Beyond the Headlines | New Books on Current Issues

Focusing on some of today’s hottest topics, these books provide critical updates and add context and depth to news stories on environmental and global issues.
Students care deeply about issues that affect humanity, but often learn about them through news feeds and tweets. Focusing on some of today’s hottest topics, the books discussed here provide critical updates and add context and depth to news stories on environmental and global issues. A few of the titles listed are revisions in familiar series, while others are stand-alone treatments; all offer an opportunity to explore different points of view, and to begin thinking critically about issues that will guide future problem solvers. With a few noteworthy exceptions, the majority of the books considered here target secondary students. Environmental Issues eyes wide openNewbery medalist Paul Fleischman is at the top of this list for  encouraging students to take a stance on current issues, and to critically evaluate what they read. In Eyes Wide Open: Going Behind the Environmental Headlines (Candlewick, 2014; Gr 8 Up). Fleischman admits that as student he thought current events only happened to other people, and suggests young adults take a more active role in learning about the world they live in: “Notice. Gather information. Reflect. Act.” He employs the topics of climate change, oil reserves, and related issues to point out specific examples of conflicting reports (links provided), and explains how they can play upon fears, sow doubt, spread calm, omit information, or blur the lines between fact and opinion. Teens will learn about factors such as innovation, democratic processes, and business interests that often slow down response time to problems. The author’s approach will spark students' critical thinking and educators will value the book as a teaching tool for navigating news in a variety of formats, and identifying bias in media reports. Extensive source notes, suggested resources, and an index, glossary, and a guide on “How to Weigh Information” are appended. place hackingExploring deserted towns, climbing skyscrapers, or tramping below ground into subway tunnels and sewers may be a passing fad among adventure seekers, but these activities call into question our relationship to the environment and the places and spaces we build on, occupy, and sometimes abandon. In Place Hacking: Venturing Off Limits (Twenty-First Century Books, 2015: Gr 9 up), Michael J. Rosen describes the phenomenon as a combination of sport, trespassing, and political statement—governed by such rules as: leave no evidence, do not participate under the influence of alcohol or drugs and, if caught, respect authority. Large color photos offer a peek at the diverse venues considered off limits (including the 2009 White House state dinner crashed by Tareq Salahi, and his now ex-wife, Michaele Salahi). Source notes, a timeline, and additional resources join a section of persuasive writing activities in which students can choose a “dilemma” and provide an argument or counterargument related to the ethics, or justification of sample place-hacking cases. Readers aren't likely to feel the need to climb scaffolding, or try extreme ironing while dangling from a cliff, but may look at their environment from an anthropological viewpoint here on in. frackingFor residents living atop shale beds, emotions run high about the safety and environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract oil and natural gas. Rebecca Felix’s 12 Things to Know About Fracking (Amicus, 2105; Gr 3-6), offers the basics, including when it started, how it works, and its impact on the economy and the environment. Chapters highlight concerns associated with the tons of greenhouse gases that are produced and the use of eight million gallons of water per fracking well, but equal time is given to the benefits of the process, such as increased energy independence, and the economic boom it can bring to rural locales. Some places have banned or initiated a moratorium on fracking while scientists scramble to test ways of recycling the water used in the process and/or the effectiveness of chemicals that are less damaging to the environment. The color blocking of text, bubbled photo captions, and a number fact on each page (for example, "39% of natural gas in US comes from shale"), helps streamline the information for younger readers. This title and others in the “12 Things to Know" series,” including Climate Change, Invasive Species, and Wild Weather, encourage readers to ask questions and to consider a range of contemporary environmental issues. fuel under fireStudents will find a stark view of the implications of petroleum dependence in Fuel Under Fire: Petroleum and it’s Perils (Twenty-First Century, 2015; Gr 7 Up). A fiery book jacket illustration foretells Margaret J. Goldstein’s dramatic account of petroleum explosions and crude oil spills, such as the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 that has had lasting repercussions