Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Scientists in the Field

As you already know, I love nonfiction and learning new things.  One high-quality series that I am enjoying and learning so much from is the Scientists in the Field series.  Books in this series are written by many authors and with many different points of view.  I wanted to highlight two offerings in this series from 2010, including the Siebert Award winner for this year.

Project Seahorse takes place on a small island in the Philippines. Two female scientists are there to preserve the seahorse population and we learn why this is fundamental to the larger work of saving our oceans.  Pamela S. Turner weaves several strands of this story together successfully - she looks at conservationism, coral reefs, the problem of overfishing and the solution of sustainable fishing, information about seahorses and the scientists' work with not only the seahorses but with the Filipino community.  It is a fascinating story and Turner tells it capably.  As I mentioned, the primary scientists are women (and mothers!) and I feel it is so important to highlight female contributions to science.  Turner spends a lot of time writing about how these scientists work in the field - the diving, the collecting of information from the coral reefs and the analysis of that information.  Because seahorses are endangered, the scientists spend time counting them, measuring them and observing them in the wild.  These scientists feel so strongly about the seahorses and their passion for the safe fishing of the seahorses is inspiring.
The Siebert Award winner Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot was next on my reading list.  Honestly, I originally picked this up only because I wanted to compare and contrast two books in this series.  I really thought I would like Project Seahorse much more, but I was wrong.  Sy Montgomery has been waiting to write this book for several years because these parrots do not breed on a regular basis.  The kakapo is so endangered that there are less than 90 parrots in the world!!  They mostly live on an extremely isolated island off the coast of New Zealand, where people cannot harm them.  But there are so many mysteries associated with the kakapo, including why they do not breed regularly.  Montgomery and photographer Nic Bishop are wholly a part of the scientific investigation - they help to monitor these nocturnal parrots and are there when several chicks hatch.  Because of their first-person presence in the book, Montgomery includes their own experiences and dialogue makes the book feel fresh and immediate.  The kakapo story is also very dramatic - as Montgomery introduces the individual kakapo, the reader becomes invested in their survival.  Montgomery makes this story compelling and inspiring.  While there are scientists doing this research, there are many volunteers who help do the work, which also makes the project seem accessible and personal.  Plus the kakapo are so cute!
There are some things about the Scientists in the Field series in general that I would like to talk about.  These books look like picture books (and both have stunning photographs), but they are not designed for a beginning reader.  The reading level in these books is actually quite high - between fifth and seventh grade - so there are bigger words, more challenging scientific concepts, and generally more information than a young student could handle.  However, these books are aimed at exactly the right audience.  Giving these books to any student beginning a research project will make their day - they look accessible and easy to read, but have lots of information (including sidebars of related stories), great photographs and exemplary backmatter.  You know I am a sucker for great backmatter!  Each book includes strong indexes, maps, bibliographies, and contacts for the research projects.  Also, I think that these books do a wonderful job of bringing science to life.  Students are searching for careers at this age, and becoming aware of the world around them.  This series introduces readers to a way of doing science that isn't completely done in a laboratory with test tubes.  Both books also give students ways they can help with these projects by raising and donating money, raising awareness, or helping to clean up the ocean.  These books are stellar examples of today's new crop of nonfiction and are very, very exciting.  Check them out!

Project Seahorse.  Pamela S. Turner; photographs by Scott Tuason.  Houghton Mifflin, 2010.
Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World's Strangest Parrot.  Sy Montgomery; photographs by Nic Bishop.  Houghton Mifflin, 2010.

borrowed from Lewis and Clark Library

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