Natural Wonders: Life Science | Series Nonfiction

Did you know bristlecone pines were ancient? Check out these fascinating plant and animal adaptations.

1704SMS-LifeSci-CVsWhen the same general topics appear in set after set, season after season librarians may understandably feel fatigued and are more likely to gravitate to new and unusual approaches to biomes, disasters, the human body, plants, animals, etc. In fact, several first choices this spring succeed by featuring the novel. However, it is important to remember that for many children and teens, these titles are their first introductions to the wonders of nature and therefore still have the capability to amaze. Volumes from series that effectively present basic information can inject a bit of freshness into familiar sections, a possibility offered by many of these spring titles.


Beevor, Lucy. Understanding Our Head. ISBN 9781410985804; ISBN 9781410985842.

––––. Understanding Our Muscles. ISBN 9781410985811; ISBN 9781410985859.

––––. Understanding Our Organs. ISBN 9781410985798; ISBN 9781410985835.

––––. Understanding Our Skeleton. ISBN 9781410985781; ISBN 9781410985828.

ea vol: 32p. (Brains, Body, Bones!). charts. diag. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $30.65. pap. $7.95.

Gr 3-6 –Numerous large images accompany clear text to offer straightforward introductions to the human body. Skeleton, for example, includes diagrams featuring types of joints, different shapes of bones and where they appear, and cross sections revealing marrow, blood vessels, and spongy and compact bone. Head takes the most intriguing approach, working inward from skin and hair through muscles and bone to the brain. Some duplication of coverage inevitably occurs among volumes, as in discussions of involuntary muscles and the functions of various organs. “See for Yourself” text boxes suggest observations readers can make about their own bodies, such as feeling tendons in their wrists and ankles. In addition to definitions, the glossary also provides phonetic pronunciations. VERDICT Fine starting points for report writers, especially visual learners.

Bell, Samantha S. Detecting Hurricanes. ISBN 9781635170030; ISBN 9781635170597.

––––. Detecting Wildfires. ISBN 9781635170078; ISBN 9781635170634.

Trueit, Trudi Strain. Detecting Avalanches. ISBN 9781635170009; ISBN 9781635170566.

––––. Detecting Volcanic Eruptions. ISBN 9781635170061; ISBN 9781635170627.

Ventura, Marne. Detecting Earthquakes. ISBN 9781635170016; ISBN 9781635170573.

––––. Detecting Floods. ISBN 9781635170023; ISBN 9781635170580.

––––. Detecting Tornadoes. ISBN 9781635170047; ISBN 9781635170603.

––––. Detecting Tsunamis. ISBN 9781635170054; ISBN 9781635170610.

ea vol: 32p. (Detecting Disasters). diag. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. North Star. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $28.50. pap. $9.95.

Gr 3-6 –After presenting a real-life example of people impacted by the title disaster, each book discusses the causes, warning signs, and potential impact of these natural events. The amount of attention given to scientific prediction and detection varies. For example, Floods devotes several pages to prevention, including diagrams of various types of dams. Wildfires and Hurricanes offer the greatest detail about how scientific methods and instruments have changed and improved through the years. Those volumes represent the top choices from the series. Related publisher resources online include detailed lesson plans and activities. VERDICT Teachers building science curricula may want the entire set to make comparisons and connections among volumes, although each book stands alone for collections needing to supplement only specific subject areas.

Cole, Tayler. Cacti Barely Need Water! ISBN 9781482456059.

––––. Corpse Flowers Smell Nasty! ISBN 9781482456103.

Fletcher, Patricia. Bristlecone Pines Are Ancient! ISBN 9781482456011.

––––. Kelp: The Underwater Forest! ISBN 9781482456288.

Linde, Barbara. Pitcher Plants Eat Meat! ISBN 9781482456363.

––––. Venus Flytraps Eat Bugs! ISBN 9781482456431.

ea vol: 24p. (World’s Weirdest Plants). diag. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $22.60.

Gr 3-6 –Fascinating overviews combine general plant information with insights into their more unique features. For example, Bristlecone Pines and Cacti explain adaptations that allow the plants to survive under harsh climate conditions. In addition to numerous photos, useful diagrams aid readers in understanding complex topics, such as the life cycle of a corpse flower. Although kelp are brown algae, not true plants, as the volume notes, the discussion of the complex ecosystem of their underwater forest and their important contributions to marine life conveys valuable information. Browsers may be especially intrigued by how carnivorous plants trap and digest their prey. The volumes note threats to all these unusual plants’ survival, especially habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change. VERDICT A top choice for its refreshing approach to flora.

