February 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

5 Nonfiction Titles (and a Graphic Novel!) for Those Who Love the Sea

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Just in time for summer are a number of well-written titles for beachgoers and budding marine biologists alike. Ranging from general overviews of marine science to fascinating accounts of hurricanes and tackling everything from the role of sharks to a gigantic blue whale skeleton, the following selections provide a diverse look at the earth’s oceans. Those seeking fiction should check out Matt Kindt’s graphic novel Dept. H, a thrilling whodunit set deep underwater.

Barnard, Bryn. The New Ocean: The Fate of Life in a Changing Sea. illus. by Bryn Barnard. 40p. bibliog. glossary. maps. Knopf. May 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780375870491.

Gr 4-6 –An engaging presentation from Barnard, who reveals the devastating effects of ocean warming, carbon dioxide absorption, pollution, and overfishing on the earth’s waters and the resulting decline of many aquatic species. The author focuses on six different creatures (jellyfish, killer whales, sea turtles, tuna, corals, and blue-green algae) to first paint a picture of the incredible diversity of the oceans and then impress upon readers how humans are disrupting this fragile ecosystem (plastic bags eaten by turtles, coral bleaching). The large illustrations, done in oil on canvas, are rich with deep blues and are often mesmerizing. While the picture book format may signal a younger audience, the text is quite advanced. An opening map, “An Ocean of Plastic,” identifies currents and garbage patches, and a closing map, “Hot, Acidic, and Bleached,” tracks levels of coral bleaching worldwide—both are fascinating. VERDICT An impassioned call to protect Earth’s oceans, sure to stimulate conversations. Consider for large STEM collections.–Nancy Call, Santa Cruz Public Libraries, Aptos, CA

Cherrix, Amy. Eye of the Storm: NASA, Drones, and the Race To Crack the Hurricane Code. 80p. (Scientists in the Field). bibliog. diag. further reading. glossary. index. maps. notes. photos. websites. HMH. Apr. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780544411654.

Gr 4-7 –Opening with a tragic anecdote about a Staten Island family displaced and disrupted by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the narrative quickly shifts to its central topic, the physics of hurricane formation and the research being done at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, located on the eastern shore of Virginia. Though the story is occasionally unfocused, the bulk of the text outlines efforts to improve understanding of a hurricane’s early stages using data gathered by a Global Hawk drone, a demonstration aircraft retired from the U.S. Air Force. Personal profiles of many of the scientists detail training and interests and offer a window into the life of a researcher. Much information is provided about the aircraft’s instrumentation, the work of the meteorologists on the ground, and the slow-paced “office work” of operating the drone from a computer at the Virginia facility. Edifying sidebars examine tangential topics such as the ecology of nearby Chincoteague Island, the backgrounds of NASA meteorologists, and the different flight patterns of the drone. A closing chapter gives overviews of other cyclonic storms in recent history and suggests implications for the research in a broader context. The volume is abundantly illustrated with photos of the research facility, the equipment, and the people who use and maintain it, as well as with numerous maps, charts, and other graphics. VERDICT Well researched and engagingly written, this is an occasionally fascinating entry on hurricane prediction for middle schoolers. Robust science collections should consider.–Bob Hassett, Luther Jackson Middle School, Falls Church, VA

Hestermann, Josh & Bethanie Hestermann. Marine Science for Kids: Exploring and Protecting Our Watery World. 144p. bibliog. glossary. index. photos. websites. Chicago Review. Jun. 2017. pap. $18.99. ISBN 9781613735367.

Gr 5-7 –The Hestermanns’ newest title is a hands-on, in-depth look at marine science. Activities and photographs accompany each section of the text as the authors take readers deep underwater. Students witness the different types of aquatic environments through vivid pictures and discussions about the daily lives of animals in each region. The activities are accessible, and information on the levels of adult supervision required is provided. There are also sidebars on related careers tucked into each chapter showing the varied types of marine scientists. This is an excellent example of how blending STEM fields can be done right; crafts and material related to physics, mathematics, and chemistry are incorporated throughout. The organization of the text is effective, and the Hestermanns excel at describing the ecology of each location, from open seas to coastal regions. Most important, the authors explore the relationship between water and the wildlife that surrounds and relies on it. VERDICT A wonderful addition to marine biology sections for school or public libraries.–Lisa Bosarge, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore

