Book Recommendation – Genomics

It’s September 1st and time to delve back into my reviews and musings here on the blog. For those who are regular followers, my cross country road trip, New York to San Francisco, was a blast and I know many of you traveled with me through my photo journaling of the experience on FB. Despite COVID I am feeling super lucky to be already developing a wonderful community here in SF, and my new job promises to be stretching and rewarding. I am kicking off with a nonfiction title that kicks some scientific ass, and one I am certainly adding to my new high school library shelves!

Title: Genomics, A Revolution in Health and Gene Discovery

Authors Whitney Stewart & Hans C. Anderson, MD

 Publisher: 21st Century Book (Lerner), Sept 1st, 2020

Ages: 13+

Themes: genomics, genome project, disease, ethics, ancestry, gene therapy, gene sequencing, forensic science, DNA, science, molecular biology

Genre: Nonfiction

Synopsis:

Over the past 50 years, scientists have made incredible progress in the application of genetic research to human health and disease treatment. Innovative tools and techniques such as gene therapy can treat inherited disorders that were previously untreatable, or prevent them from happening in the first place. You can take a DNA test to learn where your ancestors came from. Police officers make use of genetic evidence to identify criminals–or innocents. And some doctors are using new medical techniques for unprecedented procedures.

Genomics: A Revolution in Health and Disease Discovery delves into the history, science, and ethics behind recent breakthroughs in genetic research. Authors Whitney Stewart and Hans Andersson, MD, present fascinating case studies that show how real people have benefitted from genetic research. Though the genome remains full of mysteries, researchers and doctors are working hard to uncover its secrets and find the best ways to treat patients and cure diseases. The discoveries to come will inform how we target disease treatment, how we understand our health, and how we define our very identities.

Opening:

Roy remembers being a healthy child despite suffering from a sinus infection about once a year. Back then Roy had more important things to think about than head congestion and a runny nose. He was a talented trumpet player and started playing at nightclubs at the age of fourteen. Later, though, he began to have more frequent sinus infections and often felt tired . He thought his health problems came from performing at night in a smoke-filled room and from not getting enough sleep.

Defintion:

GENOMICS: noun, BIOLOGY

  1. the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution, and mapping of genomes

Why I like this book:

I rarely review STEAM books, but as I know one of the authors, I was fascinated by how they would present this to a younger readership, and I was not disappointed. This is an interesting and accessible brief presentation of genomics, what DNA is, what it means for humans, what sequencing is, how it works, and what that means in practical terms for the general population.

Genomics is a giant subject, and I can’t imagine the discussions the authors and editors had in deciding what to include and what to leave out. I think they did a stellar job in creating an introduction to complex concepts which can be digested and understood by high schoolers and demystifying the complicated science. Those inspired by this overview will acquire enough comprehension to pursue their specific areas of interest/questions beyond this introduction. Especially as the book includes twenty+ pages of source notes, a glossary, selected bibliography and supplemental resources.

Getting young people interested in and excited about science and technology is critical not just for raising the next generation of researchers, doctors, and engineers but in raising awareness of how their daily choices can influence theirs and our planet’s health. I love the dedication of this book, which includes the hope that it will help inspire young people to train in the field of genetic science and medicine. As a complete novice in this area, but with a healthy curiosity for health and genetics, this book felt pitched at my level of understanding and while covering many molecular biology discoveries, it remained very accessible, readable and intriguing for me. I would offer it to any friend curious about the heady advancements that science has seen over the past half century in genomics and allied research. One of my closest friends is a scientist in diagnostics and she has helped me understand the importance of genomics in the future of diagnostic and clinical medicine.

The book uses several case studies, starting with that of a musician who had an array of symptoms over a long period. This first case shows the length of time and commitment needed both from the patient and their family as well as all the health care professionals to bring some sort of satisfactory resolution. The authors do not shy way from unresolved case studies, where maybe only partial diagnoses have been possible. The demonstrate the diligence of the researchers and caregivers and constant evolution in the field offering continued hope for breakthroughs.

To give you more of a taste, Genomics looks briefly at the history of genetic science and areas like the development of screening, mapping the genome, gene therapy, Sanger sequencing, and the massive advances the genome project has brought in the treatment of many undiagnosed patients. I also appreciated that the authors look at the way DNA sequencing has enhanced other fields, such as the study of archeology revealing how many cross-disciplinary aspects there are to this science. DNA data has been used to look at the migration trail of our ancestors or, as those of us who watch many police series know so well, to solve many crimes. The book repeatedly addresses the many ethical questions that use of these scientific discoveries raises, from revealing familial links or lack thereof when doing ancestry tests etc, to the insidious rise of eugenics early last century and how insurance companies in the US can misuse data to penalize certain citizens with conditions likely to cause many health issues. Discrimination on racial and transgender lines is confronted and respect for members of the disability community is prioritized.  These sorts of issues would be great as discussion topics in high school classes looking at opposing viewpoints and ethical controversies not just in science classes.

