Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Half Brother

Title: Half Brother 
Author: Kenneth Oppel  
Publisher:  Scholastic Press/Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: September, 2010 
Genre/Format: Historical Fiction/Novel
Audiobook Narrator: Daniel diTomasso
GoodReads Summary: From the Printz-Honor-winning author of Airborn comes an absorbing YA novel about a teen boy whose scientist parents take in a chimpanzee to be part of the family.
     For thirteen years, Ben Tomlin was an only child. But all that changes when his mother brings home Zan -- an eight-day-old chimpanzee. Ben's father, a renowned behavioral scientist, has uprooted the family to pursue his latest research project: a high-profile experiment to determine whether chimpanzees can acquire advanced language skills. Ben's parents tell him to treat Zan like a little brother. Ben reluctantly agrees. At least now he's not the only one his father's going to scrutinize.
     It isn't long before Ben is Zan's favorite, and Ben starts to see Zan as more. 
What I Think:  Ben is introduced to Zan when he is 8 days old. Zan is his new baby brother. At first Ben is resistant to loving Zan, but that changes as he gets to know him. Ben loves Zan more than anything in the world. He would do anything for him. But others, including his father, don't understand why he has such an attachment to Zan. Yes, Zan is his brother, but Zan is also a chimp. A chimp who Ben's father is researching by conducting an experiment to see if chimps can learn language. To Ben, Zan has become a member of the family, but to others, he is just a specimen. 
     Ever since I started teaching and I was introduced to Willie B. through a short story and Sukari in Hurt Go Happy, I have gotten a mild obsession with apes- specifically chimps, gorillas and orangutans. I have often visited the Center for Great Apes where I learned even more about the life of chimps in entertainment, testing and living with humans. 
     Also, in the last couple of years, I have been introduced to Kenneth Oppel through his other books- Matt Cruse series, Victor Frankenstein and Silverwing- and I have adored every word of his that I have read/listened to. 
     So, when Half Brother came out, I knew it was a book I had to read. But then it got pushed aside again and again. For some reason, I just never got around to it. Until my best friend listened to it and insisted it be the next audiobook I read- and I am so glad she did! Half Brother is such a touching, suspenseful, well-done, amazing story. It pulls at your heart strings throughout and makes you think about all that it means to be human. 
     Kenneth Oppel obviously did a lot of research for this project. Half Brother is set in the 1970s at the peak of chimp research including research for the space program, medicine and language acquisition (Project Nim & Project Washoe) and also the beginning of protest against such experiments. This book teaches you the history of this time through a fictional experiment that is not much different than the real ones.
     Half Brother is an emotion-filled, thought-provoking book which brings Zan and his family to life in 1973. This book is made to be a discussion as it introduces so many tough topics and is one that I cannot wait to discuss with students.
     Amended: September 5th, 2012- Last Friday a student checked out Half Brother from my classroom library after I talked about how much it touched me, how good it was, and I shared my crying spurts while trying to drive and listen to the audiobook. This student is one who "hates to read" and has never read a large book or a book without pictures. I assumed he was going to struggle with it, but I was definitely wrong! On Tuesday, after the long weekend, he let me know that his brother started calling him a nerd. When I asked why, he said it was because he couldn't stop reading all weekend and got to page 263. With that, I sat down and started talking to him about the book. He was insightful, opinionated, and definitely invested in the story. My heart wept with happiness! It is one of those moments that I'll never forget. 
Read Together:  Grades 7 to 11
Read Alone: Grades 7 to 12
Read With: Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby, The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, The Chimpanzee I Love by Jane Goodall, Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would be Human by Elizabeth Hess, Any other book from the Top 10 Ape Book list,  Nonfiction chimp/ape books, Nonfiction ASL books, Interview with Kenneth Oppel about writing Half Brother
Snatch of Text: "He's an animal, you're right," said mom. "And we use them all the time. We eat them. We inject them. We kill them. Zan's not human. But we taught him he was. We raised him like a child. Our child. And we have responsibilities to him now, Richard. We do." (p. 340)
Mentor Text For: Historical fiction, Research, Characterization/Character development
Writing Prompts: There are many debates over the need for animal testing, specifically testing chimpanzees. Do you agree that animal testing is necessary? Why or why not? Would Ben think that animal testing is necessary? Use text evidence to back up your claim.  
Topics Covered: Animal Testing, Language, Humanity, Sign Language, Family, Chimpanzees
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