Devastation, Disaster, & Hope: Life Science | Series Nonfiction

With so much focus on unusual feats and destructive natural and human-caused events, perhaps it’s not surprising that almost half the series in this season’s science line-up use disasters and extreme conditions to attract readers.

SMS1511LifeSciWith so much focus on unusual feats and destructive natural and human-caused events, perhaps it’s not surprising that almost half the series in this season’s science line-up use disasters and extreme conditions to attract readers. Several series combine descriptions of historical and recent natural disasters with basic explanations of how and why such events occur. Others introduce harsh conditions that present challenges for plants, animals, and people, including research scientists. The remaining series cover familiar topics such as ecosystems, plant growth, and the human body. Since few series contain closely interconnected volumes, librarians can take the opportunity to select individual titles tackling subjects that fill collection gaps or replace similarly themed worn books.


Amstutz, L. J. Investigating Animal Life Cycles. ISBN 9781467780575.

––––. Investigating Plant Life Cycles. ISBN 9781467780568.

Lindeen, Mary. Investigating the Carbon Cycle. ISBN 9781467780605.

––––. Investigating the Rock Cycle. ISBN 9781467780582.

Ransom, Candice. Investigating the Water Cycle. ISBN 9781467780551.

Richard, Orlin. Investigating Seasons. ISBN 9781467780599.

ea vol: 40p. (Searchlight Books™ — What Are Earth’s Cycles?). chart. diags. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. Lerner. 2015. lib. ed. $29.32.

Gr 3-5 –Solid introductions to natural cycles pack lots of information into clear, straightforward presentations. Plant Life Cycles includes flowering, cone-bearing, and seedless plant cycles, while Rock Cycle explains the formation and relationship of sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous rocks. Water Cycle covers topics such as condensation, evaporation, and precipitation, while Carbon Cycle examines carbon bonds, photosynthesis, and climate change. Each title provides suggestions for simple experiments and observations, clearly identifying activities requiring adult help. Text boxes placed next to photos and diagrams pose relevant questions and offer additional facts. Because each book deals with a different topic, librarians can choose volumes as needed to supplement or update collections in specific subject areas. VERDICT These basic overviews serve as good resources for independent investigators or report writers.

Bethea, Nikole Brooks. Wetland Ecosystems. ISBN 9781624038587; ISBN 9781629697246. LC 2015931588.

Foran, Racquel. Woodland Forest Ecosystems. ISBN 9781624038594; ISBN 9781629697253. LC 2015931584.

Gagne, Tammy. Coral Reef Ecosystems. ISBN 9781624038525; ISBN 9781629697185. LC 2015931040.

––––. Desert Ecosystems. ISBN 9781 624038532; ISBN 9781629697192. LC 2015931582.

––––. Rain Forest Ecosystems. ISBN 9781 624038563; ISBN 9781629697222. LC 2015931043.

––––. Tundra Ecosystems. ISBN 9781 624038570; ISBN 9781629697239. LC 2015931041.

Higgins, Melissa. Ocean Ecosystems. ISBN 9781624038556; ISBN 9781629697215. LC 2015931583.

Watts, Pam. Grassland Ecosystems. ISBN 9781624038549; ISBN 9781629697208. LC 2015931039.

ea vol: 48p. (Ecosystems of the World). diags. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. ABDO. 2015. lib. ed. $32.79. ebk. $32.79.

Gr 4-6 –Cookie-cutter introductions to ecosystems include predictable chapters on climate and weather, plants, animals, people and the future. Ocean deviates by examining factors such as depth and water currents and offers the most thorough explanation of food chains. Diagrams of food webs in the other volumes lack labels for the plants and animals depicted, and only some mention them in the captions. Stock photos often have generic captions that don’t identify locations of plants or animals. The color scheme (orange type on light green or white backgrounds) makes many captions hard to read. Discussion of people in the desert focuses on Phoenix, AZ, and notes that “traditional desert cultures were nomadic,” implying that no one lives that way anymore. Writing and research prompts at the end of chapters underscore the series’ pedagogic slant. VERDICT The set may provide starting points for research but won’t generate much enthusiasm for the subjects.

Dawson, Emily C. My Bones. ISBN 9781 607537533.

