Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Day-Glo Brothers

From the first moment you see this book with its bright colors against a dark background, it will grab your attention. (My scan of the book does NOT do it justice.) And it's likely to grab the attention of any kids with you as well. Have you ever thought about where fluorescent colors come from? I know I never did before this remarkable book.

Book: The Day-Glo Brothers: the true story of Bob and Joe Switzer's bright ideas and brand-new colors by Chris Barton; illustrated by Tony Persiani

Vital Stats: Published in 2009 by Charlesbridge, 44 pages with black and white and day-glo colored illustrations throughout
Awards: Cybils award, Sibert Honor Book
Marketed Toward: Second to fifth grade, 7 to 10 years-old
The Quick and the Short of It: Highly recommended for elementary students, especially those with an artistic or scientific bent

Book Synopsis:
In non-fiction picture book style (which means vivid illustrations and 1 to 3 paragraphs of text per two page spreadd), this book tells the story of two brothers and some bright ideas starting in the 1930s and continuing through their remarkable lives. The two brothers, Bob and Joe Switzer, are entrepreneurial young men who liked magic tricks, solving problems, and working hard. While trying to make some of his light magic tricks better, Joe recruited his brother Bob recovering from an injury and very bored. Together they started playing with the newly developped black lights and fluorescence for ways to improve the magic strips. One night in their father's pharmacy, they discovered certain bottles would glow. Thus they began mixing up various chemicals, reading up about it, and learning to make glow-in-the-dark paints. they found they were useful not only for magic tricks, but also advertisements, store windows, posters, and more. Eventually of course it would also be used to make reflective strips for airports, ships, and road signs.

My Take:
Apparently no one else had written about the invention of neon colors because the author found no supporting material and did almost all her research from interviewing family members and reading the papers of the Switzer brothers. What a great resource for a historian! (And what a great inspiration for young historians.) The story is simply told, but quite inspiring. At the end there is a nice (but brief) author's note on research and notes on the science of fluorescent lights and day-glo colors.

My favorite (striking) feature of this book is the use of day-glo colors. The pictures begin in black and white and as the brothers invent and perfect the color process, more and more neon colors are introduced.

Possible Issues of Concern/Christian Connection:
I did not see any issues of concern with this book. I really enjoyed how the book talked about the two brothers' different personalities, different workstyles, and how that contributed to their teamwork. How their different strengths allowed them to work more effectiely. I also really appreciated the emphasis on their hard work and persistence, good traits to encourage.

One of the brothers had dreamed of being a doctor and saving lives, while that never happened, the use of his colors on signals has helped to save lives (starting with WWII) as the book points out. The other brother wanted to dazzle crowds as a magician and ended up doing so with his colors. A Christian parent could make a nice point about how our plans and God's plans for our lives may not always be the same, but how He can use us just the same.

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. -Jeremiah 29:11


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