Sunday, May 30, 2010

For Good Measure by Ken Robbins

For Good Measure: The ways we say how much, how far, how heavy, how big, how old
by Ken Robbins
Roaring Brook Press, 2010

Franki already reviewed this book along with other great new nonfiction, but it deserves its own spotlight.

All I had to see was that it was by Ken Robbins, and I bought it. I LOVED his book, Food For Thought (reviewed in September 2009). For Good Measure also has stunning photography paired with the interesting facts in the text.

What I love most about For Good Measure is the way Robbins tells the history of the words we use to name our units of measure. Some (many, actually) come from Latin, such as inch (uncia), mile (mille passus), and pound (pondus means weight; libra was the real unit of measure; libra pondo meant a "libra of weight," and although we now call the unit "pound," we still abbreviate it lb. for libra). Others come from Old English (1 fathom is 6 feet, or the distance from finger tip to finger tip of a man's outstretched arms; fæthm meant "outstretched arms," and if we can't fathom why BP is not being held more accountable for the oil spill, it means we can't wrap our arms around the idea.) And still others come from the object that was used to measure them: a rod is 5.5 yd. or 16.5 ft. and "was originally a stick used to prod the oxen that were plowing a field."

I also love the big organizing ideas that Robbins uses: yes, he goes from smallest to largest units in each category of measurement, but he also points out things like "Smaller units of length are mostly based on parts of the body. Longer units of distance are mostly based on actions," and time is "the interval between one event and another -- between one winter and the next (a year), one heartbeat and the next (a second.)"

I read this book aloud to my math class last week. We were just finishing up our unit on measurement -- perfect timing! They loved it! They were engaged by the photographs and fascinated by the facts in the text. This book is a must for every nonfiction collection.

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