Freeman, Debby. Turtle. ISBN 9781684020416.

Markovics, Joyce. Chicken. ISBN 9781684020423.

Oldfield, Dawn Bluemel. Dog. ISBN 9781684020430.

Rudolph, Jessica. Butterfly. ISBN 9781684020386.

Vasilyeva, Anastasiya. Dragonfly. ISBN 9781684020393.

––––. Frog. ISBN 9781684020409.

ea vol: 24p. (See Them Grow). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Bearport. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $23.93.

K-Gr 3 –Well-designed introductions to animal development that pair simple text with clear photographs. The sequences showing embryo development in Chicken and Turtle are particularly effective. Close-up photos sometimes span an entire spread and will hold the attention of listeners, who can view and discuss the information in small read-aloud groups. Butterfly is marred by a confusing statement about migration that suggests a single monarch travels north in summer and south in winter, oversimplifying the complex cycle. A picture glossary also includes pronunciation. VERDICT Despite the misstep noted above, most volumes are first-rate picks.

Gleisner, Jenna Lee. Animals in Fall. ISBN 9781503816596.

––––. Apple Harvest. ISBN 9781503816602.

––––. Back to School! ISBN 9781503816664.

––––. Celebrating Thanksgiving. ISBN 9781503816626.

––––. It’s Halloween! ISBN 9781503816619.

––––. Trees in Fall. ISBN 9781503816633.

––––. A Trip to the Pumpkin Patch. ISBN 9781503816640.

––––. Weather in Fall. ISBN 9781503816657.

ea vol: 24p. (Welcome, Fall!). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

PreS-Gr 2 –These season-themed books can stand alone, although beginning researchers could draw comparisons with similar volumes in the publisher’s “Welcome, Spring!” series. Animals is among the stronger choices, offering examples of winter preparations. Volumes on visits to an apple orchard and a pumpkin patch combine simple words and appropriate photos. Pumpkins also feature prominently in Halloween, which downplays scary aspects of the holiday. Thanksgiving highlights football, parades, and gratitude plus turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie. Weather adds little to material presented in other series titles. Each volume includes an activity, usually a craft project. Trees encourages readers to create a leaf journal, and Apple Harvest instructs how to make an “apple pizza.” Most projects are accompanied by a helpful illustration, and a couple mention the need for adult help. VERDICT Purchase as needed to supplement materials available for beginning readers.

Kenney, Karen Latchana. Circulatory System. ISBN 9781620315576; ISBN 9781 620315965.

––––. Digestive System. ISBN 9781 620315583; ISBN 9781620315972.

––––. Immune System. ISBN 9781620315569; ISBN 9781620315989.

––––. Muscular System. ISBN 9781 620315590; ISBN 9781620315996.

––––. Nervous System. ISBN 9781620315606; ISBN 9781620316009.

––––. Respiratory System. ISBN 9781 620315613; ISBN 9781620316016.

––––. Skeletal System. ISBN 9781620315620; ISBN 9781620316023.

ea vol: 24p. (Amazing Body Systems). diag. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Jump! Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $26.65. pap. $6.99.

Gr 2-4 –Clear, straightforward introductions provide novice researchers with basic information about various body systems. Numerous diagrams and photos complement explanations provided in the text. For example, a diagram of tendons, muscles, and bones in the knee is juxtaposed with a close-up photo of a soccer player’s leg ready to kick the ball. Each volume includes a related activity, such as making a model of a ball-and-socket joint. Notes to parents and teachers in the front of each book provide guidance on helping readers identify nonfiction features. VERDICT Because of interconnections noted in the volumes, collections needing to update or supplement materials on body systems should consider purchasing the entire set.

LaPlante, Walter. There Are Grasslands in My Backyard! ISBN 9781482455533.

––––. There’s a Desert in My Backyard! ISBN 9781482455571.

––––. There’s a Forest in My Backyard! ISBN 9781482455618.

Lynch, Seth. There’s a Lake in My Backyard! ISBN 9781482455656.

––––. There’s a Swamp in My Backyard! ISBN 9781482455731.

––––. There’s an Ocean in My Backyard! ISBN 9781482455694.

ea vol: 24p. (Backyard Biomes). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Gareth Stevens. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $22.60.

