Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How Big Were Dinosaurs

An interesting question for Lita Judge to ask.  As a member at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, I figured I had a pretty good handle on the size of dinosaurs, generally speaking.  Turns out, that, coupled with my knowledge of the movie Jurassic Park still did not give me the appropriate schema to visualize the size of dinosaurs (both big and small).  But this book, “How Big Were Dinosaurs?” did an excellent job of putting their size (both height and weight) into perspective that would likely also work well for a young child.  This book is well written, incorporating figurative language elements as well as text that bolds the names of the dinosaurs throughout.  The illustrations are humorous but also, technically, accurate.  The ones that surprised me more were how small they were, not how large.  The protoceratops being the size of a baby rhino seemed surprising to me.  The velociraptor was downright shocking to me.  I saw Jurassic Park.  That special effects dinosaur was not the size of a golden retriever.  And yet. 

I know with certainty that this book will have kid-appeal in my library.  In addition to our second grade curricular study of dinosaurs, we have some dinosaur fiends at my school who will snatch this book off the shelf. 

All that said, my only concern is the lack of source material that I would consider highly reliable.  The content needed (size of the dinosaurs) should not be hard to find in plentiful and countless sources.  The fact that Enchanted Learning is one of two websites listed as resources is troubling to me.  I don’t think the information would be unreliable, per se, but I think there are better sources out there from many a reliable organization dedicated to the study of dinosaurs.

How Big Were Dinosaurs
ISBN: 978-1-59643-719-7
Published 2013 by Roaring Brook Press
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Pedal It! How Bicycles are Changing the World

Full disclosure, I am a super environmental, earth saving, reducing, reusing, recycling hippie.  So, when a book has an environmental sway or message involved, I will buy into that.  This book combines fabulous, fascinating information about the history of bicycles and current interesting uses for their potential powerhouse of…power.  The health benefits and decreased impact to our planet are all good reasons for everyone to put down this book (when finished reading, of course) and hop on a bike (with a helmet, of course – no “headers” here!). 

Within Chapter One: Who Thought This Up, Anyway, there is a side paragraph highlighting the resurgence of “push bikes” (previously known to me as balance bikes).  A little less than a year, we purchased a balance bike for my daughter and we have seen her body getting accustomed to the feel of a bike without need for training wheels.  Many people have asked us about it and just recently, I saw a window display of balance bikes in an independently owned bicycle shop.  It’s exciting when something “old” is “new” again!

Also from Chapter One, I learned that the term “taking a header” was invented from people falling off of high-wheel bicycles onto their heads.  I am looking forward to reading another CYBILS nonfiction nominee “Fourth Down and Inches: Concussions and Football: Make-or-Break Moment” and made the connection between the “header”. 

Having read Matt Phelan’s Around the World, I had read about Thomas Stevens’ journey (around the world) on a bicycle in 1884.  I was somewhat surprised that this bit of history was not included in the book as it added to the phenomena of bicycles becoming more of a mainstream mode of transportation and recreation.

Mention of the Wright Brothers background as bicycle builders and mechanics reminded me of Matt McElligott’s “Benjamin Franklinstein Meets the Fright Brothers” in which the re-animated Wright Brothers are the proprietors of the “Right Cycle Co.”

Finally, the section highlighting the bicycle’s part in the women’s right movement and change in fashions made me thing of “You Forgot Your Skirt, Amelia Bloomer” by Shana Corey.

Overall, the information is presented in a visually appealing way that keeps the reader interested in the content throughout.  Different facets of the bicycle’s impact on the world we live in and the evolution of its uses throughout history are helpful to build the reader’s knowledge of the bicycle.  The photography and illustration help to build a better understanding of how a bicycle might power the lights of a house or transport a bakery.  I really enjoyed “Pedal It” by Michelle Mulder.

Pedal It!  How Bicycles are Changing the World
ISBN: 978-1-4598-0219-3
Published 2013 by Orca Book Publishers
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America's First Black Paratroopers

I love when a book such as this is available as an audiobook and that is how I read it.  Then I read it again in the hardcover version.  What an awesome story!  And the photographs – all this history.  I LOVE learning about parts of history that are just surfacing, have been in some way covered up, or brushed under the rug and then come to light in a blaze of glory.  And a blaze is a good way to sum up the story of the Triple Nickles and the part they played as smoke jumpers in Oregon. 

I am NOT a WWII buff, but I do love to learn and over the years, I’ve learned of the internment of our own Japanese citizens out West in the United States as well as the persecution of Italian Americans (after reading Penny from Heaven by Jennifer Holm), but I did not know about the Japanese balloon bombs which sparked forest fires in the American West.

Additionally, this book highlights the many injustices of the times.  Black Americans trained to be soldiers and were only given the opportunity to serve the white soldiers as cooks, mechanics and in other service roles, but they were not given the opportinty to fight.  At the same time, stereotypes were continuing to depict Black Americans in such a way in movies and advertising to indicate that they could not be trusted with decision making in a wartime situation.  Many black soldiers were ready to fight that stereotype and fight the enemy overseas as well. 

If I didn’t already have enough reasons to LOVE Eleanor Roosevelt, this book made clear the part she played in fighting for equal rights for ALL Americans.  And perhaps that she also nudged her husband in the “right” direction too. 

