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'Did Fleming Rescue Churchill? A Research Puzzle'

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[November 26, 2008]  "Did Fleming Rescue Churchill? A Research Puzzle," by James Cross Giblin, illustrated by Erik Brooks, Henry Holt and Company, 55 pages

CivicReview by
Louella Moreland

Jason had to miss a social studies class to go to the dentist. That is the reason he ended up with Alexander Fleming as the scientist for his research report. No one else wanted Fleming as a subject because no one knew anything about him. So begins James Cross Giblin's "Did Fleming Rescue Churchill? A Research Puzzle."

This dilemma has been a common one among school students. Giblin not only serves up a humorous, believable tale about Jason's homework assignment, he gives students a much-needed caution about using the Internet as a tool when researching.

Of course, Jason's first thought is to turn to an Internet search engine as his beginning point since he has never heard of Alexander Fleming. His teacher suggests that he start with biographies and encyclopedias and cautions him that some Internet materials cannot be relied on for accurate or even true information.


Jason follows his teacher's advice, but can find little to base his report on besides the dull facts concerning Fleming's life. After taking notes on his birth, death and his reason for even being an important historical figure, Jason realizes his research paper will be pretty dull unless he finds an interesting story connected with Fleming to spice up his report.

Consulting with his teacher once again about how to use Internet sources, Jason turns to the Internet to finish his project. There he does find a very interesting story about Winston Churchill, when he was boy, being rescued from a bog by a farmer named Alexander. However, at the end of the article is an endnote saying that the story may not be a true one. As Jason searches further he finds two other similar stories, but with different details. Each one includes that the story cannot be confirmed.

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Now Jason is faced with knowing that the Internet stories may not be fact but wondering if they can somehow be used in his research paper, which needs some spicing up and added length. How Jason resolves his conflict is a creative one. He is unsure whether his teacher will like it or disapprove.

Sandwiched in with the story is a lot of homework ethics: factual information versus fiction, research, sources, confirming sources, time management, and consultation with the teacher. Jason modeled good choices for each. All of the experience wraps up neatly in the end.

The main sticking point is that few Internet sources contain warnings that the information they contain may not be factual. This is the area where parents and teachers need to be extra vigilant in teaching students that many myths are circulating out there on the Web that sound plausible, but are not based on substantiated facts. Sometimes it is hard to tell good Internet sites from bogus ones. The story does bring the problem to the attention of an audience that needs to hear the message. For that we commend Giblin for tackling the issue and for including research tips and sources at the back of the book.

To read this book or learn about many ways to research besides the Internet, come see us at the Youth Services Department in the Lincoln Public Library Annex, 725 Pekin St.

[Text from file received from Louella Moreland, Lincoln Public Library District]

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