Pimentel, Annette. My Brain. ISBN 9781 607537540.

––––. My Stomach. ISBN 9781607537588.

Shaffer, Jody Jensen. My Heart. ISBN 9781607537557.

––––. My Lungs. ISBN 9781607537564.

––––. My Muscles. ISBN 9781607537571.

ea vol: illus. by Teresa Alberini. 24p. (Inside My Body). ebook available. Amicus. 2015. lib. ed. $28.50.

K-Gr 2 –Each body system is introduced as part of a story featuring interactions between two children, with some situations more plausible than others. Jasmine’s explanation of her school science project in My Lungs and Jack’s account of his doctor visit to fix his broken leg in My Bones seem more likely than two classmates’ discussion of muscle systems while they wait for a school nurse. Anatomical illustrations are clear, well labeled, and effectively placed, enhancing the narratives. Characters often appear stiff and unattractive, although there are humorous touches such as the blob people that Jack and Lissa mention when they wonder what humans would look like without bones. Each volume includes a final diagram of the entire featured system, plus statistics such as brain weight and spinal cord length. VERDICT Suitable additions for collections needing simple introductions to body systems.

Duke, Shirley. Tornadoes. ISBN 978163 4304269; ISBN 9781634305266; ISBN 9781634306164.

––––. Volcanoes. ISBN 9781634304238; ISBN 9781634305235; ISBN 9781 634306133.

Higgins, Nadia. Sinkholes. ISBN 9781634304221; ISBN 9781634305228; ISBN 9781634306126.

Larson, Kirsten. Nuclear Meltdowns. ISBN 9781634304283; ISBN 9781634305280; ISBN 9781634306188.

––––. Tsunamis. ISBN 9781634304290; ISBN 9781634305297; ISBN 9781 634306195.

Mattern, Joanne. Floods. ISBN 9781 634304276; ISBN 9781634305273; ISBN 9781634306171.

Suen, Anastasia. Avalanches. ISBN 9781634304245; ISBN 9781634305242; ISBN 9781634306140.

––––. Earthquakes. ISBN 9781634304252; ISBN 9781634305259; ISBN 9781 634306157.

ea vol: 48p. (Devastating Disasters). glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Rourke. 2015. Tr. $32.79. pap. $9.95. ebk. $24.95.

Gr 3-7 –Using photos, maps, and diagrams, each volume presents a wealth of information about the subject disaster. The authors consider both natural and human factors that can trigger disasters, from shifting tectonic plates, which produce earthquakes or tsunamis, to mistakes that lead to nuclear meltdowns. Photos of historic and contemporary examples worldwide illustrate the events. The authors address aftermath and cleanup as well as research to predict and mitigate future occurrences. Guides for teachers and parents offer reading and discussion suggestions plus extension activities. The vocabulary and diagrams in Earthquakes are textbooklike, and the book includes the blanket recommendation “to bring a new earthquake kit to school every year.” Other offerings in this set advise readers to think about disaster risk in their particular region. VERDICT Select titles from this solid series as needed to bolster collections.

Enz, Tammy. Dynamic Planet: Exploring Changes on Earth with Science Projects. ISBN 9781491448151.

––––. Liquid Planet: Exploring Water on Earth with Science Projects. ISBN 9781491448175.

Garbe, Suzanne. Living Earth: Exploring Life on Earth with Science Projects. ISBN 9781491448168.

Latta, Sara L. All About Earth: Exploring the Planet with Science Projects. ISBN 9781491448144.

ea vol: 32p. (Discover Earth Science). further reading. glossary. illus. index. websites. Capstone. 2015. lib. ed. $26.65.

Gr 3-6 –Projects designed for hands-on learning encourage student investigation of natural processes such as photosynthesis and sedimentation. Each of the seven featured projects in Dynamic Planet and Liquid Planet relate fairly closely to one another. All About Earth includes topics such as wind speed and gravity. None of the books require explorations to be completed in any particular order. Most projects note when adult help is needed and have clear directions accompanied by helpful photos. Whether moving graham crackers on frosting to simulate plate tectonics or observing decomposition rates of compost materials, students will find opportunities to translate explanations into action. VERDICT Good choices for project-oriented earth science learning.

