Read: What I’m Teaching – Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

\ I am relatively new to non-fiction, being a fiction devotee most of my life before teaching.  And while I have been teaching non-fiction to high schoolers what seems like forever, I ask a lot of people for a lot of ideas when I am looking to update curriculum. 

A good friend who is a science teacher recommended this book. When I heard the title, I had a little too much Breaking Bad on my mind and was convinced it was about meth. Did I mention that I have an almost problematic obsession with True Crime? But, after it was explained that this was, in fact, about a botanist, I realized it was probably classroom safe.

It has truly been a gift in my high school classroom. The first reaction of most students is “This is boring! Why do I care about this scientist or plants? This is not for me.” They would rather be reading about murder (I can’t blame them) and drama, but it does not take long before Jahren casts her spell and the kids get swept up.

I know, it sounds impossible that a book about a scientist and plants could be so engaging for high schoolers.  But, Jahren is ridiculously talented.  She weaves stories of her discovery of science, some epic failures in the laboratory, and her struggle with manic depression all into a beautifully written narrative of one of the most important friendships in her life.  All of this within the framework of lessons about the complex and strangely human lives of plants.

It is hard to share the story of this book without ruining the pleasure of discovering it for yourself.  And that I am able to say this about a book about plants continues to shock me.  But even better is the surprise students express when they learn something from Jahren’s book or notice something about her style.  In a particularly complexly written but easy to read chapter, Jahren uses quotes that she memorized from David Copperfield BECAUSE SHE DID NOT UNDERSTAND THEM in order to describe her work as a med tech and uses them to illuminate the moments when the quotes and her life start to make sense. Or, when she sets up an analogy using roots to later show friendship roots us in unique ways.   These moments make my English teacher heart sing! When students see what she is doing, they are equally surprised and feel as brilliant as they are, scientists themselves discovering something new and interesting about another person. 

If you’ve read Lab Girl, let me know what you thought.  Or, when you read it, share some insights!