Each of these titles highlights a specific, and often obscure, invention from the past decade that is making, or has the potential to make, a real difference in the world. With a mix of scientific terminology and accessible sentence structure, the books effectively describe how the ideas took shape and were put into practice by the scientists involved. Students are generally intrigued by robots and will find Nexi Robot of particular interest, though the author is careful to explain the limitations of what this robot currently can and cannot do. Seed Vault explains the need to preserve endangered plant species and how they are collected and protected. Sunscreen for Plants shows how early attempts at protecting crops from overexposure to the sun were either ineffective or somehow harmful to the plant, and how a few individuals worked together to devise a product that was both effective and ecologically sound. Bionic Hand is a fascinating look at how biology and technology are being used to create more useful prostheses for those who have lost a limb. In all of the books, color photographs are included on every page and provide a visual complement to the texts. Small “Did You Know?” boxes appear on nearly every spread and offer up short, interesting facts. Current, relevant Web sites are appended. Librarians looking to beef up science or inventions collections may find these solid additions.
School Library Journal, March 2010
While Nexi gets the cover attention, the real star of this title in the A Great Idea series is Cynthia Breazeal, the head of the Personal Robotics Group at MIT. After a quick tour of the history of robotics and a peek at common robots today, from car assemblers to carpet vacuumers, the focus shifts mainly to the series of robots built by Breazeal’s team, who are determined to create a truly social robot. The challenge of creating a robot with personality is understandably complex, but Allman does a fine job of making it accessible by offering up examples, and numerous photographs, of different robots (of which Nexi is the most successful to date) and explaining why they can’t be considered social in the true sense of the word, whether because they rely on imitation in lieu of intuition or are programmed to interact in a certain way, depending on specific stimuli. It’s all fascinating stuff, for sure, and presented in a simple yet informative manner. A list of books and Web sites points readers in the direction of more info, and there’s little doubt they’ll follow.
Booklist, December 2009
Wilsons Core Collection, 2009
Grade Level 3-6. Although this book’s purpose is entirely to inform, it possesses a “WOW factor” that makes it entertaining as well as educational. I think even the most savvy of readers on the topic of robots will be surprised when they read about the work of Dr. Cynthia Breazeal. Breazeal is trying to create social robot machines that can not only perform work but can also socially interact with humans. The format of all the books in this series on ideas, as described on the back cover, is to take the reader through the “development of an idea, including the hurdles inventors encountered and how these ideas have influenced us.” The author accomplishes this in only four chapters of approximately 10 pages each. Therefore, an elementary student with good reading ability might even find this book a bit of a challenge. Whether it is intentional or not, there are sentences that are somewhat short and choppy and often repetitive. In addition, the pages are packed with inserts and photos that almost act as “rest stops” while obviously providing supplemental information. Overall, the presentation of the material on robots in this book offers readers an opportunity to practice and develop some critical thinking skills and to learn some fascinating information along the way.
Book Buzz, February 2010