Friday, June 29, 2012

Nonfiction Review: Every Bone Tells a Story

Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and DebatesEvery Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions, and Debates by Jill Rubalcaba
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With an emphasis on nonfiction in the Common Core, several nonfiction selections will appear in my creative writing class for the first time: The Ominivore's Dilemma (Youth Edition); Chasing Lincoln's Killer; Flesh and Blood So Cheap; and Every Bone Tells a Story.

I discovered Every Bone Tells a Story in Carol Jago's book on the Common Core, With Rigor for All. With biography and autobiography often being the dominant nonfiction found on our classroom bookshelves or in our students' hands, I dug into Every Bone Tells a Story hopeful.

The first aspect that I like about Jill Rubalcaba's work is that connects to the subjects our students study in 8th grade: Earth Science, Geography, and more to my focus, informative writing. Every Bone Tells a Story may appeal as a literature circle choice for those students with an intensive interest in either Earth Science or Geography.

The individual discoveries, deductions, and debates of four separate hominins unfold in a style developed for adolescents--I'd say it is perfect for 8th grade but could also stretch forward into 9th and 10th grade depending on your needs.

William Blake wrote, "As a man is, so he sees." In Jill Rubalcaba's Every Bone Tells a Story we are asked to see through the lens of archeology...but when we do so, we learn of the many sub-lenses within the field. And each distinct lens, studying a specific and often myopic element of a bone, carries great passion, history, and responsibility. Yet, nothing is ever easy.

Rubalcaba walks us through the often clumsy circumstances by which four high-profile hominins have been discovered. In many cases, everyday people stumble across remains and never realizing what they have before them, damage the bones or other artifacts of the site. In two of the cases, everyone realized the discovery was significant and in their own unique ways (incredibly and unconscionably) consciously damaged some of the evidence! This section of each hominin's story reads as a piece, a fragment, of a narrative. In each case, this "baby" narrative captured my interest and carried me into the second segment of each discovery: deductions.

This is where each story becomes more science oriented.

In general, these sections show the reader that with each year humanity is able to understand more because of the advancements of technology. Moreover, the study of archeologists continues to grow more specialized. I am by no means a "science person" but the easy-to-read (and comprehend) detail of how much a scientist can learn just by studying one tooth, or a fragment of a colon, completely fascinated me. From the fragments of wood or charcoal used to heat their shelter or cook their food, to the pollen that can be painstakingly extracted from samples, scientists can learn where people traveled, to their lifestyle, to the history of our spoken language.

And this leads to what I find one of the strongest elements of this book: debate. I look forward to discussion and writing with my students about how heated and intense science can be...and is. Rubalcaba cites several occasions where scientists vehemently disagree with findings and how many often scramble for a piece of a newly discovered hominin for the chance to view it through THEIR lens. Each sub-region of archeology illuminates something new about these hominins through their own lens--a lens that is powerful, narrow, and...divisive!

As far as writing, the book can used as a mentor text as a whole, or the teacher could use individual hominin stories. Rubalcaba exercises the tenets for good informative writing by keeping the writing at arm's length from the reader--she isn't trying to persuade us or appeal to us as much as she is trying to inform us. Often the information does inspire some head-shaking especially when the readers learns of some of the interference and obstacles the scientists encounter before they can do their important work.

Full of expertise and a wonderful glossary, specialized and accessible for adolscents, I strongly
recommend this book as a boost to the nonfiction in your classroom library...or curriculum.

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