the latter.

I expected this to be a collection of essays about “Real Teachers”, stories of different in-class experiences, perhaps even from multiple points of view. In a very broad interpretation it could be considered to be so. But really it is more of a series of reflections, a memoir of sorts, of Grauer’s personal experiences and view. Because Grauer breathes education and allows the subject to intersect all aspects of his existence and interactions, the ‘educational lessons’ and ‘teachers’ he accounts in each essay come from all aspects of experience and position, whether a professor, a Native American high school teacher, a child relative, or the impoverished citizens of rural Mexico. Each chapter memoir focuses on key themes or ideas related to education, both theoretical and practical. They are each personal reflections by Grauer on what he learned from each experience regarding how education can, and perhaps should, proceed.

Within this framework, Grauer accomplishes, above all, inspiration and food for further thought. Nicely, he includes victories, failures, and those educational experiences that fall somewhere in between. Similarly, some chapters are long and assertive in their conclusions, while others are brief and more meditative. While the reader might not agree with all of Grauer’s conclusions and statements, I don’t see that as the point of this book. It is not written to convince: as a memoir, not an ‘academic’ work, it lacks extensive citations to backup all assertions. Instead the point seems to be for Grauer to get the educator thinking more deeply and more holistically about the art of their vocation. And perhaps to recapture some of that passion and joy.

The holistic aspects of education permeate the entire book, echoing the commitment of Grauer to his calling and underscoring the intense personal and deep connections involved in the education process between educator and student and the surrounding physical world and human culture. Being written by Grauer and prominently featuring his own private school, I feared the book would come across as self-serving and boastful. For the most part I didn’t find this to be the case. Most consistently, I found Grauer to be frankly honest and focused on a goal of increased personal learning. While Grauer comes across as particularly ‘liberal’ in the classic sense, the book is not remotely political, and Grauer likewise holds positions and ideas that are profoundly ‘conservative’ as well, all depending on what he has concluded engenders the greatest opportunity for real teaching.

At the end, I don’t actually know if there is a strict definition of what a “real teacher” is to Grauer, much as it is hard for a biologist like myself to come up with a simple one sentence definition of “life”. It would be interesting to read a book by Grauer that focuses more on solutions and firm facts regarding education, rather than relatively vague reflective meditations. But perhaps Grauer’s point is that there are no standardized solutions or universal firm facts of the teaching process, but a complex, adaptive relationship between people who require openness to getting things wrong and learning from one another through missteps.

Four Stars out of Five

Courting Greta, by Ramsey Hootman

Courting Greta, by Ramsey Hootman
Publisher: Gallery Books
ISBN: 1476711291
374 pages, paperback
Published June 2013
Source: Goodreads First-Reads

This novel was a pleasant surprise that I did enjoy despite its simplicity. Both the story and the writing are straight-forward, with no complex, artistic manipulations of the language and no surprise twists, making a quick read. Yet I enjoyed reading it the entire way, despite the predictability and its general positivity where things work out despite the travails of life.

It works because it is so straight-forward and simple. Hootman’s purpose here is not elaborate plot, exciting action, or rich, inspiring poetic prose. The novel is about characters, the protagonist and the woman he is courting, Greta. The majority consists of dialogue or the internal thoughts of the protagonist, little attention is given to the details of surroundings or the world apart from the one of the relationship between these two people. The story of their relationship, amid all of their eccentricities and metaphorical baggage is entertaining and enrapturing simply because Hootman is so exceptional at rendering the characters realistically.

I wish Hootman were able to achieve these strengths of characterization while still fulfilling other aspects of the novel, such as descriptions of the settings, or the personalities/histories of secondary characters who end up feeling terribly wooden compared to the fluidity of the novel’s stars. If you like touching and realistic stories of a developing romance then this is something you should without a doubt check out, but I’m not sure if a broader audience would appreciate it as much.

Three  Stars out of Five