Gr 1-4 –Beginning researchers will glean basic facts about each biome in these straightforward introductions. All include at least one map noting a specific example, such as the pampas of South America, or a world overview. They discuss representative animals and plants and mention adaptation, a topic treated most extensively in Deserts. Lynch emphasizes food chains and webs in his volumes, including diagrams in Lake and Ocean. For the most part, stock photos adequately illustrate the text. However, the image of the U.S. Great Basin facing a discussion of Antarctica’s cold desert seems misplaced in Deserts. VERDICT Acceptable choices to supplement available resources for report writers.

Prokos, Anna. Blades of Green: Adventures in Backyard Habitats. illus. by Mike Blake. ISBN 9781634401470; ISBN 9781634401531.

––––. Don’t Blow Your Top!: A Look Inside Volcanoes. illus. by Elene Selvanova. ISBN 9781634401487; ISBN 9781634401548.

––––. Ice Queen: Exploring Icebergs and Glaciers. illus. by Jamie Meckel Tablason. ISBN 9781634401494; ISBN 9781634401555.

––––. No Bones About It: Discovering Dinosaurs. illus. by Gideon Kendall. ISBN 9781634401500; ISBN 9781634401562.

––––. Seed Power: Discovering How Plants Grow. illus. by Dave Clegg. ISBN 9781634401517; ISBN 9781634401579.

––––. Star Light, Star Bright: Exploring Our Solar System. illus. by Dave Clegg. ISBN 9781634401524; ISBN 9781634401586.

ea vol: 32p. (Imagine That!). diag. ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. Red Chair. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $26.65. pap. $7.99.

Gr 2-4 –This eclectic set explores topics from various branches of science. Starting in a familiar setting, a protagonist is transported through time or space to learn firsthand about a related topic. For example, fictional character Lee travels from a natural history museum to a prehistoric landscape with dinosaurs in No Bones, while Savannah shrinks to ladybug size to explore her backyard habitat in Blades. All of the plots work reasonably well except for Seed Power’s questionable choice to explore plant growth by transporting Connor from a melon-eating contest to a watermelon field, where he helps a stereotypical grinning African American farmer in bib overalls plant seeds by hand. Each story is followed by several fact-filled pages complete with diagrams and photos to bolster the fictional presentation. VERDICT Stereotypical imagery in Seed Power mar what is otherwise an alternative way to pique science interest in young readers.

Wilkins, Mary-Jane. Deep Sea. ISBN 9781781213452.

––––. Deserts. ISBN 9781781213469.

––––. Frozen Lands. ISBN 9781781213476.

––––. Grasslands. ISBN 9781781213629.

––––. Mountains. ISBN 9781781213483.

––––. Rain Forests. ISBN 9781781213490.

ea vol: 24p. (Fast Track: Who Lives Here?). ebook available. glossary. index. maps. photos. Black Rabbit/Brown Bear. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $19.95.

K-Gr 3 –Animals take center stage in these introductory habitat volumes. After a brief overview and map of biome locations, Wilkins devotes most of the books to one- or two-page features about various animals, some familiar, others unusual. To minimize confusion, most descriptions identify where the animal lives (e.g., prairie dogs in North America and Przewalski’s horse in Asia). The author wisely limits ocean creatures to those in the deepest regions, with action photos of an anglerfish and gulper eel luring their prey enlivening the text. Page design and layout, including effective use of text boxes, background colors, and variations in type size, result in visually appealing presentations. Although a pronunciation guide for animals such as pika and ptarmigan would be a bonus, the series covers the essentials. VERDICT Attractive layout plus a variety of animals will hold the attention of browsers as well as report writers.

York, M.J. Animals in Spring. ISBN 9781 503816510.

––––. Celebrating Earth Day. ISBN 9781 503816527.

––––. Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. ISBN 9781 503816558.

––––. It’s Mother’s Day! ISBN 9781 503816534.

––––. Plants in Spring. ISBN 9781503816541.

––––. A Pond in Spring. ISBN 9781503816565.

––––. Spring on the Farm. ISBN 9781 503816572.

––––. Weather in Spring. ISBN 9781 503816589.

ea vol: 24p. (Welcome, Spring!). ebook available. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. The Child’s World. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $27.07.