KINDT, Matt. Dept. H: Vol. 1: Pressure. illus. by Matt Kindt & Sharlene Kindt. 168p. Dark Horse. Jan. 2017. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781616559892.
Gr 7 Up –Matt Kindt delivers another amazing graphic novel with an imaginative premise. This is a highly unusual locked-room mystery, centering on an unexplained death that occurred in an undersea research station. Mia is sent down to the station to find out exactly what happened to her father. She doesn’t know if his death was accidental or intentional or whether it was part of a larger plan. What she does know is that several people she once trusted, including her brother and a former friend, are among the suspects. The book jumps between the present and the past as Mia’s memories keep pushing to the surface, making connections between then and now. This is a gripping murder mystery, made even more fascinating by the conflicting emotions that rage inside Mia as she tries to uncover the truth. Soon it becomes clear that her own safety is at risk, whether she is inside the station or out in the deepest part of the ocean, surrounded by sea creatures. The Kindts’ illustrations are murky and rough, capturing the dreamlike quality of the undersea world and drawing readers further into this surreal story. VERDICT An enthralling mystery in a unique setting that will leave graphic novel fans clamoring for the next volume in the series.–Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

Miettunen, Anita. Big Blue Forever: The Story of Canada’s Largest Blue Whale Skeleton. 72p. bibliog. photos. websites. Red Deer. Feb. 2017. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9780889955424.

Gr 4-6 –When a blue whale washed ashore on Prince Edward Island in 1987, residents were amazed at its size. Officials decided to bury the whale so that, in time, only its bones would remain, which then might be of use to scientists. This title explores what happened more than 20 years later when the remains were uncovered. The first half of the work details the community’s response to the whale with somewhat choppy, fictionalized dialogue (“It is as big as a boat!”). The second half is entirely nonfiction and examines the process of creating the exhibit. This involved excavating and transporting the bones, cleaning and delivering them to the Beaty Biodiversity Museum in Vancouver, and installing the final exhibit. Additional sections of the book introduce the team members who worked on the project and discuss essential facts about blue whales and conditions that threaten their existence. While this is an interesting story, it could have been greatly enhanced by including actual quotes from the officials and scientists involved in the project, providing additional information about the life cycle of blue whales, and explaining the need for maintaining biodiversity. Nevertheless, this is a handsome, clearly written, well-illustrated description of how the enormous skeleton of a blue whale was preserved and housed in a museum for everyone to see. VERDICT A good choice for robust science collections.–Myra Zarnowski, City University of New York

redstarWilliams, Lily. If Sharks Disappeared. illus. by Lily Williams. 40p. bibliog. glossary. websites. Roaring Brook. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626724136.

K-Gr 2 –Young audiences learn conservation vocabulary and concepts through an illustrated examination of what might happen if sharks were to become extinct. A brown-skinned girl in a boat acts as a guide for this predictive exercise. She first introduces sharks as part of a healthy ocean, then describes the ways in which sharks influence our ecosystem. In accessible language that doesn’t shy away from scientific terminology, the book lays out the path of the trophic cascade that might result from a complete shark extinction. Vibrant seascapes full of movement and a diverse array of underwater flora and fauna contrast sharply with spreads of an ocean choked with algae and devoid of wildlife and plants. Ending on a hopeful note that reaffirms the importance of sharks and downplays their scary reputation, Williams appends additional information on threats to sharks, suggestions for child-appropriate actions to take, and an author’s note. A former animator, Williams offers illustrations that balance scientific accuracy with a familiar and appealing cartoon quality. Text color and placement and variations in page layout provide plenty of variety and visual interest but may slow down read-alouds. VERDICT While the future is impossible to predict, Williams presents a scientifically grounded view of a world without sharks that should spark discussion and inspire action in budding ecologists. A terrific addition to any school or public library.–Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN


Della Farrell About Della Farrell

Della Farrell is an Assistant Editor at School Library Journal and Editor of Series Made Simple

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