Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Review of Can You Crack the Code? by Ella Schwartz, illustrated by Lily Williams

Monday, February 15th, 2021

Can You Crack the Code?

A Fascinating History of Ciphers and Cryptography

by Ella Schwartz
illustrated by Lily Williams

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2019. 118 pages.
Review written December 14, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 General Children’s Nonfiction
2021 Mathical Honor Book, Grades 6-8

I’ve always thought codes and ciphers are fascinating, from the time I was a kid right up to the present when I made some videos showing how to make interesting ciphers using mathematical concepts.

When I made the videos last Spring when the library was closed for the pandemic, I didn’t find too many current books on making codes, but that situation has been remedied. This book is a nice solid selection to fill in that gap. Written for elementary to middle school kids, it gives a history of encoded messages along with explanations of ciphers and codes the reader can use.

Each chapter has a message to decrypt, and the book ends with a message for the reader to solve and email the author if they figure it out. A few clues are given, and it’s a nicely appropriate historical code used.

The book starts with steganography – hiding a message in some way – and the Caesar cipher and continues with things like Benedict Arnold’s book cipher and Thomas Jefferson’s wheel cipher up through a puzzle encoded in a statue in front of CIA headquarters and the use of prime numbers in computer security.

Even when they get deep into the history of clandestine messages, they do give the readers chances to crack the codes.

There’s plenty here to get kids intrigued, and one thing I love about code-making is there are lots of jumping-off points from this book.

ellasbooks.com
lilywilliamsart.com
Bloomsbury.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Magnificent Migration, by Sy Montgomery

Sunday, February 14th, 2021

The Magnificent Migration

On Safari with Africa’s Last Great Herds

by Sy Montgomery
with photos by Roger and Logan Wood

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 162 pages.
Review written April 15, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This visually stunning book has taught me so many things about “the greatest of all mammalian migrations” – the wildebeests of the Serengeti. Who knew that the gnu is so hugely important to earth’s environment? I didn’t before reading this book, but I do now.

Here’s a small section from the Introduction:

Like no other event in nature, the wildebeest migration defines wild Africa. The extravagance of their number stupefies: one and a quarter million wildebeests, in separate herds of tens of thousands, all on the move at once, accompanied by hundreds of thousands of zebras and gazelles. It is the largest mass movement of animals on land.

The sheer number of so many animals in motion is a dazzling spectacle. It is a force like gravity, or rainfall – a force that transforms, nourishes, and renews both the land over which they travel and the other creatures who gather in their wake.

Sy Montgomery does insert herself into the book – this is basically the story of her safari to observe wildebeests, traveling with the world’s foremost expert on them. But that added a little drama to the story – would they find a large group of wildebeests, since they don’t travel the same route from year to year? And we learn so much about wildebeests and other animals of Africa along the way. In hearing where they traveled to find the wildebeests, we understood more about the migration and about rutting season for the animals and about all the other animals affected by the migration.

The photographs in this book, taken on her safari, are amazing. The format is extra large, with spreads big as a picture book. There are photographs on every page, but there’s also plenty of text. I ended up being surprised how long it took me to read, because it’s much more than a picture book. Those big pages, which are so nice for the photographs, also hold large amounts of text.

There are many sidebars throughout. They include information about other animals that migrate, other animals of Africa, and even information about a migration that once was even greater than that of the African wildebeests – the American bison. When that population was wiped out, it left a wave of devastation that would also happen if the wildebeests had to stop migrating. The migration itself has a huge effect on the lands and other animals of Africa, and the reader comes to better understand those interactions.

This book is for readers around middle school age. They have to have a long attention span to handle all that text. And they need to be able to handle plenty of information about animals mating and wildebeests rutting. On the very first page, we learn that a lion has tiny barbs on his penis, and lion sex usually ends with a swat and a snarl from the lioness. This is in the context of saying that wildebeests are far more interesting to watch than lions, even if they aren’t nearly as popular for tourists.

