Dr Huxley's bequest by Michelle Cooper

cover image

FitzOsborne Press, 2017. ISBN 9780648165132
(Age: 12+) Recommended. Dr Huxley's Bequest is a creative non-fiction book. The characters are fictional but historical people and scientific matter are real and the story is set in the University of Sydney.
The University receives a bequest from the late Dr Huxley of 13 unusual items. Rosy and Jaz (two thirteen year old daughters of workers at the university) having accidently destroyed the papers identifying the objects, need to solve the mystery of what the 13 objects are and have the items labelled and displayed as a condition of a large monetary bequest by Dr Huxley. The objects basically represent and summarize the history of medicine and disease.
The girls have two weeks to complete the task so it is a race against time.
The mystery technique is a fantastic way to tell the story of medicine from ancient Egyptian times to current genetic testing. It includes little known 'gross' facts that would appeal to readers.
The author tells the story in a humorous manner. It aims to educate about the history of medicine (including alternative medicines) and disease, but also strongly pushes the scientific method of research at every opportunity. Given the current STEM emphasis in education this book would be ideal in the library for over 12 year olds. The author generates in the main characters a sense of excitement in the quest for knowledge and learning for its own sake. There is also an emphasis on the (unheralded) role of women in science.
At times too much information at a time makes for heavy reading and may deter some readers although there are a few illustrations.
The author is to be congratulated on the amazing level of detailed research. Included is a Bibliography of "fairly reader-friendly" articles and an index.
Michelle Cooper indicates on her web site that tours of the university can be undertaken where the objects can be viewed and places in the book visited. Teaching resources can be downloaded from the site.
Ann Griffin