Jack the Ripper

My family loves a good mystery. My husband isn't a reader, though, so the mysteries we share tend to be on tv. Right now we are watching s History Channel series about H.H. Holmes, a serial killer from Chicago in the 1890s.

Holmes is actually an alias, one of many, as this man was a con artist and committed fraud many times for money as well.

The series is based on the theory that H.H. Holmes could have also been Jack the Ripper. This theory has been put forward by his great-great-grandson. The grandson and a former CIA investigator are looking for clues to either prove or disprove this theory. It is a compelling argument and I think it has a strong basis in fact. We are only two episodes into the eight part series, so I can't tell you anything definitively.

What I can tell you is I have read books of differing theories on who the Ripper was.

Cornwell is the author of a bestselling mystery series. She believes in research and backs up her theories. She postulates that Jack the Ripper was a troubled impressionist artist who was known for painting odd subject matter. Walter Sickert followed the Impressionist art style and so would have painted things he actually saw.

This painting is called The Camden Town Murder, and the Ripper's last known victim was killed in her bed.

A second book I have read is
The theory here is that the man who was Jack the Ripper stopped killing because he was institutionalized after slitting his own wife's throat.

If I was going to pick one suspect based on these two books, I'd go with Sickert, but now I think H.H. Holmes could be him.

One of the things about this mystery is that I don't think we will ever conclusively prove who he was. Crime scene investigation was in its infancy at that time and the scenes were often contaminated by unwary gawkers and police officers. DNA could yield clues but I don't know that much of the evidence remains. There is a shawl from Mary Eddows being tested for the show but I doubt the blood is anyone but hers.

I wish I had more time to read other theories for comparison, but I just don't right now. I'll have to rely on the History Channel series to sate my curiosity for now.

Shark Lady: Eugenie Clark

Today’s book is a new picture book biography of Eugenie Clark. Clark was a trailblazing scientist who left a grand legacy to science.

Eugenie was discouraged from going into a scientific career, but was unwilling to give up her love of the oceans. Eugenie specifically loved sharks, but did advance the study if other species of fish. She even discovered three new species early in her career: the Red Sea sand diver, the barred Xenia pipefish and the volcano triplefin. 

Her scientific discoveries did not stop there. She discovered that sharks were able to stop moving to rest, dispelling the myth that they must keep moving to stay alive, and that they could be trained like a dog and would remember that training for up to two months. She also discovered a rare six-filled shark.

I learned all of these facts about Eugenie from this book, but there are other books about her:

 Eugenie Clark died in 2015 at the age of 92. You can learn more about her at the website mote.com.

Even famous people start out small.

I’m not joking. Did you know that Thomas Edison fed someone worms once?

It’s true! He thought that worms might be what gave birds the power of flight. While it was a good observation that birds eat worms and are able to fly, it wasn’t one of his best theories on how to imbue humans with the power of flight.

It’s true, Martin Luther King, Jr. was a kid once and he did regular everyday kid things. One thing he never did though was respond to violence with more violence.

This fun new series of narrative nonfiction biographies is by Mark Weakland. I have them on my purchase list for the upcoming school year and I’m hoping to read the other two books here at the public library.

I have heard about Amelia’s rollercoaster, I think in Brad Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change the World Series, but I have not heard about Wilma playing basketball.

These books have nice illustrations and are easy to read and understand. I think they will go over well with my K-4 audience. I plan to put them with the biographies but here at the public library, they are in the picture books.

Basher Science

I’m a total nerd. And not just for books! I love science and math and history too. So I find it pretty exciting that my girls love that kind of stuff. So why not find fun ways to expand their horizons?

This weekend at Target, we found the cutest game, it had decks in biology, chemistry and minerals and elements. The cards can be paired with books by Basher Science. I’ve seen them in Scholastic book orders and they look fun, giving each element or cell or chemical a cartoon persona. 

The card game is relatively simple. The cards are numbered 1-8 and each person takes one from each number and shuffles their hand. The game is then played kind of like war (you’ve all played it) where the larger card laid down wins, except that each card has a special ability. It might affect the round it’s played in or it might affect other cards later on.

The cards also have facts about whatever they represent and the decks can be mixed. This is a fun game, although the 10 year old kept beating me. And there’s another fun side to the game. You can buy bonus packs with more cards and the little characters in plastic figures (take a hike Shopkins!)

I’m hoping that Basher comes out with more decks to match their huge variety of books. Go check them out at their site by clicking here.

So yeah, it was more about the game than the books, but I think the game will open the doors to the books with reluctant readers.

The Secret Project

I was randomly picking up new books the other day at the public library when I found this book:

The cover isn’t flashy but I thought I’d give it a try, seeing as I have recently discovered how much I enjoy Jonah Winter’s nonfiction books.

The Secret Project in this inconspicuous book is the Manhatten Project, where Oppenheimer and some of the greatest minds in the world worked to create the atom bomb.

The project was handled in utmost secrecy, with many of the lower level employees not having any real idea of what was really being researched in the New Mexico desert. 

It is now known that they were working to split the atom and create one of the most destructive weapons in history. Jeanette Winters’ illustrations are simple and clean. They convey the story perfectly. After showing the fully formed mushroom cloud, the pages go black and the narration ends. 

There is a lot of information within this story and I think it would be a great companion to read aloud a about Sadako, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

While I don’t believe we should ever use these weapons again, I do think providing the truth about The Secret Project is essential to teaching our children about America’s history. It is an instance where the consequences of our actions are immediately visible and long lasting as well as far reaching.

Shocking Science

I love history but I also love science. The good news is that with today’s book, I don’t have to choose, I can have both!