I also want to give a shout out to the inclusion of lesser know female scientists who have contributed so much to this research, such as Rosalind Franklin, whose research on the DNA structure helped her male colleagues win the Nobel Prize for Physiology or medicine in 1962!

Through sidebars and various perspectives, multiple explanations and diagrams, the authors simplify complicated information into easy-to-work-with concepts. This takes what high school students start to learn in their biology class to real-world technology applications of biotechnology, which I think many will find fascinating. Add this to your high school NF shelves, please.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes. 

Resources/Activities:

New terms are defined in the text and the book does include an abbreviated glossary.

The ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links.

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Jo’s Journey 2020 (and start of my usual summer blog hiatus)

My advice for aspiring writers is go to New York. And if you can’t go to New York, go to the place that represents New York to you, where the standards for writing are high, there are other people who share your dreams, and where you can talk, talk, talk about your interests. Writing books begins in talking about it, like most human projects, and in being close to those who have already done what you propose to do. Walter Kirn

You cannot sum up New York City in one paragraph, let alone one word. Each borough has its own flavor. The combination of cultures that walk its streets: white, black, Asian, Arab and Latino, testifies to the city which was built by immigrants, where no one can lay claim, but to which everyone belongs. My gratitude snowballs when I think of the privilege to have had a season of my nomadic life in this electric city where dreams are made. I am not yet the published author I hoped to become when I landed at JFK for the first time, but I am on the way there and my writing chutzpah and community have only flourished in this publishing city. After 7+ years in and around New York City, I must bid my au-revoir, for a revoir there will definitely be, as I have far too many friends here not to return, especially as COVID19 prevented all the farewell parties I would have had.

Some Random Pics of 2013-2020 in New York City and on the East Coast

Obviously, I could write a book about my experiences, and yes, yes, I know I have been promising that travelogue for many years. It will happen. Meanwhile, I moved eleven times during these years, so let me walk you through just a handful of New York firsts.

I began my New York sojourn in Park Slope, just a couple of minutes-walk from Prospect Park and Brooklyn Central Library. The first Sunday morning, I was treated to breakfast in bed. Not grits or pancakes, but a genuine New York bagel, thickly smeared with cream cheese, topped with melt-in-your-mouth lox, and a scattering of capers and lemon juice. But wait, it gets better, I had reading matter too, to browse my matinée away. You guessed it, my introduction to the New Yorker, where one article could take several cups of coffee, and was like reading an erudite novella. Sorry if I am kvetching too much, but this was also my initiation into some insanely useful Yiddish expressions. 

I then spent a few months in a couple of Bed Stuy locations, including my first time living in a Brownstone. This mid 19th century town house with its friendly stoop, offered large brick fireplaces, an old claw-footed bath tub and, in this case, a grand piano from my landlord who’d been pianist in some of the best gay bars New York has to offer.

Speaking of gay dives, truly perhaps only San Francisco could offer a better introduction to the gay scene than NYC. I am still moved when I visit Stonewall, and I have cheered myself hoarse at every pride march since I arrived. I felt singularly sorrowful when COVID meant the cancelation of 2020 NYC pride, on its 50thanniversary. This is a very accepting city in which to be queer and has been very healing for me.

Carroll Gardens proved to be my favorite Brooklyn neighborhood, possibly because of its French/Italian vibe. But also, most certainly, because I lived within walking distance of some of the coolest writer/illustrator friends I know and what became the first frequentation of many cool Indie Book Stores. Sadly Book Court, where I went to my first book signing, with author-illustrator, Lauren Castillo, closed in 2016 after 35 wonderful years in the community. Those friends have also left, and are all scattered to different parts of the US now, but boy we had some cool meetups in Bar Tabac, where I could indulge my culinary desires for a Stella Artois beer and steaming bowl of moules & frites. 

I NEVER saw raccoons in Central Park, despite living in its vicinity for 2.5 years, both on the Upper West Side and in Harlem to the north, and being told they could be seen scavenging most evenings in trash cans. However, NYC did provide me with other critter experiences not to be missed. Now, you are talking to someone here who has dealt with flying cockroaches the size of small bats, in Malawi. But you’ve not experienced New York until you are rinsing conditioner off your hair in the shower and up through the drain just millimeters from your chalk white feet, a devilish black bug the size of a lime crawls out and scuttles towards you. Maybe the water masked my screams, but never has a shampoo bottle been wielded with such bloodthirsty murderous intention. The only other time I jumped out of a shower so quickly was in an outdoor one in Zambia, where you quickly learned frogs in the shower meant snakes nearby. My architect buddy Anne later entertained me with grim urban stories of American roaches, aka water bugs, entering Manhattan buildings via vents, sump pumps, and other access points to take a trip up a pipe to enter an apartment. 

