Body Battles – by Rita Golden Gelman (1992)

Body Battles a

This is a great little science book for elementary-age kids. It explains some of the inner workings of our bodies. Stuff like viruses and bacteria, earwax, mucous, stomach acid, and the immune system. The book is written with humor and colorful illustrations, so kids won’t find it boring.

Body Battles c

It isn’t overly long, and parents will find this book to be a good introduction to the science of the human body.


The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks – by Rebecca Skloot (2010)

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

When I read this book years ago, it seemed too strange to believe. As I re-read it, it had the same effect. A poor black woman living in rural Virginia named Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She went to Johns Hopkins hospital, which was one of the few hospitals in those days that would care for black patients. Instead of doing a hysterectomy to remove the entire tumor, the doctor gave her an internal radium treatment. Although her condition temporarily improved, the cancer spread to the rest of her body.  Henrietta died in October of 1951, leaving behind five children, the youngest one a baby.

While treating her, the doctor had saved a sample of her tumor, which he sent to his cancer research lab. All the tissue samples from other patients had died in his lab within days, but Henrietta’s cells divided and multiplied and continued to live. Eventually there was so much tissue that the doctor shared it with other  labs that wanted a sample. It ended up all over the world, and is still being used by medical researchers today.

Until this biography was written in 2010, there was very little information about the woman behind the HeLa cells, as they came to be known. The author spent a lot of time with Henrietta’s children so that she could properly document Henrietta’s life, both before the cancer struck, and while she was in treatment. Her childhood was one of poverty, abuse, and inappropriate family relations. To say the family was dysfunctional would be an understatement. It was hard to read those chapters.

The book describes in great detail how Henrietta’s cells were used. Some of the research was good and gave good progress to cures for various diseases. But along the way, there were many things that were immoral, such as injecting living people with the cancer cells to see if they would develop cancer or build up an immunity to it. This was done, once again, without informed consent. And as time went by, Henrietta’s medical history was revealed to the world, something that is considered illegal today.

Although there were many medical benefits from the HeLa cells, this book reveals the shady side of cancer research history. Everyone wants to find a cure for debilitatng illnesses and diseases, but it needs to be done in a way that is open and honest while protecting privacy, and that does not put innocent people at risk.

Choosing To See – by Mary Beth Chapman (2010)

Choosing To See

Mary Beth Chapman is married to Steven Curtis Chapman, the award-winning Christian music artist. Together they had three children, but their family was not complete. When their oldest child Emily was in high school, she became convinced that her parents should adopt an orphan girl from China. After some thought and much prayer, Steven and Mary Beth became convinced that God did indeed want them to adopt. Over the course of a few years, they adopted three little girls from orphanages in China. The youngest child was named Maria.

The book covers how the Chapmans met and married, Steven’s struggle to make it in the music industry, and their growing family. There are good times and bad times. But nothing compares in tragedy to the day when little Maria dashes in front of their son Will’s car, and is run over. She is rushed to the hospital, but is too badly injured to survive. The entire family experiences almost unbearable grief, as well as feelings of guilt.

This was an extremely difficult story to read. I had to stop and start back up several times to finish the book. The very randomness of Maria’s death gives the reader the uneasy realization that this could happen to any family. All it takes is one small thing to happen, and your child can be gone. For most people, this is a disturbing thought. But Steven and Mary Beth leaned on their deep faith in God, and their family slowly was able to heal. Their testimony reminds us that no matter what terrible things may happen in life, God will carry us through our darkest days.

The Power Of Small – by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval (2009)

The Power Of Small

The title of the book says it all. When we look at the problems in life, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, to feel helpless to do anything. But the authors of this book ask us to look at the small things that we are able to do, instead of the impossible larger tasks. The book gives example after example of people doing small acts of consideration and kindness, and making a difference.

I love this quote near the end of the book:

“Each and every one of us has the power to leave this world a better place than we found it. But we would argue that we do so not by creating grandiose plans, or imagining ourselves as some part of a vast movement, but by the small day-to-day actions and decisions that, together with the actions of millions of others, can transform the world.”

Stuff You Missed In History Class

stuff you missed in history class

If you find your time or attention too short for books, try listening to some online podcasts. One of my favorites is “Stuff You Missed In History Class”. The hosts of the podcast research and share interesting historical facts that didn’t make it into traditional textbooks. History is so much more interesting when it’s just two people talking about what they learned about someone, instead of a dry, boring account in school-books. You can download podcasts to your smart-phone, put the phone in your pocket, and learn a lot while you’re working around the house, driving, or walking.

