Book Review: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: 8th Grade and Up

I’m always on the lookout for interesting books I can use in home education. I’m pretty “picky” so new ones don’t come along very often. My requirements are – they need to be interesting enough to capture the attention of a teenager (I have 13 and 15), they need to have enough information that I can justify taking my time away from something else to stop and share this book with my children, they need to fit into the natural progression of our Waldorf curriculum (see Waldorf 101 for a list of specific topics by grade) and it needs to cover more than just one topic. I am a great believer that educational topics span more than one category. You can’t just study “American History” without “World History” and you can’t study “Math” without art, design, architecture and so many other things. The last great book we shared was “The Physician” – it was an amazing historical fiction spanning the genres of medical history, European history and Middle Eastern and Asian history. And now I have discovered another gem – it is called “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and I can’t put it down.

In this book, a science journalist, tells the story of an African-American woman who’s cells became one of the most important scientific discoveries of the last century. When I purchased the book I expected to read about how the cells had been discovered and how they managed to get the cells from her and perhaps what made her different from other people. I love reading about medical history so that is what I was expecting. I would have been pleased if it was mildly interesting and a quick read.

I was not expected to be so enraptured by the story that I could not put the book down. And on top of that this book contains a hunk of history that is often hard to teach to children. To make it even more perfect – it covers so many topics that are covered in the 8th grade Waldorf year – we are going to read it together even though my eldest is in 9th grade now.

Some highlights of this book:

* The author describes how cells work in a way that makes all scientific text books on the subject appear overly verbose (what a surprise lol 😉 Her descriptions could encourage most anyone to get excited about cells.

* Her descriptions of African American history are refreshing – a new story – and told from a completely different point of view that the usual “required reading”. Most required reading from this genre is written from an activist point of view or with the obvious purpose of creating awareness and/or sympathy. This story is written for the simple and honest reason of telling the story of a woman whose cells changed the world. Her history is only part of that story, which makes it all the more real and compelling.

* Other topics touched upon in the book are: agriculture, American History, medical history and more. And in each genre her descriptions are entertaining as well as highly educational. She has a gift for teaching in the most natural, organic way.

* The topic of how pap smears were invented and the history of cancer research was fascinating to me.

If you plan on reading this book with your older children please let us know so we can exchange ideas, thoughts and perhaps even extra reading or lesson extensions.

Note that the book is for older children as it does mention an early marriage, performing medical tests for pap smears, the cervix, diseases like syphilis and other more adult topics. There is nothing graphic, of course, it is all very scientific, but the topics come up naturally and kids will ask questions – so be prepared.

Here is another review of the book – I find it so interesting how every review of this book is so different: Boston Globe Review

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

%d bloggers like this:
Skip to toolbar