For a kid who sticks it out, there’s a very good chance they could end up fascinated by Africa and its wildlife. I learned so much I didn’t know I didn’t know by reading this book packed full of beautiful photographs and information about the animals and environment of Africa.

symontgomery.com
hmhco.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Overview: A New Way of Seeing Earth, by Benjamin Grant with Sandra Markle

Thursday, February 11th, 2021

Overview

A New Way of Seeing Earth

Young Explorer’s Edition

by Benjamin Grant
with Sandra Markle

Crown Books for Young Readers, 2019. 150 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 02/20/2020, from a library book

This book reminds me of The Earth from Above, by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, which I read and reviewed back in 2004. This is the same idea: photos of earth taken from above. But in the previous book, I believe the photos were taken by airplane. These are taken by satellite – but a satellite that can zoom in or out and still get detailed shots.

This book is packaged for children, with a text upper elementary kids can understand. The focus is the photos, so the text isn’t long, but does give some food for thought.

This book was revised by children’s nonfiction author Sandra Markle from a longer book for adults called Overview, and that book was based on an Instagram page showing satellite pictures.

There’s a foreword by retired astronaut Scott Kelly, where he explains how it can affect you to look at Earth from space:

From space, Earth looks like a peaceful place, without political borders. From orbit, astronauts get the sense that this is how Earth was meant to be viewed. This vantage point gives you a sense of oneness, an awareness that we are all part of the same humanity. Many people call this the Overview Effect, which is where this book gets its name. When astronauts experience the Overview Effect, we feel a greater connection to Earth, its people, and the environment that changes us forever.

The pictures in this book are stunning and amazing. Many of them are beautiful. With both manmade beauty and natural beauty. Many are disturbing – particularly ones of bright red polluted bodies of water. But this is a book you’ll enjoy looking at over and over again.

dailyoverview.com
rhcbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Superpower Field Guide: Moles, by Rachel Poliquin, illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

Friday, February 5th, 2021

The Superpower Field Guide

Moles

by Rachel Poliquin
illustrated by Nicholas John Frith

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019. 96 pages.
Review written April 2, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 General Children’s Nonfiction

I checked out this book thinking it would work well for booktalking in the schools. I was absolutely right, but now that schools are closed I’m going to have to wait another year to do it. So let me tell you about it.

I never dreamed a book about moles could be so entertaining! This author uses a conversational tone and really emphasizes the Wow factor of many strange characteristics of moles. One way she does this is by describing nine mole superpowers: Astonishing Architect of Dirt, Indefatigable Paws of Power, Double-Thumb-Digging Dominance, Arms of Hercules, Super-Squidgibility, Early Whisker Warning System, Headless Hoarding, Saliva of Death (Maybe?), and Blood of the Gods.

She describes moles in ways you can understand, such as shaped like a potato. And gives scientific terms more vivid names. The prepollex is given the name Weird Fake Thumb, or WFT for short. Scientists say that moles’ blood has high oxygen affinity. This author says they have the Blood of the Gods.

Here’s an example of the writing style in this book, taken from the beginning, after she’s explained that moles are shaped like a potato:

Now, potato-shapeliness is definitely too dowdy to be a superpower. But believe it or not, it’s a MOLE’S SECRET WEAPON.

Let me explain.

Scientists say moles and potatoes have cylindrical bodies. Cylindrical is a fancy way of saying “shaped like a tube.” But if you look at a potato, you’ll notice it is not shaped like a tube so much as shaped to fit inside a tube. And that is the important thing about potato-shapeliness – it helps moles fit in tubes. A giraffe would not fit in a tube. Neither would a poodle, nor a chicken, nor any other animal with long legs and a long, bendy neck. Big floppy ears would also not be good in a tube. Take it from me, if you’re going to live in a tube, it’s best to be shaped like a potato.

Of course, moles don’t live in any sort of tube. They live in underground tunnels. And not just any underground tunnel. Moles are MASTERMINDS OF UNDERGROUND EXCAVATION! They are ASTONISHING ARCHITECTS OF DIRT! They are TUNNELING TORPEDOES! Which brings me to ROSALIE’S FIRST SUPERPOWER.