Shocking Science by Steve Parker and illustrated by John Kelly wasa Thrift Store Score the other day. It’s subtitle is 5,000 years of mishaps and misunderstandings. It’s not lying. Parker  manages to cover a huge amount of scientific history in a concise and humorous manner. 

Topics in the book span creation theories, world exploration, space travel, fossils, invasive species, alchemy, engineering failures, medicine and accidents that led to great discoveries. These aren’t all the topics, only about half. Each topic gets a two-page layout with 5 to 6 paragraphs that discuss the topic from different times and parts of the world.

I’m glad I found this book. I’m wondering if it was part if a set. A lot of nonfiction books are published with half a dozen books linked by a similar theme. I’ll have to look this one up.

Cracked Corn and Snow Ice Cream

Every year I teach Reference books to 4th grade. Most may not have seen a dictionary – I’m not joking, or a thesaurus, and they think of encyclopedias as “Google, but in a book.” Some have never looked at a road map so an atlas is a new concept too. But I can show them physical copies of each of these items and they get the idea. He last type of reference book is an almanac. I can explain until I’m blue in the face about needing to know when it’s best to plant, and when to expect rain, but for the most part, it’s just not something we typically use in our technological age.

I don’t buy the yearly Farmers Almanac because they aren’t cheap, they aren’t super durable and there just aren’t that many kids concerned about when the tides will change.

But yesterday, I made a Thrift Store Score with this book:

I bought it for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not for a specific year so it can’t really become outdated. Second, it’s hardbound, so it will last awhile on my shelves. Third, it gives me a physical copy to show students during lessons, and fourth, it’s just old-timey country goodness.

Besides the monthly advice there are little tidbits scattered throughout the book like HowTo Find Your True Love:

  • Walk around the block with your mouth full of water. If you don’t swallow it, you’ll be married within the year.
  • Set a silent supper late at night, taking care to do everything backward. Keep perfectly silent. Take your seat backward and at the stroke of midnight you will see the face of your true love.
  • Count Fifty white horses as you see them, and a white mile. Your groom will be the first unmarried man you shake hands with afterward.

This book is so fun, I can’t wait to show it to one history-loving teacher in particular. Of course, that’s after I read the whole thing!


It is not common in this day and age to find new species of animals. Usually when a scientist does, it’s a small and easily overlooked creature like frogs or insects. But in 2013 it was announced that Kristofer Helgen, the curator of mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, had found a “new” small mammal, the olinguito, pronounced oh-lin-GHEE-to

I was very excited to get in Sandra Markle’s book, The Search For Olinguito: discovering a new species. I think it’s important that children know about conservation but I also want them to know that there are still frontiers and new discoveries awaiting them in this world.

Helgen did not set out to find a new species, but through diligent scientific research he did just that. I’m pretty sure kids are taught the scientific method and that’s exactly what Helgen had to do to prove the Olinguito was not an olingo as originally thought.

The olinguito and the olingo are both related to raccoons and kinkajous. They inhabit the cloud forests in South America and the foggy misty forest provides them the perfect protection from prying eyes.

Markle’s book is not the only one out about olinguitos:

I don’t own these yet, but I’d like to get more information on these adorable animals. And to make you smile, check out a baby olinguito:

No wonder they are nicknamed kitty bears!

Real Friends

I just read the new graphic novel by Shannon Hale, Real Friends. It’s a memoir, Shannon’s story of friendships as she grew up.

I’m very thankful my daughter, who is 10 years old and finishing fourth grade, read this book. I said in yesterday’s post that this book openly talks about how friendships change and how some kids just aren’t real friends. I want my daughter prepared for this, though I know she’s seeing and experiencing changes in her friendships already.

Why is it so important to me to help her learn these lessons? I was a lot like young Shannon. Completely attached to one friend until things changed in third grade. A new girl moved to our tiny town and the three of us had roller-coaster friendships for the rest of elementary. I felt left out and developed stomach problems, that eventually cleared up and left depression in its place. I don’t think those girls were purposely mean to me, I just didn’t have the tools to grow and change with the friendships. 

I see, in my K-4 school, situations like this all the time. Girls wanting to fit in. Girls who upset one member of their friend-group and then end up on the outs with the whole group. My daughter tells me that one of her best friends is part of a group like that. Thankfully, my daughter stays away and offers a calm alternative when that group is too rough.

Do boys go through stuff like this? I have a twin brother, and while his friendships changed over the years, I don’t remember there being drama like this.

I’m going to ask the school’s counselor to read this book. I feel like it’s something she can recommend to girls who need it. I don’t always know there is anything going on, but they are all my girls, so I want to help them all.

Anything But Ordinary

Yesterday I shared a book called Mesmerized by Mara Rockliff and illustrated by Iacopo Bruno. I have another book by this duo today. 

Somehow, I made it through life not knowing about Adelaide Herrman. She was an amazing woman and an amazing magician.

I love this picture. Bruno really captured the feeling of Addie wanting to stand out. She was not the kind of woman to follow society’s rules. She met her husband when he was a young magician from a famous family of performers.

Addie joined the Herrman performance lifestyle and thoroughly enjoyed her life. Sadly, her husband died and she was left in charge of a large performance group — a “family” she wanted to continue to provide for.

Despite all of society’s expectations, Addie became a magician and started performing, even death defying tricks like catching a bullet!

Addie became The Queen of Magic, and yet somehow she has faded from our cultural memory. Rockliff wrote in her author’s note that she wants to change that, and I’m going to help spread the word. Adelaide Herrman deserves to be remembered as well as Houdini.