on the water and wildlife of Alaska. Beginning with a history of our reliance on petroleum, the author is quick to point out the folly of the geopolitics at work to support its continued extraction. The narrative includes cases of individuals coping with contaminated wells due to fracking, and crews that have had the daunting job of cleaning oil-coated birds, or collecting tarballs on the beach. Goldstein adds informative diagrams of pipelines, fracking maps, and news photos, and extensive source notes to her dire warnings about the world’s overdependence on this dwindling resource. Readers will clearly grasp the urgency of her message, substantiated by explanations of the chemical processes, and technological specifics about what can (and has) go wrong in petroleum drilling, refining, and transporting. energy alternativesThat conversation continues in a collection of articles about alternative types of energy, such as bio fuels, fossil fuels, solar, and wind in Sylvia Engdahl's Energy Alternatives (Greenhaven, 2015; Gr 9 Up), which features multiple viewpoints and the familiar layout of the “Opposing Viewpoints" series. Sample chapters include “Don’t Count Oil Out” by Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, who touts the flexibility, low cost, and convenience of petroleum. Other chapters debate wind turbines, power towers (using sun tracking mirrors to produce steam), and human and animal waste as biomass energy. A paragraph about each author, and a citation for the original report or article referenced is an aid to determining bias and viewpoint. Students can use the contextual references, political cartoons, or charted statistics to add evidence to their own theses, and consult the “Periodical and Internet Sources Bibliography” for additional resources. Teachers will find the essays valuable as writing models for persuasive essays. The “Opposing Viewpoints” series also has released new editions of World Peace, Working Women, Gun Violence, Celebrity Culture, Media Bias, and School Reform. Global Issues nujood aliIn 2008, the New York Times reported the story of Nujood Ali, a 10-year-old Yemeni girl who went to the courthouse alone to demand a divorce from her 30-year-old husband who had repeatedly raped her after promising he wouldn’t consummate the arranged marriage until she matured. In Nujood Ali and the Fight Against Child Marriage (Morgan Reynolds, 2015; Gr 8 Up), Katherine Don elaborates on Ali’s childhood and family circumstance in an effort to bring to light factors affecting the health and safety of young girls in countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria—countries where child marriages persist. Don's documentary approach offers large, vibrant photographs of child brides, depictions of daily life and impoverished surroundings in the countries where the girls live. One chapter suggests a comparison to high rates of teen pregnancy in industrial nations, such as the United States, that results in similar educational and economic disadvantages for young girls. A bibliography and web sites offer a wealth of information, including a link to, an ongoing global effort to end child marriage. grace AkalloIn a companion title, readers can learn more about children pressed into armed conflict historically and and in modern times. Kem Knapp Sawyer’s Grace Akallo and the Pursuit of Justice for Child Soldiers (Morgan Reynolds, 2015: Gr 8 Up) begins with the account of the kidnapping of 15-year-old Grace Akallo’s by Ugandan rebels in 1996. Forced into servitude, she became the fifth wife of a lieutenant, and when ordered to, killed rebel enemies. Akallo eventually escaped and found refuge with Ugandan allies, and ultimately began a new life (that included college) in the United States. The gripping narrative alternates with other examples of children in conflict, including boys who lied about their age to enlist in the American Civil War, the coercion of young boys and girls to be executioners by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge , and Palestinian Hamas who offered children schooling and weapon training. The oversized format resembles a dedicated magazine featuring a gripping story, related asides, and large captioned photos. Grace Akallo brings attention to the plight of children still being enlisted in armed encounters around the world and will appeal to fans of true stories about remarkable young people. The “Out in Front Series” also includes David Aretha’s Malala Yousafzai and the Girls 