Today I listened to podcasts about Sojourner Truth, the famous slave who became a preacher and an advocate for the rights of black Americans. Some cool things I learned about her:
-Her first language was Dutch, as she was owned by a Dutch slave-owner.

-In 1827, she started having religious visions and became a preacher.

-She was part of two different communes, one called “The Kingdom” in 1933, and the other a utopian group that operated a silk factory.

-She got to meet President Lincoln in 1864, although when she later tried to attend his second term inauguration ceremony, she was turned away because she was black.

-After the Civil War ended and all slaves were freed, she helped many field slaves to adjust to freedom and learn to live independently.

-She was also a care-taker in the hospital after the war was over.

-Rosa Parks was not the first person to defy the rules of segregation on public transportation. Sojourner would get on “white” streetcars and stay seated as long as possible before being thrown off.

During the 1850s, she went on a 22-state lecture tour, speaking about the importance of equality among the races, women’s rights, religion and politics.

-Her biography is the only written account of an enslaved person in Dutch New York.
Her last recorded words were: “Be a follower of Jesus.”

The great thing about podcasts is that it gives you a little taste of whatever they are talking about, and then you can decide if you want to delve deeper into that person’s history.

The Storm On Our Shores – by Mark Obmascik (2019)

Storm On Our Shores

Do you think that the battles of World War II never touched United States soil? That’s what I thought until I read this book. In May of 1943, a brutal struggle took place on the Aleutian island of Attu, which is part of the state of Alaska. It was a remote location that was almost uninhabited. For nearly a year, Japanese soldiers battled American soldiers for control of the island. It was a cold, windy, foggy place with spongy ground, which made it almost impossible to transport vehicles across. Most of the fighting was guerrilla-style.

When the Americans finally won control of the island, a hand-written journal was found on the dead body of a Japanese doctor. It was translated into English with the hope of finding some military secrets. But it contained only the daily happenings of the surgeon, and his desire to return home to his wife and daughters, one of whom he had never met. Copies of the translation began circulating among the servicemen. It was a side to the enemy that most had not considered – that some of the Japanese soldiers who were drafted were much like themselves. They loved their families, were homesick, and wanted the war to end.

The Japanese surgeon -Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi – had actually spent ten years in the United States studying to become a doctor. He had returned back to Japan to marry his childhood sweetheart, but hoped to become a U.S. citizen someday. But the start of World War II killed that dream. The Japanese were the enemy, and the United States didn’t want more coming into the country, let alone becoming citizens. Paul’s dream died, but he did the best he could to be a good doctor in Japan. He and his wife were 7th-Day Adventist Christians, which was not a good faith to have in Japan. Then came the order that he was being drafted. There was no choice; he had to serve. So Paul Tatsuguchi tended  to the medical needs of his fellow soldiers, while trying to follow his religious beliefs of non-violence. It was an impossible situation.

The book goes back and forth between the story of Paul’s life, and the life of American soldier Laird, who shot and killed Paul. By the end of the book, I felt sorry for both of the men.

The battle of Attu was mostly unknown to Americans, and the government and the military suppressed the story. This battle claimed thousands of lives, both American and Japanese, and was totally unnecessary. When will mankind ever learn that in war-times, everyone loses? Everyone.

An Invisible Thread – by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski (2011)

An Invisible Thread

When we think of life-long friends, what comes to mind are: kids we went to school with, neighbors we hung out with, and college roommates we kept kept in touch with after graduation. Our friends tend to be about the same age as us, and have shared interests.

That is what makes the story of Laurie and Maurice so different. They weren’t the same age, race, or socio-economic status. They met by chance – or was it chance? Maurice was an 11-year-old black kid panhandling to feed himself, since his mother was a drug addict incapable of providing for him. Laurie was an advertising executive walking down a busy city street in Manhattan when Maurice asked her for money. She shook her head no, kept going, then stopped and went back. Instead of giving him money, Laurie took him to the nearest McDonalds and fed him. And that was the beginning of their life-long friendship.

Maurice and Laurie met every Monday to talk and eat together. The other days of the week, Laurie would pack her young friend a huge brown-bag lunch, and leave it with the doorman of her apartment building for Maurice to pick up while she was at work. An invisible thread drew them together, and became stronger as time went by.

This true story is incredible. Even though it seemed that Laurie and Maurice had absolutely nothing in common, they did. Both had fathers that had failed them, one being a violent alcoholic and the other being an absent drug addict. What I took away from this book was: 1, God brings people into our lives at just the right moment, even if it seems random, and 2, keep your eyes open because you might be the “Laurie” or the “Maurice” in someone’s life.