PreS-Gr 2 –Beginning readers can practice skills while exploring spring-related topics. Animals explains how warmer weather encourages an end to hibernation and heralds bird migration north. Plants considers the role of sunshine and rain to spur growth. Pond and Farm show changes for plants and animals in specific environments. Earth Day aptly describes the holiday, including how everyone can participate. On the other hand, St. Patrick’s Day does little more than connect Irish culture to examples of green items and corned beef. Much of Weather duplicates information found in other volumes in the series. Each book includes directions for a craft project, but only Pond provides a photo of the finished item for guidance. VERDICT Select volumes as needed to supplement available resources about specific topics.

Middle to High School

Avery, Sebastian. Habitats. ISBN 9781 499425673.

Booth, Edison. Animals and Their Environments. ISBN 9781499425581.

Buellis, Linda. Life Cycles. ISBN 9781 499425772.

George, Gale. Adaptation. ISBN 9781 508152620.

Long, Erin. Plants and Their Environments. ISBN 9781499425901.

McCormick, Joyce. Natural Selection. ISBN 9781499425857.

Monroe, Elliot. Interdependence of Species. ISBN 9781499425987.

Pemberton, Rose. Inheritance and Variation of Traits. ISBN 9781499425727.

Pressberg, Dava. Producers, Consumers, and Decomposers. ISBN 9781499425949.

Rhodes, Wendell. Threatened, Endangered, and Extinct Species. ISBN 9781499426038.

Stone, Omar. Ecology. ISBN 9781508152637.

Strauss, Holden. Animal Migration. ISBN 9781499425826.

ea vol: 24p. (Spotlight on Ecology and Life Science). diag. further reading. glossary. illus. index. photos. reprods. websites. PowerKids. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $26.25.

Gr 4-7 –This ambitious series explores various ecology-related topics, making it a good starting point to introduce concepts like biodiversity, food chains, and ecosystems. Due to page constraints, volumes such as Habitats, Adaptations, and Life Cycles can only briefly introduce subjects that are covered more in-depth in other series. More focused books such as Inheritance, Natural Selection, and Interdependence pack in material related to genetics, mutations, survival mechanisms, symbiosis, and evolution. Scientists’ contributions are noted, particularly the influence of Darwin. Humans’ disruptive impacts, including pollution and habitat destruction, and the need for conservation, are stressed. Photos, drawings, and diagrams appear throughout. Curiously, some are identified as “primary sources,” without explanation. Many are archival, but two cite Shutterstock as a source in Natural Selection. VERDICT A fine launching point for ecology and life science studies for large collections; those with smaller budgets may want to look elsewhere.

Canavan, Thomas. Do You Really Taste with Your Nose?: Questions About the Senses. ISBN 9781499432213.

––––. How Many Cells Are in Your Body?: Questions About Cells and Systems. ISBN 9781499432220.

––––. How Many Muscles Make Your Smile?: Questions About Muscles and Movement. ISBN 9781499432237.

––––. Is Your Hair Stronger Than Steel?: Questions About Hair, Skin, and Teeth. ISBN 9781499432244.

––––. What Makes Your Heart Beat Faster?: Questions About Internal Organs. ISBN 9781499432251.

––––. Why Do X-Rays Show Your Bones?: Questions About Bones and the Skeleton. ISBN 9781499432268.

ea vol: 32p. (Human Body FAQ). diag. further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $26.25.

Gr 4-8 –Bright colors, short paragraphs, ample photos, and diagrams will please browsers looking for answers to intriguing questions like why humans have two sets of teeth or how scabs form. How Many Cells provides an overview of body systems as well as explanations of cell growth and division. Each volume concludes with the same two-page diagram noting different systems to answer “How does everything work together?” Students searching for specific topics can consult tables of contents and indexes. Related questions usually appear in two-to-four-page sections, although some topics receive more attention, such as eight pages devoted to digestion in What Makes Your Heart Beat. VERDICT Although not a replacement for straightforward explanations of body systems, these volumes have definite browser appeal and may spur readers to pursue additional research on topics of interest.

Levy, Janey. Really Strange Birds. ISBN 9781499428551.

––––. Really Strange Mammals. ISBN 9781499428483.

McAneney, Caitie. Really Strange Marine Animals. ISBN 9781499428537.

Nagelhout, Ryan. Really Strange Insects. ISBN 9781499428544.

Shea, Therese. Really Strange Reptiles. ISBN 9781499428469.

Shofner, Melissa Raé. Really Strange Amphibians. ISBN 9781499428582.

ea vol: 32p. (Really Strange Adaptations). further reading. glossary. index. photos. websites. PowerKids. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $26.25.