Overall Tanya Lee Stone does a fantastic job of putting together a veritable puzzle of pieces to put together a cohesive story and in a timely fashion before our first person accounts are lost.  Her documentation of sources is impeccable with quotations cited carefully and an extensive bibliography.  After both listening to and looking at the book, you can NOT just listen to the story.  Though it is still certainly impressive, the photographs and imagery is necessary to the full understanding of the story.  For example, when I read about the “balloon bombs” I pictured much smaller party size helium balloons.  I have no idea why I thought these would be effective weapons.  Well, actually, I thought they were not very effective weapons as many did not detonate and those that did very likely did not ignite the intended forest fires.  Regardless, the photographs of inflated balloon bombs gave me a much better understanding of them but I don’t know how so many did go unnoticed.

Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers
ISBN: 978-0-7636-5117-6
Published 2013 by Candlewick Press
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Eight Dolphins of Katrina: A True Tale of Survival

I really liked this story.  A lot.  When Jackie surfaced and Tim jumped in the water (not to give too much away there…) I cried.  Literally.  I may also be overly emotional.  But I did.  I cried.  This book is really well written by Janet Wyman Coleman.  Really.  And the illustrations are really interesting.  A public librarian friend helped to give voice to my concern over the visual piece.  When you look at the cover art, a photograph of two dolphins (presumably two of the eight), you form an expectation to see more photographs of the dolphins.  You won’t see that in this book.  No, that’s not true.  There is “An Eight Dolphins Scrapbook” that documents the dolphins and the destruction that occurred at their habitat, “The Marine Life Oceanarium”.  But the book’s text itself is not complemented by photographs.  How could it be, really?  During the onset of Hurricane Katrina, no one was stopping to take pictures of the storm brewing, of the dolphins being transported to hotel pools, etc.

And, let me be clear, the illustrations by Yan Nascimbene, are spectacular, but going from a photo cover to illustrated content is a bit jarring.  My public librarian friend stated, “I question the publisher’s decision to put a photograph on the cover.”  I agree and I’m glad she was able to put it in words.  I couldn’t quite explain it myself at the time, but consistency would definitely have helped me as a reader.  I think that kids will be more likely to pick this book up with two dolphins on the cover.  Plain and simple.  But I don’t know that the same kids will stay for the story.  I hope they do.  Because it’s awesome.

Eight Dolphins of Katrina
ISBN: 978-0-547-71923-8
Published 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Wild Horse Scientists

Just this past summer, I had a personal experience that really helped me to build schema for this book.  As a result, I devoured this book. 

On a Sunday evening, a friend called who had just arrived at her vacation rental in Ocean City, Maryland.  She was vacationing with her family, her sister’s family, her brother, and her father.  Her brother and father were planning to leave on Tuesday and even with all of those people in the house, there was still an extra room on its own floor.  She was calling to ask if we would like to join them on vacation for the remainder of the week.  As luck would have it, I didn’t have any other plans for the week (that is quite rare for me) so I planned to start packing and be down with two kids in tow on Wednesday.  The next day, she called to ask if we would like to join them on a boat trip called “Assateague Adventures.”  As I felt we were already “crashing” their vacation, I was up for whatever was already on the agenda.  We were along for the ride, literally and figuratively.  And I’m so glad we went.  Unlike my friend’s sister, I had not read “Misty of Chincoteague,” so I wasn’t really familiar with the wild horses of Maryland and Virginia.  Through my experience with my friend’s sister and the tour itself, I learned a lot that helped me understand everything I was reading in “Wild Horse Scientists.”  Basically, there are two methods of population control for wild horses.  Well, there were three, but now there are two. 
1)    On the Virginia side of Assateague Island (which I had mistakenly come away from the tour thinking WAS Chincoteague – it is the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, a “pony swim” takes place where saltwater cowboys drive the ponies across a channel to Chincoteague, Virginia, where the ponies are up for auction.  Some implications of this method are that horses tend to have more foals when their ponies are taken away as opposed to when they are raising their own offspring.
2)    Out West, on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range in Montana, there used to be “gathers” sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management.  These gathers involved a roundup by cowboys with the assistance of helicopters.  Then once rounded up, some of the horses would be removed for adoption.  These methods were deemed inhumane and a new method was needed for population control as the wild horses have no natural predators in the areas in which they were living.
3)    PZP, the method being adopted out west after being piloted on the Maryland side of Assateague island, involves darting the horses with birth control that mimics injecting the horses with a porcine (pig’s) embryo casing tricking the horse’s system.  The method was deemed to be 95-100% effective.  Mares are tending to live longer not going through the stress of delivering many foals over a lifetime. 

For me, seeing the photographs of the horses was really great because on the day that we visited the island, there were no horses to be seen, which can be expected when dealing with wild animals.  Interestingly to me was seeing the photographs of people in the parking lot and the brazenness of the horse’s there.  For starters, I thought the only way to visit the island was on this sort of guided tour that allowed you to visit for a short time and leave the habitat as undisturbed as possible.  But it seems you can visit the island and even camp there.  I’ll have to look into that the next time we “crash” a vacation in Ocean City, MD.

The question of how the horses got to Assateague Island still remains a bit of a mystery with two answers.  And maybe both are true. 
1)    The horses ended up on the island after a shipwreck.
2)    The horses were released by colonists who would have been taxed on fencing to keep the horses penned in.  By releasing them on an island, they avoided taxation and still kept the horses contained.  The original offshore banking!

Overall, the information was laid out in a very logical way for the reader and connections were made between the two different locations that were most featured: Assateague Island and Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range.  The photographs of the rangers help the readers to imagine the difficulty of the job to let wild animals live undisturbed while also protecting them from their own overpopulation which would result in less food and water for the herd and more struggle for survival.  Kay Frydenborg does a great job of engaging the reader and telling the story of the wild horses and the scientists who have studied them over the years.

Wild Horse Scientists
ISBN: 978-0-547-51831-2
Published 2013 by Houghton Mifflin
I borrowed this copy from my public library to read and review.