The cartoon illustrations also fit the tone perfectly.

So there you have it – I now know about the wonders of moles. I read an entire book about moles and enjoyed every moment of it. Who knew science could be so much fun?

rachelpoliquin.com
nicholasjohnfrith.com
hmhco.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben

Thursday, February 4th, 2021

The Hidden Life of Trees

What They Feel, How They Communicate

Discoveries from a Secret World

by Peter Wohlleben

HarperCollins, 2016. 7 hours, 30 minutes.
Review written September 25, 2020, from a library eaudiobook
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#6 General Nonfiction

I finally read this book by listening to it on an eaudiobook. I had read the Young Readers’ Edition, Can You Hear the Trees Talking?, which includes the general ideas presented here, along with glorious full-color photographs.

On audiobook, the narrator’s pleasant voice and British accent makes for a nice listening experience, though I don’t absorb facts as well by listening as I do by seeing. Still, this was just as fascinating as the children’s version, with many more interesting details.

I learned more information about how the forest is connected through fungi in the soil. Trees can even feed other trees that are in distress through the fungi. I learned about how trees communicate through scent – by producing chemicals – and through the fungi. I learned that trees can learn and how “mother” trees train their children to grow slowly at first, and how that helps them to live longer lives. I learned how the forest is interconnected and it’s actually a disservice to trees to clear out old rotting stumps. I also learned that they have discovered stumps cut down centuries before that are still alive because their neighbors feed them. And many other fascinating details like that.

This did make me look at forests with new eyes. Trees are living things and although their ways of communicating and learning and adapting are completely different from ours, scientists are learning that they do these things. And Peter Wohlleben is particularly skilled at passing on that knowledge.

He also has some theories about how walking in the forest makes us feel good. It turns out that’s more true in a healthy forest. It made me want to run out and walk in a forest right away.

Now that I’ve started, I’m going to read more of his books.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Sounds All Around, by Dr. James Chapman

Sunday, January 31st, 2021

Sounds All Around

A Guide to Onomatopoeias Around the World

by Dr. James Chapman

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2020. 165 pages.
Review written November 13, 2020, from a book sent by the publisher
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#3 General Children’s Nonfiction

Here’s what it says on the page at the front of this book:

Let’s Make Some Noise

Learning the sounds animals make is an essential part of language learning. Spending hours and hours pretending you’re a chicken or a dog is not only great fun, it’s educational, too. If you grew up speaking English, you probably already know your woofs and meows from your clucks and quacks – but how does the rest of the world describe sounds?

[This next part has cartoon animals.]
In Japanese, cats don’t go MEOW. “NYAN!”
In German, pigs don’t go OINK. “GRUNZ!”
In Hindi, frogs don’t go RIBBIT. “TARR!”

There’s a whole world of words for all the sounds you know and love! (And even some words for sounds that don’t show up in English.)

The words that imitate sounds are known as “onomatopoeia.” These words are a wonderfully strange and interesting part of language. After all, we hear the same sounds, but we interpret and write them differently in different languages.

If you sing “Old McDonald Had a Farm” in French, your farmyard ducks go “coin coin” instead of “quack quack,” and in Russian they go “krya krya.” From the sound of a speeding car, to the sound a dog makes, to the sound of rain, there are almost as many words for these sounds as there are languages!

The format of this book is chapters of types of sounds with spreads looking at one certain type of sound in multiple languages. It’s in graphic novel format, so we see the sounds in speech bubbles coming from cartoon animals or characters or things. The chapters are “Animal Noises,” “On the Farm,” “In the Zoo,” “Loud Noises,” “Natural Noises,” “Noisy Machines,” “Sounds of the Human Body,” and “Sounds of Emotion.”

We learn fascinating things, such as “Kusukusu” being the Japanese word for “Ha Ha” and “Tagaktak” being the Filipino word for “Splat” and “Vzheeh” being how Russians say “Zoom.” It’s all mind-expanding to think about the many different languages, but also mind-expanding to realize how many different words we have in our own language for sounds.