Gr 4-7 –While unusual-looking animals with surprising physical abilities supply a “gee-whiz” factor to attract casual readers, the series generally focuses on its goal of explaining the advantages of such adaptations. All of the volumes discuss and offer examples of camouflage, a topic particularly prominent in Marine Animals. They consider various features that help creatures attract mates, elude predators, lure prey, and protect young. Birds features a number of related adaptations that contribute to successful migration, while Mammals includes a helpful explanation of how whales and other divers can spend extended periods of time underwater. In addition to the expected toads, frogs, and salamanders, Amphibians highlights lesser-known caecilians. For the most part, the volumes avoid turning into a hodgepodge of odd creatures, although Reptiles has the weakest topical organization VERDICT Consider purchasing the entire series to allow comparisons of adaptation strategies among different animals groups.

Senker, Cath. Desert Climates. ISBN 9781484637814; ISBN 9781484637852.

––––. Polar Climates. ISBN 9781484637845; ISBN 9781484637883.

––––. Temperate Climates. ISBN 9781 484637821; ISBN 9781484637869.

––––. Tropical Climates. ISBN 9781484637838; ISBN 9781484637876.

ea vol: 48p. (Focus on Climate Zones). diag. further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. Heinemann-Raintree. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $33.32. pap. $4.95.

Gr 5-8 –Rather than devoting volumes to single climate zones, Senker considers several together. For example, Polar Climates includes tundra as well as Arctic and Antarctic. A world map indicates overall locations, and informative captions on most photos identify specific areas to minimize confusion. Covering warm and cool maritime and continental examples, Temperate Climates requires the most reader concentration. Interspersed in overviews of plants, animals, indigenous peoples, and natural resources are features on a variety of topics, such as Kenyan ecotourism in Tropical and solar power generation in Desert. While addressing impacts of climate change, habitation destruction, and exploitation of natural resources, Senker offers suggestions to slow or minimize damage. The author also raises questions that could spark discussion, such as the benefits and drawbacks of tourism. VERDICT Stimulating selections, a first choice for most collections.

Spilsbury, Louise & Richard Spilsbury. Top 10 Worst Earthquakes. ISBN 9781508153160.

––––. Top 10 Worst Floods. ISBN 9781499430752.

––––. Top 10 Worst Hurricanes. ISBN 9781499430790.

––––. Top 10 Worst Tsunamis. ISBN 9781499430837.

––––. Top 10 Worst Volcanic Eruptions. ISBN 9781499430875.

ea vol: 32p. (Nature’s Ultimate Disasters). further reading. glossary. index. maps. photos. websites. PowerKids. Jan. 2017. lib. ed. $26.25.

Gr 4-8 –Before presenting specific disasters, each volume devotes several pages to general information. Topics include how scientists predict and monitor occurrences, what causes disasters, and how they develop. Then the books provide two-page overviews of each top 10 example. Photos plus a map noting the disaster’s location accompany an event summary, in addition to fact balloons with statistics on deaths, injuries, and property destruction. The accounts go beyond immediate impacts to consider how losses of homes, crops, and livestock affect communities for years. Social costs, such as the way the African American population was mistreated in Greenville, MI, during the 1927 flood, are included. Months-long effects of major volcanic eruptions on worldwide temperatures are noted. A spread plotting all 10 examples plus thought-provoking discussion questions round out each volume. VERDICT In addition to providing scientific information about disasters, these volumes encompass historical and social aspects and should find a place in most collections.

Two series focusing on animals are top choices for young readers. Bearport’s “See Them Grow” clearly presents development of specific creatures, while Black Rabbit’s “Fast Track: Who Lives Here?” introduces wildlife that lives in certain biomes. For older readers, two series use the unusual as a springboard to pique reader interest. PowerKids’ “Really Strange Adaptations” explores intriguing animal features that help them survive and thrive. Gareth Stevens’s “World’s Weirdest Plants” integrates general botanical information with surprising facts about strange plants. While presenting solid scientific data, PowerKids’ “Nature’s Ultimate Disasters” and Heinemann-Raintree’s “Focus on Climate Zones” also consider long-term impacts of natural disasters and human actions and offer thought-provoking questions to stimulate critical thinking and discussion. Many other series include volumes worth adding to supplement resources currently available in collections.

Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University Library, Mankato

For the latest nonfiction series reviews, check out the Spring 2017 Series Made Simple

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