Books: Fantastic, Elastic Brain

As my husband Richard and I have walked this wild journey with his brain cancer over the past year and some, I’ve learned a lot about brains and how they work, beginning when the lead neurology resident showed us his first brain MRI and patiently explained what the multiple views indicated. Then came the diagrams drawn by the neurosurgeons before his most recent and extensive brain surgery, showing what’s where, what each part does, and exactly what they planned to cut out and what they hoped to avoid.

I’ve also learned through direct experience, living with a guy who gets along without much of his right temporal lobe–it was removed, along with several glioblastomas (the worst you can have) in that surgery. Our reading material, as you might imagine, is heavy on all things brain: neurology, brain and immune system function, and brain health and healing.

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So I was tickled to read Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain, the latest offering from kid’s book publisher Little Pickle Press. It’s a picture book, complete with artlessly silly humor appropriate for ages 4 to 7, but the material is sophisticated and informative enough to engage adults too. (At least it engaged me; you can draw your own conclusions from that.)

Did you know, for instance, that your brain weighs about 3 pounds? Or that it’s 85 percent water? (So when people talk accuse you of having water on the brain—they’re right.)

Or that your amygdala, a tiny region at the center of your brain is named for its size and shape? Amygdala means “almond.” This minute region manages the synthesis and release of many of the so-called molecules of emotions, the chemical compounds that carry your feelings to individual cells throughout your body.

Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain is a lot more than a collection of fun facts; it aims to inspire and empower young minds, hearts–and brains. Psychologist and author JoAnn Deak and illustrator Sarah Ackerley take their topic beyond funny and captivating to show kids how to make full use of their brain’s abilities to stretch and grow. (Note: adult brains can also stretch and grow.)

I chuckled at the humor in the pages that explain the brain’s basic structures; I appreciated the book’s simple lessons in stretching and training your brain by practicing new skills, making mistakes, and facing your fears.

Neurosculptor

I’ll confess another personal reason I like this book: It respects the journey Richard’s taken in recovering from brain cancer and two brain surgeries. In fact, Deak could be writing about my beloved sculptor husband in the part on “neurosculptors”: Each time you learn something new–whether an intellectual concept, an emotional experience, or a physical skill, she writes, your brain grows more connections among the neurons, resulting in a brain that’s more elastic, “so it can hold more information and ideas.”

This post kicks off the blog book tour for Your Fantastic, Elastic Brain, and Little Pickle Press is offering a special deal: 25% off the price of the book ordered through their web site. (Use the coupon code HOME.) Follow the rest of the blog book tour via the Little Pickle Press blog.

One final thought: Paging through this lucid and inviting book, I couldn’t help but think of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, shot through the left hemisphere in an apparent assassination attempt in Tucson, Arizona on Saturday. May her brain indeed prove to be fantastic and elastic, and may her recovery–however long it takes–be complete.

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