Nonfiction Monday! Where Myth Meets Science

BookendsLynn: As an educator, a parent, and a grandparent, one of my goals has been to fan the flames of curiosity in kids. It’s a critical trait and one that often seems to get squashed somewhere along the K-12 march. I love books that encourage kids to ask questions. Marc Aronson’s books always seem to do this so well and none more than this year’s The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science (2014).

GriffinAronson introduces young readers to Adrienne Mayor, who grew up on the South Dakota plains and was a curious child who noticed things around her. Fascinated by Greek and Roman legends, she immersed herself in reading on the subject. As she grew older, Adrienne retained her curiosity and her unusual way of looking at the world, all of which came into play when she followed her fiancé to Greece where he was doing research. While reading at the Blegen Library and wandering the hills, Adrienne began to wonder if there was a connection between fossil bones and the legendary creatures in Greek stories.

Aronson takes readers on a clue-filled journey, following Mayor’s steps as she explored, researched, read, observed and sketched her way to an out-of-the-box theory that, years later, has been accepted by traditional scholars. I loved this story and Aronson writes it so well, making the research process and careful observation as exciting as a fictional mystery. Of course the librarian in me loves quotes like this:

“Computers are very fast and very dumb. They quickly bring you precisely what you asked them to get, not what you meant them to find.”

As Aronson says, “Adrienne Mayor changed the search image for all of us,” and demonstrated that the ancient people who came before us not only observed their world carefully but thought about what they saw. Aronson encourages young readers to do the same as there is still so much left to explore.

Cindy: Books about mythological animals are popular in my middle-school library, so I’m eager to capitalize on that interest while introducing my students to a book about observation, curiosity, and persistent research. Chris Muller’s illustrations add to the appeal of this work—I’ve been showing kids the double-page spread (pp. 22-23) comparing a mammoth’s skull with the mythological cyclops. It’s easy to see how ancient Greek sailors made that leap to explain what they saw. The book is beautifully designed with Muller’s art, photographs of artifacts, maps, and other illustrative matter. Readers can find more of Adrienne Mayor’s writing at the Wonders & Marvels website, where she is a monthly contributor. I’ll be following it to see what Mayor digs up next.


For more nonfiction blog posts for children and teens, check out the Nonfiction Monday website every Monday.




Common Core Connections

Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.

Mayor took decades to research and support her idea that the mythological griffin might have a scientific base. Have students evaluate Mayor’s claim by citing examples from the text to support their opinion about her reasoning.

Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.

Have students research other mythological creatures, including the regions where the myths originate. Ask them to develop a hypothesis for a scientific explanation for the creature.

Have students research Adrienne Mayor to see how others have reported on her work and to see what she is researching currently.



About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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