Friday, October 30, 2015

BRAIN GAMES by Jen Swanson:Review & Mentor Text Study by Kathy Halsey

KAPOW! BRAIN GAMES by Jen Swanson hits a one-two punch for readers, writers, educators, and librarians. Jen's newest nonfiction book published by the esteemed National Geographic Kids really does have something for everyone, and is nominated for a 2015 Cybil for elementary/middle grade nonfiction. 
Jen was challenged to take a dense topic, make it accessible, understandable, and fun. Challenge met. Also,  this project, had a built-in challenge - to take BRAIN GAMES, the very popular NatGeo show, and make it two-dimensional and interactive. Again, challenge met. Kids will be engaged as they use their bodies and minds to solve problems and prove scientific facts. Be prepared for kids to bounce, jump, and mumble to themselves as they connect viscerally to BRAIN GAMES. 
This interior shot from BRAIN GAMES reflected my thoughts about the brain before I read the book. I had to think about thinking - metacognition - ARG! However, Jen Swanson's structure and choice of examples made this an understandable, fascinating read. Nonfiction writers will want to examine this book as a mentor text to learn the techniques Jen has employed.
Mentor Text Goodness
Structure Is King: What entices kids to pick up or discard a book? Design and structure can make the difference. Compare Jen's book with a textbook or a book for the educational market. 
  • Vibrant, color-saturated 2-page spreads introduce each chapter.
  • Every chapter ends with another 2-page spread -side one is a short summary, while side 2 highlights an illustration of the brain with pictures used in the chapter. Three major facts are pulled out in thought bubbles for easy recall. 
  • This predictable, repetitive format helps readers form an anticipatory set. They are aware of text features that aid recall.
  • Using her knowledge of the brain functions, Jen gives the brain a break toward the end of each chapter. We play brain games with pictures and puzzles. 
  • Scientific material is "chunked" into bite-sized pieces for better understanding.
  • A challenge is presented in all chapters to engage kids. On page 21 the challenge asks readers to hold a book at arm's length and  close each eye separately. The scientific explanation follows. "Your eyes see each image separately and send a signal to the visual cortex in the occipital lobe of the brain."
    Chapter 1 Intro




Chapter 1 Summary Spread

Writing style, voice, and tone are intentional:
  • The brain could be a dry topic, but Jen chose a witty, fun, breezy style to lighten the subject.
  • The theme of driving has been chosen to add cohesion. Jen's target reader can't drive, but they are fascinated with cars. 
  • Word play that kids "get" for chapters and headings, such as:  "start your engines, all roads lead to the front." (Think frontal lobe.) 
  • Questions begin most chapters to appeal to the reader. Here are a few examples: "Wish you had access to the largest storage system in the world?" and "Feeling happy? Feeling sad? Get in the mood to learn about how your brain deals with emotion."
  • Jen uses examples/comparisons that her audience likes and understands: brain energy compared to 10-watt light bulb, length of motor neurons compared to a baseball bat; knowledge the brain stores compared to 300 years of TV shows.  
Time for a brain break. Answers at bottom of each page. Every 20 minutes one should take a break. (Knowledge from book.)
Notice how text is chunked into bites for easy reading.

Join me and pick up BRAIN GAMES  by Jen Swanson. Your grey matter will light up whether you are a reader or a writer! Don't forget to read all about Jen, Monday, Nov. 2! Make sure to leave a comment that day and you could win your own copy. 








25 comments:

  1. Great review. You have nailed it. ( Under STRUCTURE IS KING, need a "to" in front of "pick up.")

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  2. Thanks so much for the FABULOUS review, Kathy. I'm glad you enjoyed my book. :)

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    1. Thank you for inspiring us as writers, Jen.

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    2. Jen your book looks awesome! Thanks for all the brain work! You rock!

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  3. I could learn as much as the kiddos! And... I'm counting Facebook as my breaks every 20 minutes throughout the day! :)

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    1. Julianna, this is a great book. More fun than I ever thought.

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  4. Kathy, great post! (Jen, great book!) I've read BRAIN GAMES too and am so impressed with how Jen brings a complex subject to life with a light and humorous, though authoritative, voice. Plus I've had a blast interviewing Jen so watch out for Monday's post too!

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    1. I am ready to read you post Monday, Christy.

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  5. Great review, Kathy. Thank you for sharing Jen's book :) I'm going to get my own copy.

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  6. What a fun, creative way to introduce a potentially "dry" topic to kids. Great post!

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  7. Looks like a terrific book, Jen. Great way to introduce kids to brain science. And, Kathy, you rock with your analysis.

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  8. Great job, Kathy. Enjoyed reading your comments.

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  9. Well done, Jen! (And Kathy, too, of course)

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    1. Jarm, I appreciate you stopping by to read this.

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  10. Great review! Since I'm overseas, I haven't seen the show or the book. Some day!

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    1. I think your kids would enjoy it, Tina!

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  11. great review - great book. yes - cool indeed!

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    1. Sue, we do love these creative NF books, right?

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  12. Terrific analysis of what looks like a great book, Kathy! My brain needs a workout, so I'll be checking this out. Thanks!

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    1. I realized lots about my brain from this that can help my writing, Jilanne.

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  13. Appreciations for this brainy take-apart of BRAIN GAMES by Jen Swanson, Kathy.
    You are the bee's knees!

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