October 17, 2017

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A Brave New World | Nonfiction Booktalker

The Earth still has many surprises to offer

While we might sympathize with Alexander the Great, who wept after his last battle because there were no more worlds to conquer, there’s no need for sorrow. Exploration and technology may have scrubbed the modern world clean of secrets, but three new books will inspire joy and curiosity in you and your booktalk listeners about fresh, exotic landscapes.

Sibert Award-winner Sally M. Walker’s Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed (Carolrhoda, 2010) welcomes us to a cold, inhospitable, and almost inaccessible place. Interest in Antarctica soared after the first visitor, British Captain John Davis, stepped on to the continent in 1821. The 1910 Scott expedition, one of history’s most disastrous adventures, will thrill your booktalk audiences. Show them pictures of the crew. None of them survived. The last members died only 11 miles from their supply station—the food perfectly preserved by the cold. (The carcasses of the sled dogs were also preserved!)

Antarctica belongs to no other country; people who study it come from all over the world. What they’ve discovered is amazing. Dinosaurs and plants lived there. Liquid lakes lurk under the ice. Bubbles in the snow contain prehistoric air that circulated through the lungs of creatures dead for millions of years! The more we learn about our own planet, the more we may understand others. Creatures that adapt to Earth’s extreme habitats may show us how aliens adapt to unearthly locales.

Stare in wonder at the incredible photos in Rebecca L. Johnson’s exciting Journey into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures (Millbrook, 2011). You’ll be stunned at what you—and scientists—don’t know.

Since 2000, researchers from all over have been taking a census of ocean dwellers. What kinds of creatures live there? What do they eat? How do they exist in the deepest, darkest, and hottest or coldest regions? Investigators scoop up organisms from shallows and beaches, travel in special vehicles that dive deeply, and sometimes send out robotic recon machines. Seven miles down, the water pressure is so great that any human would feel as if 50 jumbo jets had been piled on them.

There are 250,000 different known species in the ocean—and there are likely millions more. Show your audience the photo of the barreleye fish. It can roll its eyes in all directions, including backward, which means it can look straight through the top of its transparent head.

Some humans spend most of their time looking upward. Vicki Oransky Wittenstein’s Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earth (Boyds Mills, 2010) describes one guy with a cool job: looking for other planets.

We know there must be other worlds, but Marcy’s best guess is that about 10 percent of the stars in our Milky Way galaxy have planetary systems. There are 200 billion stars, but only about 5 billion of those planetary systems have rocky planets like our own where life could possibly exist. Does your audience know that Earth lives in the “Goldilocks zone”? It’s not too hot for life, not too cold for life, but just right. How many planets are also just right? Marcy believes the odds are in favor of aliens.

Using computers and a colossal telescope on a dormant volcano in Hawaii, Marcy and his night-shift team have discovered more than 200 new planets. (They hold the record for finding these extrasolar worlds.) Team members have to be extremely patient: to ensure that an object is a planet, they must observe that it rotates around a star. Jupiter takes 12 years for one revolution. Explain to your audience that on some planets spring or winter may last for years—sort of like Narnia under the White Witch.

Strangeness and surprise still exist. Share these books with your booktalk groups and let them plot their own new journeys. Today’s readers can be tomorrow’s explorers.

About Kathleen Baxter

Kathleen Baxter is the former head of children’s services at the Anoka County Library in suburban Minneapolis and a speaker at school and library conferences all over the USA. She never goes anywhere without a book.

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