This isn’t a book that fits neatly into a curriculum anywhere. You couldn’t use it to learn a language. But it’s super fun to read and to think about. This is a book that could easily capture a child’s imagination. I know it captured mine.

The one little thing that I wish it had is a pronunciation guide, since I know in some languages, English letters don’t make the same sounds. Though perhaps they left that out because once they started, it would have gotten tricky with so many languages used. This keeps it light and fun, but still informative.

andrewsmcmeel.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Create Your Own Secret Language, by David J. Peterson

Monday, January 18th, 2021

Create Your Own Secret Language

Invent Codes, Ciphers, Hidden Messages, and More

by David J. Peterson
illustrations by Ryan Goldsberry

Odd Dot, 2020. 144 pages.
Review written November 28, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

I’ve always liked books about codes, ciphers, and cryptography. In fact, I made a video series for kids this summer while the library was closed about using mathematical concepts to make ciphers.

This book shows us many kinds of codes and ciphers (though not the same ones I used), but takes things a few steps further, showing kids not only how to encode English, but even how to create their own secret language.

It starts as many books on codes do, with letter substitution codes and historical ciphers. But this one goes further by telling you how to design your own glyphs and a whole new writing system. Why should you be confined to the English alphabet?

This all culminates in a section at the back on designing an entire language. It begins by looking at the sounds you may want to use in your language and how they’ll be put together in syllables and word forms. Then it goes on to look at different parts of speech and the ways they vary in English. For example, nouns have singular and plural forms. How do you want your language to do that? English verbs have different forms for singular and plural and ways to show different tenses. Then there are adjectives, adverbs, and pronouns. And you might even want to make related nouns with similar root forms.

That sounds complicated – but this author makes it seem simple, with lots of worksheet space in the book to play with your ideas. (Buy a copy so you aren’t tempted to write in the library book!)

It turns out the author has done this himself, having invented languages for various films and series, including Game of Thrones. Who better to play with these ideas than kids? And they’re going to learn a lot about how language works while they’re at it.

odddot.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Honeybee, by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann

Sunday, January 17th, 2021

Honeybee

The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera

by Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann

Neal Porter Books (Holiday House), 2020. 36 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 8, 2020, from a library book
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#1 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

As soon as I read this book, I knew which book I hope wins the 2021 Caldecott Medal.

When I was a child, I had a book from Disney publications that included a chapter on bees with lots of close-up photos. I hated that part of the book and didn’t even want to turn the pages for fear I’d touch the pictures of the bees.

I must have outgrown my squeamishness, because this book is full of oversize close-up paintings of bees, and I think the book is beautiful. Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re paintings instead of photos – Eric Rohmann has made the bee featured here look positively plush and cuddly, while still being completely scientifically accurate.

I learned so much I didn’t know about bees when reading this book. I knew that worker bees have jobs in the hive. But I didn’t know that the same bee gets different jobs as it ages. This book highlights the different jobs a bee goes through. After the bee has emerged from a cell in the honeycomb, here are a couple of early pages:

Crawling to a cell packed with sticky, rich pollen,
Apis eats.
And eats.
And eats some more.
Her wings dry. Her color darkens to a warm yellow orange. Her muscles grow strong.

Strong enough for flying?

Not yet . . . cleaning comes first.
Apis’s first job is to tidy the hive’s nursery.
She hauls away leftover bits,
carts off old wax caps,
leaves each cell ready for a new bee egg.
When she turns three days old, special glands behind her face swell and expand.
Soon she is ready for her next job.

Flying?

No, Apis doesn’t fly yet. First, we see her do the jobs of nursing, queen tending, comb building, food handling, and guarding.

When she finally flies, on the twenty-fifth day of her life, Apis gets a beautiful fold-out section in the middle of the book featuring a wide-open sky.

We do of course learn how she gathers nectar and carries pollen and dances to tell other bees about her finds.