I would be remiss not to give a shout-out to Sydney the rat atop the trash can in the gardens of the natural history museum who never failed to greet me with a twitch of his tail if I passed after sundown. There are tales of seal-spotting off Long Island and bird-watching in Central Park, but the most enduring fauna-experience of my Manhattan years was in the apartment I stayed in for just one week, in which I encountered a bug that would give me nightmares and phantom itching for more than a year. I only brought one medium sized bag and a small backpack when I moved to the States, and I got rid of that and almost all its contents when I left the bed-bug infested room just before Christmas in 2013. Actually, it turned out to be great preparation for COVID19 as many folk wouldn’t hug me or let me near their apartments for many weeks out of understandable fear of the spread.

I’ve biked, and walked, and bussed, and subwayed the streets, parks and bridges of NYC. I have kayaked and sailed on the Hudson and in Long Island Sound. I highly recommend doing a walking tour, whether with a ranger in Central Park, or if you are really lucky, with Leonard Marcus, who does Childrens Books Walking tours in various locations (think Eloise at the Plaza and scoops about the world famous publishers on 5thAvenue). If you think only cities as ancient as Rome have treasures around every piaza, you would be wrong. There are nuggets of history all over this city, from Seneca Village, a 19th-century settlement of mostly free black landowners in the borough of Manhattan within present-day Central Park. … to the haunting 9/11 memorial. Not to forget the 24-hour urban heart-pumping humanity at its most dynamic. The throb of New York, I have experienced nowhere else. I was sad to move out to the nearby suburb of Mamaroneck, but being in cycling distance of work, still by the water, and just 45 mins ride into Grand Central made it worth it.

In Mamaroneck, I immersed myself in the French community who have been settling here since the opening of the French American School 40 years ago. It’s been weird and cool to wander into Trader Joe’s and hear French being spoken, or find books in French at the wonderful Larchmont Indie bookstore, Andersons. Also, this has been a great location for many hiking trips with my gal pals into Harriman park and Bear Mountain, as well as longer trips up to the Catskills, the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Adirondack peaks and even the Blue Ridge.

Since buying my old Subaru 5 years ago, I have explored every state from Maine to Georgia in the east. I’ve tasted my first: SouthPortland lobster bake, clam chowder at the Boston wharf, oysters in the famed Grand Central Oyster bar, some exquisite wine from Cape May vineyards in NJ, homecooked deep-fried chicken and ale out by a Tennessee firepit, grilled pink snapper on a Florida Keys’ beach, po’boys in New Orleans café, shrimp n grits on the banks of Moon River Savannah, and so much more.

I have loved my years out east, but I am itching for new adventures. It’s a strange time to be taking a road trip, but on July 1st, my trusty Subaru, Matilda, will be pointing her hood westward toward the setting sun—destination, San Francisco, where I am thrilled to be joining a new writing community in the Bay Area and taking up the role of IB librarian and the French American International School of San Francisco. So many new friendships and places to explore lie ahead. What a journey. I shall be photo-journaling my trip, as always, on FB and IG if you want to come along. My playlist is ready (as is my stock of Purell and wipes), but feel free to leave your audiobook recommendations for me. 

Lastly, I would appreciate your good thoughts for safe travels and a smooth visa transfer. Merci.

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That Dog – Perfect Picture Book Friday

Title: That Dog

Author & Illustrator Emma Lazell

 Publisher: Pavilion, UK, 2020

Ages: 4-8

Themes: humor, dognappers, dogs, crime, clues, criminals

Synopsis:

There’s a team of dognappers on the loose! They’ve stolen lots of pooches, but this time they’re up against a very clever dog.

The cunning Penelope Dognapper is very keen to get her hands on the latest rare breed, the lesser-spotted woofer. Her big mistake is sending Patrick, her accomplice, to do the job. He has great difficulty identifying the right dog–that dog–and in a house that also contains a snake, a tortoise, and a characterful cat, you can imagine the chaos that ensues as he tries to steal the dog.

And that dog is a very smart woofer. He’s a bit of a detective in his spare time, and he might just have worked out who’s behind the dastardly crimes. Will he avoid getting caught himself and rescue his fellow creatures?

Opening:

Why I like this book:

This is a hilarious dog-napping caper, with decidedly snide and mildly subversive British humor, which I love. UK picture books truly are different to American ones, and I love this focus on two nasty dog-nappers, Penny, the boss, and Pat, the inept sidekick. Cool clues are scattered across the pages for kids to spot. But they will perceive the “evil” looks of the criminals from page one, for sure.

The pages overflow with funny critters: oodles of dogs and plenty of other dog-substitutes, but the hero is, of course, that dog, who outsmarts the crime-duo with excellence. Kids will find the canine-crime story a hoot.

Resources/Activities:

Great discussion on all the clues can ensue.

Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and/or activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

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