Lawrence, Ellen. Dirt or Soil: What’s the Difference? ISBN 9781627248334; ISBN 9781627248945.

––––. How Do Animals Help Make Soil? ISBN 9781627248358; ISBN 9781627248952.

––––. Is Soil All the Same? ISBN 9781627248365; ISBN 9781627248969.

––––. What Is Soil Made Of? ISBN 9781627248341; ISBN 9781627248976.

––––. Why Do Most Plants Need Soil? ISBN 9781627248372; ISBN 9781627248983.

ea vol: 24p. (Science Slam: Down & Dirty). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Bearport. 2015. lib. ed. $23.93. ebk. $37.27.

Gr 1-3 –Overlap and duplication among titles mar this set. What’s Soil Made Of? provides an overview of organic components, rock weathering, animals living in soil, and different types. Animals focuses on excretion and decomposing bodies and mentions how earthworms and larger animals loosen soil. Plants mentions vegetation that grows without soil but concentrates on how most receive nutrients through roots. Is All Soil the Same? notes variations such as clay, volcanic soil, and peat. Dirt or Soil focuses on a distinction in terminology that could be explained in a couple of sentences. Curiously, none of these offerings includes basic terminology such as topsoil or humus. There are many photos here, some of which appear in more than one volume, and the selections all conclude with an activity suggestion. Stand-alone options such as Steve Tomecek’s Dirt (National Geographic, 2007) cover most of the material spread through this series. VERDICT Collections in need of more resources about soil may want to add What’s Soil Made Of? but won’t need to invest in the entire series.

Lee, Jackie. Coconut. ISBN 9781627248426; ISBN 9781627249010.

––––. Cranberry. ISBN 9781627248419; ISBN 9781627249027.

––––. Pumpkin. ISBN 9781627248402; ISBN 9781627249041.

Markovics, Joyce. Oak Tree. ISBN 9781627248440; ISBN 9781627249034.

––––. Sunflower. ISBN 9781627248433; ISBN 9781627249058.

Oldfield, Dawn Bluemel. Apple. ISBN 9781627248396; ISBN 9781627249003.

ea vol: 24p. (Little Bits: See It Grow). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Bearport. Nov. 2015. lib. ed. $23.93. ebk. $37.27.

PreS-Gr 3 –A clean design, simple sentences, and large, well-labeled photos provide attractive introductions to familiar plants. Starting with the plant’s most recognizable feature—whether seed, fruit, or flower—each volume answers the question “How did it get that way?” As readers follow the life cycle, they learn how seeds develop into shoots, grow stems and leaves, and flower and produce fruits. Although each book stands alone, the set offers many opportunities for students to compare and contrast different aspects, such as size of seeds, the role of bees in pollination, and uses of various parts of plants for food. Close-up photographs, such as one depicting the tiny flowers in the middle of a sunflower, encourage close observation of the familiar. VERDICT First-purchase considerations for most collections.

Marsico, Katie. The Darkest and the Brightest. ISBN 9780531218488.

––––. The Highest and the Lowest. ISBN 9780531217238.

––––. The Hottest and the Coldest. ISBN 9780531218440.

––––. The Oldest and the Newest. ISBN 9780531218464.

––––. The Wettest and the Driest. ISBN 9780531218471.

ea vol: 48p. (A True Book: Extreme Places). maps. photos. Children’s Pr. 2015. lib. ed. $29.

Gr 3-6 –Marisco deftly presents general information about topics such as temperature, light, and precipitation with a few examples of extremes. She delves into the forces that produce extreme conditions and explains adaptations humans and animals undergo to cope. The Hottest and the Coldest includes information on scientists who study Antarctic wildlife and hydrothermal ocean vents. Most examples relate to natural phenomena such as ice caves or polar night. However, The Oldest and the Newest considers a megalithic building in France and the world’s newest country: South Sudan. The Highest and the Lowest contrasts brutal living and working conditions for gold miners high in the Andes and deep underground in South Africa. Small maps pinpoint each location as the topic is introduced. Generous white space, relevant photos, and engaging text will hold readers’ attention. VERDICT Solid offerings that back up facts with interesting examples.

Meister, Cari. Blizzards. ISBN 9781620312230.

––––. Droughts. ISBN 9781620312247.