of Pakistan about the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner. breaking freeIt seems unimaginable that a parent would abandon a child, much less be complicit in using that child as a sexual bartering chip to pay off a debt. Abby Sher’s Breaking Free: True Stories of Girls Who Escaped Modern Slavery (Barron’s, 2014: Gr 8 Up) features interviews with three young women who escaped sex trafficking and servitude, becoming voices of hope for others. In San Jose, CA, Minh Dang's Vietnamese parents were abusive toward her from the time she was a baby. When she was only 10, they earned a regular income by forcing her to perform sexual favors at a local brothel. In Cambodia, nine year-old Somaly Mam was lured out of her village by an older man who promised to take her to her parents—a ruse to secure the child for himself. The third subject, Maria Suarez came to Los Angeles, CA, from Mexico, at 15, to apply for a maid’s job. In the home where she was employed she was imprisoned and raped. The girls’ harrowing accounts, which depict heroic resilience, will open readers’ eyes to a industry that has taken root around the world. Sher’s journalistic approach features a final section answering the how, what, where, and why questions readers have on the subject, as well as resources and progress of international efforts to stop the criminal exploitation of girls and children. exposing tortureHumankind’s capability for cruelty is profoundly evident in the use of torture to extract confessions or inflict vindictive punishment. Hal Marcovitz’s Exposing Torture (Twenty-First Century, 2015; Gr 9 Up) offers a broad historical look at the practice for student researchers, starting with the atraktos (spindle) of the Ancient Greeks and the tortura (twist) used by Ancient Romans, methods that the involved spinning or twisting of bodies to cause severe pain. Crucifixio, and lead capes that would melt the skin when dipped in boiling water, gave way to psychological methods, such as the sensory deprivation described by P.O.W’s in Vietnam. Most recently, a former CIA agent decried the use of waterboarding techniques on al-Qaeda prisoners suspected of terrorism, increasing questions about the morality, effectiveness, and justification for this horrific practice. A pro/con section, critical analysis, and extensive appended resources allow students the opportunity debate the issue and explore the topic further. ebolaScience writer Patricia Newman, tells the fascinating story of a very scary disease in Ebola: Fears and Facts (Millbrook, 2015; Gr 4-8). Her coverage of the 2014 outbreak in West Africa and incidences of infection among U.S. health care workers, remind readers that Ebola isn’t just a problem facing nations on a distant continent. The engaging chronological narrative begins with a discussion of Ebola’s origin, in 1976, in a remote area outside the rain forests of the Congo. Newman follows the scientists who used detective work to trace the path of exposure and its relationship to chimpanzees and gorillas (also susceptible to the disease), and flying Fox Bats (possible reservoirs for the disease). Optimistic in her tone, the author focuses on the global effort to halt Ebola, and the tireless volunteers who treat the sick, and care for countless orphans. A helpful media literacy exercise (“Truth or Hype?”) recommends questions students should ask themselves each time they read news about Ebola, or any other headline issue. Maps, charts, and full-page color photos depict differences in Ebola protective gear over time, villages that have been impacted by the disease, hospitals that treat the ill, and more, in this absorbing cover-to-cover read. female genital cuttingDeemed a human rights issue, the cultural practice of female genital cutting (FGC) has been a traditional means of controlling women and their bodies among many different peoples and religions, according to Terry Teague Meyer in Female Genital Cutting (Rosen, 2015; Gr 9 Up). The author covers the history of the practice, discusses the medical implications of the procedure, and offers quotes from those who have firsthand experiences of FGC. Graphic illustrations depict the variations in surgical procedures, such as a clitoridectomy, or partial excision of the labia monora. There is no doubt that this physically and emotional scarring practice is meant to curb sexual pleasure and has no medical benefits. Historical comparisons (including photos) are made to the binding the feet of Chinese women and European chastity belts. A world map of prevalence accompanies genitalia diagrams, photos of multicultural families, facts and myths, color-blocked sidebar information, and a detailed appendix of sources for further research. Advocacy groups are said to walk a fine line as they try to respect cultural mores and religions, but they are gaining global support in their efforts to encourage the elimination of this custom. Other titles in the “Confronting Violence Against Women” series include: Living in a Violent Household; Sexual Assault and Abuse; Sexual Trafficking and Modern-Day Slavery, Stalking, and Dating Violence. Don't miss Part II of this Headline News article which will feature new books on technology and national issues in the November 19th issue of Curriculum Connections. To have issues of Curriculum Connections delivered free to your mailbox each month, register here. Vicki Reutter is a former school librarian and currently an instructor in the graduate Literacy Education program for the State University of New York, at Cortland.

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