Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Science of Soldiers - Lucia Raatma

How do you get a teenager who doesn't like to read to pick up a book and read it?  You fill that book with details about soldiers and guns and technology, which just happens to be exactly what you get with this book, The Science of Soldiers.  A ton of really useful and really engaging information presented in a way that will pique the interest of many teens, even those who aren't great readers or aren't interested in reading.
This book is a very factual account of everything, scientifically, that goes into making soldiers successful and safe.  It covers everything from how they train to what they eat to what they wear, however it is a pretty thin book which will keep the reluctant reader interested. It starts off by describing an image of a soldier in the field in battle which gets the reader engaged very quickly. It describes the way that the weapon he is using relies on specific technologies to provide the upper hand to the soldier who then is able to get himself safely out of that situation.
From there the book goes on to talk about the different terrains soldiers deal with and all of the physical strains they must endure.  This leads to an explanation of how science helps trainers to provide appropriate obstacle courses and practice grounds to prepare soldiers and helps doctors to identify which men and women have the physical and mental characteristics that will help them to succeed as soldiers.  It also talks about military food and the way that science has been used to design meals that are nutritious, will keep the soldiers energy up and will keep when carried on a soldiers back for days at a time.  
While it is a very thin and short read, it is a great choice for the reluctant reader, not bombarding them with too much information or a topic that doesn't interest them.  The language is simple and accessible and it provides definitions for the more difficult words. There are also two other books in the series, so if a student likes this book you can give them 'The Science of Military Vehicles' and 'The Science of Weapons'.   
I have to add that I was surprised that this book was one of the selections because this definitely isn't a book that I would think to use in an English classroom.   The subject matter is very science oriented.  It would, however, be a good book to offer to a student who is not responding to novels or even graphic novels.  I think a lot of kids these days are interested in technology and the very straightforward factual approach that this book offers.  It associates things that interest young people like soldiers, and the ways that science impacts these things.  It's very basic, the format is something that I think many of us have read before in science or even math classes, in this case its strength is the fact that it is about soldiers and the reader can feel like they are getting a behind the scenes look at this very interesting world, extra interesting for those who are considering a military career.
This book definitely lays the framework for a cross subject lesson, it would be really easy to use this along with maybe a military themed novel, maybe a historical one so the students could learn about the history of warfare (this book touches on history in the form of technological advances) and mathematics could easily be brought into the mix, even the first page of this book talks about the mathematical calculations used by smart weapons to increase precision.  Of course science would cover the technologies and sciences that are used in the military.
Overall an excellent academic resource and 'gateway book' for reluctant readers.


Nickolas Armstrong said...

This book sounds interesting! Even above and beyond the concept of YAL, I have never run across a book before that covers in detail the science behind being a soldier. I think you are totally right about the typical teenage boy being inclined to read a book like this, and I would think there would be many girls interested as well. This would make an interesting if not questionable book choice for a typical English class, but if it gets kids to read than it gets kids to read!

Tom Philion said...

Renee--I hear your resistance to this book in your review. I know where you are coming from, since I'm not that much different, but you might revise knowing that the job of an English teacher is to sell reading to all kids, even boys who don't like to read and are interested in careers in the military. Given this, I think you could make the first two paragraphs more positive, less sarcastic.

Also, remember that science teachers don't always integrate reading materials into their courses beyond textbooks. Again, you might find that you need to be the person at your grade level who engages kids in reading beyond textbooks, and for a boy who can't see the value in reading assigned literature, this might be an option, at some point in the entire school year (in other words, not everyone has to read the same book in order to engage in reading).

Just some thoughts to ponder as you both think about revising and also get ready for the diversity that awaits you in schools and the world.