––––. Earthquakes. ISBN 9781620312209.

––––. Hurricanes. ISBN 9781620312216.

––––. Landslides. ISBN 9781620312223.

––––. Tornadoes. ISBN 9781620312254.

––––. Tsunamis. ISBN 9781620312261.

––––. Volcanoes. ISBN 9781620312278.

ea vol: 24p. (Disaster Zone). ebook available. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Jump! 2015. lib. ed. $25.65.

Gr 2-4 –These early readers supply basic overviews of natural disasters. Each volume starts with a “You Are There” scenario to engage interest by describing a specific event. Meister then offers simple explanations of why and where such disasters are most likely to take place and offers some examples of the most deadly occurrences. She concludes with a hands-on activity such as making a small landslide on loose dirt or sloshing corn flakes in milk to simulate tectonic plate movement. Large photos plus maps and fact boxes usually correlate well with the text. However, the photo of children scooping water seems incongruous next to a paragraph about Ethiopia’s drought, and the world drought map includes only a few areas in the United States. VERDICT Well-designed introductory nonfiction about topics that will interest many students, especially beginning readers.

Rockett, Paul. 100 Trillion Good Bacteria Living in the Human Body. ISBN 9781410968777.

––––. 30 Million Different Insects in the Rainforest. ISBN 9781410968760.

––––. 70 Thousand Million, Million, Million Stars in Space. ISBN 9781410968753.

––––. Seven Quintillion, Five Hundred Quadrillion Grains of Sand on Planet Earth. ISBN 9781410968807.

––––. Ten Thousand Poisonous Plants in the World. ISBN 9781410968784.

––––. Ten Thousand, Eight Hundred and Twenty Endangered Species in the Animal Kingdom. ISBN 9781410968791.

ea vol: illus. by Mark Ruffle. 32p. (The Big Countdown). chart. chron. diags. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. 2015. lib. ed. $29.

Gr 3-7 –These titles are crammed with photos, diagrams, charts, and graphic designs. Many pages also feature numbers, especially large ones; for instance, Animal Kingdom features a time line of animal life starting 3.5 billion years ago. Incorporating so many topics per volume results in uneven quality. For example, Space has excellent visual representations of Earth’s daily rotation and yearly orbit, but the moon landing diagram partially covers explanatory text. The series’ UK origin is apparent in the lists of suggested books, which have limited U.S. availability. Some facts are questionable, such as the claim that the Yanomami have lived in the Amazon for 50 million years, and a diagram appears to indicate that a kangaroo can leap 30 feet high. Poisonous Plants devotes only two pages to toxic varieties. Rockett includes in each book a disclaimer that “the numbers will most likely be an estimation” and may change with time. VERDICT Flashy designs and mind-boggling statistics may pique browsers’ interest in these topics, but they should double-check facts in additional sources.

Schuetz, Kristin. Cloud Cover. ISBN 9781626172500.

––––. Forecasts. ISBN 9781626172517.

––––. Humidity. ISBN 9781626172524.

––––. Precipitation. ISBN 9781626172531.

––––. Severe Weather. ISBN 9781626172548.

––––. Temperature. ISBN 9781626172555.

ea vol: 24p. (Understanding Weather). chart. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Bellwether. 2015. lib. ed. $22.95.

K-Gr 3 –Stressing forecast terminology rather than weather forces behind predictions, these titles offer simplistic overviews. Precipitation, the best of the series, introduces the water cycle and defines and illustrates the types of precipitation, such as rain, sleet, and hail. Temperature includes a debatable depiction of a heat wave (several temperatures over the period of a week are charted, with only one day that rises above 90 degrees Fahrenheit), and a cold spell in which temperatures plunge to 19 degrees Fahrenheit. The same volume claims that meteorologists “guess high and low temperatures.” Schuetz also characterizes forecasts as “a number of guesses based on facts.” Weather fronts are never brought up, although instruments such as thermometers, satellites, and hygrometers are mentioned. Cloud Cover stresses the percentage of visible sky designated by terms such as overcast and scattered but never mentions specific types of clouds. Stock photos do little to enliven the simple text. VERDICT Among these lackluster offerings, Precipitation is the best choice for collections needing an easy reader about weather.

Middle TO High School

Cernak, Linda. The Science of a Tornado. ISBN 9781633624825.