The book goes all the way to our heroine’s death and then comes full circle with a new honeybee coming out of its cell in the hive.

This is another book for which I can’t do the striking pictures justice. I didn’t even think I liked to read books about bees, but I was captivated by this beautiful book. The writing, too, is wonderful. With each job, the writer builds suspense, asking if Apis is finally ready to fly.

Go check this out and see for yourself!

HolidayHouse.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Water Land, by Christy Hale

Friday, November 13th, 2020

Water, Land

Land and Water Forms Around the World

by Christy Hale

A Neal Porter Book (Roaring Brook Press), 2018. 24 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books

My coworker and I agree that the library copy of this book may not hold up well. Although they are extra-sturdy light cardboard pages, there are cut-out shapes on each one and a giant fold-out page at the end. But check this one out quickly while it lasts, because it’s wonderful!

I have never looked at water and land forms this way – but now I will never think of them any other way.

This book pairs a water form with a land form. You’ve got a cut-out on each set of pages. Here’s how it works:

The first spread has a big picture of an autumn scene with a brown background. There’s an oval cut-out on the right-hand page showing blue and a kid in a boat. The only word on the page says “lake.”

When you turn the page, the next spread has a blue background. The cut-out is now on the left side and shows brown. The only word on this page is “island.”

And so it goes. We’ve got the shapes of water forms matched up on the next page – using the exact same cut-out shapes – with land forms.

Other pairs are: bay and cape, strait and isthmus, system of lakes and archipelago, gulf and peninsula. In the back, there’s a fold-out page that includes two charts and a big world map, pointing out examples of each of the forms.

The idea is so simple – and it’s beautifully carried out. Those who read this book will have a clear understanding of these water and land forms forever after.

mackids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Champion, by Sally M. Walker

Sunday, October 25th, 2020

Champion

The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree

by Sally M. Walker

Henry Holt and Company, 2018. 136 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#8 Longer Children’s Nonfiction

I’m not sure when I heard that American chestnut trees had all died off, but I know I heard it as a regrettable fact.

This book says that isn’t actually true. Scientists are using a three-pronged approach to bringing back the American chestnut tree.

First, we learn what happened. A mysterious blight hit the magnificent trees in 1904 in New York, killing them quickly.

It took some work, but scientists determined that a fungus was causing the problem. Finding a way to fight the fungus proved to be very difficult. By 1940, nearly four billion American chestnut trees had died.

However – there’s still some hope.

The roots of many American chestnut trees are still living beneath the soil. Certain microbes in the soil stop the blight fungus from invading the buried roots. The healthy roots continually send up new sprouts that ring the lifeless stump. Each sprout develops its own root system and becomes a sapling. But its reprieve from the blight is only temporary. The sapling grows for 5 to 10 years, until eventually the blight kills it.

However – those still-alive trees give scientists something to work with.

There are currently three approaches being used to try to bring back the American chestnut tree. One is weakening the blight – a virus was found in Europe that attacks the fungus that causes the blight and makes it weaker, so that trees can survive its attacks. Scientists are working with this virus and inoculating trees.

Another approach is to cross breed American chestnuts with Chinese chestnuts, which are naturally resistant to the blight. The challenge is using backcrossing to keep almost all the characteristics of the American chestnut in the resultant trees – but have them resistant to the blight.

The final approach involves genetically modifying the trees’ DNA with a blight-resistant gene from wheat. However, genetic engineering is highly regulated, so there will be many tests the resulting plants must undergo before they can even be allowed to propagate in the wild.

It’s all very interesting, real-life science. Because trees are slow-growing, it all takes years, but maybe our grandchildren will once again be able to find forests of American chestnut trees.

There’s plenty of back matter in this book, including four appendices about side stories. I liked Appendix B where they tested whether squirrels like the taste of the new chestnuts and would gather them. Appendix C talks about ways children and classrooms can help the effort.

sallymwalker.com
mackids.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a book sent by the publisher.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?