Hand, Carol. The Science of an Avalanche. ISBN 9781633624849.

Koontz, Robin. The Science of a Sinkhole. ISBN 9781633624818.

––––. The Science of a Tsunami. ISBN 9781633624832.

Marquardt, Meg. The Science of a Flood. ISBN 9781633624795.

––––. The Science of a Nuclear Plant Explosion. ISBN 9781633624801.

ea vol: 32p. (Disaster Science). further reading. glossary. index. websites. Cherry Lake. 2015. lib. ed. $20.95.

Gr 4-7 –Drawing readers in with exciting accounts of specific disasters, the authors proceed to explain the conditions that cause these natural phenomena. Most of the books also consider the ways in which people try to predict the events and reduce the destructive consequences. Unfortunately, there is more telling than showing, with few photos of scientists using equipment or conducting experiments. Each book includes a list of the five most destructive examples of the subject disaster. Overall, these selections provide less information than Rourke’s “Devastating Disasters” series. The volumes on avalanches have the least overlap because the Cherry Lake title offers examples of current prediction strategies, while the Rourke offering stresses personal safety and search and rescue. A chart in Tornado uses wind speeds from the original rather than enhanced Fujita Scale: a major error. VERDICT Generally competent but uninspired introductions to causes and consequences of disasters.

Colson, Mary. What Happens If the Ozone Disappears? ISBN 9781625881618.

––––. What Happens If the Rain Forests Disappear? ISBN 9781625881632.

Royston, Angela. What Happens If We Overfish the Oceans? ISBN 9781625881625.

––––. What Happens When an Ice Cap Melts? ISBN 9781625881601.

ea vol: 32p. (Unstable Earth). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Smart Apple Media. 2015. lib. ed. $31.35.

Gr 6-9 –Grim overviews of the present state of rain forest destruction, ozone depletion, glacial meltdown, and overfishing describe how we may face even more frightening scenarios if current practices continue into the future. Photos accompany well-written descriptions of contributing factors to environmental degradation such as factory fishing, mining, and logging. Spreads depict Earth in future years such as 2050 and 2100. News headlines tell of flooded coastal cities, population displacement, mass starvation, and resource wars. In the face of government and corporate inaction, suggestions for small steps readers can take seem woefully inadequate, although some listed websites offer a bit of hope. VERDICT Fans of dystopian novels and films may relish the support for their pessimistic views offered by these compelling but unsettling glimpses of possible futures.

Royston, Angela. Oceans. ISBN 9781 625881571.

––––. Space. ISBN 9781625881588.

Spilsbury, Louise. Polar Regions. ISBN 9781625881595.

––––. Rain Forests. ISBN 9781625881564.

ea vol: 32p. (Research on the Edge). glossary. index. photos. Smart Apple Media. 2015. lib. ed. $31.35.

Gr 5-8 –Fascinating overviews of scientists working in extreme conditions introduce the types of research they pursue and the resources they require. Specialized equipment designed to withstand extreme cold or intense pressure allows people to extend their studies. Readers see individuals working in labs such as the International Space Station or the underwater Aquarius and learn about the support systems that monitor their safety. Rain Forest notes how local people contribute their knowledge to explorations of remote regions. The books tackle questions of how research enterprises are funded and note the increased involvement of corporate interest in “bioprospecting.” Readers also learn about publication and presentation of research and how results can influence government and conservation action. VERDICT Effective introductions to the hazards and rewards of scientific research.

For older students, Smart Apple Media’s “Research on the Edge” not only introduces scientists actively engaged in research but also poses important questions about how such research is funded and disseminated. Eye-catching photos and engaging text will hold young readers’ attention as they learn about plants from Bearport’s top-notch “See It Grow,” a set worth purchasing in its entirety. Other series that merit first consideration are Lerner’s well-designed and informative overviews in “What Are Earth’s Cycles?” and Capstone’s hands-on activities in “Discover Earth Science.” Children’s Press’s “Extreme Places” goes beyond merely listing world records by examining adaptations to specific extreme conditions. Depending on collection needs, librarians probably will want to add volumes from other series as well, keeping in mind the strengths and weaknesses noted in the individual reviews.

Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University Library, Mankato

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