science

Journey Into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures

Jacket-9• Grade Range: 5th-8th
• Science related title
• Rebecca L. Johnson
• Title: Journey Into the Deep: Discovering New Ocean Creatures
• Publisher: Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press
• 2011
• 64 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-7613-4148-2
• Awards: Benjamin Franklin Award~Orbis Pictus Award~Junior Library Guild Selection~Chicago Public Library Best of the Best Books~Society of School Librarians International Book Award~Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year~VOYA Nonfiction Honor List~National Science Teachers Association Recommended
• Author’s website: http://www.rebeccajohnsonbooks.com

In 2000 scientists from around the world set out on the largest ocean exploration in history: a ten-year quest to systematically learn more about the ocean and everything that lives in it. Johnson takes the reader along on the Census of Marine Life, as scientists explore all areas of the sea and find thousands of remarkable animals never seen before.

Amazing, jaw-dropping photographs grab attention and are backed up by engaging lucid text that describes the science behind the survey and tells some of what was learned. The book is very well designed, with sidebars, boxed inserts, charts and hundreds of photographs breaking up the text into digestible chunks. Johnson writes in the second person so the reader is placed at the center of the exploration: scrunched inside a submersible or helping to sift through the dredged muck for creatures new to science.

The book is divided into chapters based on the area of the ocean explored: abyssal plains, ridges and vents, shallow edges, etc. The chapters open with a clear graphics that place the survey on the globe and show at what depth we are exploring. Johnson provides clear context: we know what questions we are trying to answer and share the excitement as she describes, blow by blow, the thrill of discovery. Quotes from scientists provide insight and contribute to the reader’s sense of being along on the exploration. However, it is the animals that steal the show. Just the names of the new creatures inspire interest: ping pong tree sponge, sea butterfly, zombie worms, bubblegum coral, Dumbo octopus: that can turn inside out, spiral poo worm, Venus flytrap anemone: that excretes bioluminescent slime, Yeti crab, and the barreleye fish: that has a see-through head.

The final chapter reemphasizes the fragility of the sea and the threats against it: pollution, trawling and climate change. Simple steps to help protect the world’s oceans are offered.

Children love knowing things adults don’t, and this book is full of astonishing animals and facts that are new. Not so long ago we assumed light and warmth were necessary for life. That idea is put paid by pink sea slugs, 2000 feet below the surface, eating bacteria that feed on frozen orangesicle-colored methane gas. We now know there are rubbery, un-crushable fish that live in the deepest trenches: nearly seven miles below the surface. In previous centuries it was understood that the ocean was the real frontier. With an estimated 10-50 million more species waiting to be discovered and only five percent of the ocean explored, Johnson encourages us to, once again, recognize that the greatest area for exploration in the universe is in our ocean.

Front Matter: Includes Acknowledgments and Contents. A Foreword establishes the diversity and unexplored nature of the sea. A Prologue introduces us to a massive, meaty jellyfish “wide as a doorway and the color of a bad bruise” and goes on to outline the methodology and objectives of the census. A side bar explains scientific classification.

Back Matter: Thumbnail photos and brief biographies put faces and qualifications to Scientists quoted in the book. A Glossary defines scientific terms and equipment. Source Notes identify quotes. A Selected Bibliography includes a few books and ten websites. A Learn More page offers more annotated websites, books, videos and DVDs for further research. An Index and Photo Acknowledgments conclude the book.

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Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842

Jacket-6• Grade Range: upper high school-adult
• Adventure related title
• Nathanial Philbrick
• Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842
• Publisher: New York, Viking
• 2003
• 452 pages.
• ISBN: 978-0-67003-231-0
• Awards: Richie’s Picks
• Author’s website: http://nathanielphilbrick.com/

In 1838 a squadron of six sailing vessels set out for a four-year journey of exploration. The U.S. Exploring Expedition (Ex. Ex.) was one of the largest voyages of discovery ever undertaken. Led by Captain Wilkes, the Ex.Ex. redrew the map of the world; the 40 tons of specimens they brought back formed the foundation of the Smithsonian museum. Philbreck answers the question: ‘why have we never heard of Wilkes or the Ex. Ex?’

The story of the Ex.Ex. is filled with adventure and drama. There are many memorable moments: a snowball fight with Tierra del Fuego’s Yahgan natives: who apparently had flaps of skin that hung over their knees, some brutal encounters with Fijian cannibals: including eyeball munching, and an insanely close encounter with an active volcano. The expedition was charged with surveying Antarctica and determining if it were a continent. They were the first Americans to chart Puget Sound, the Columbia River and San Francisco Bay, establishing the United States basis for claiming those territories. The origin of the theory of plate tectonics stands out among the many scientific discoveries the expedition advanced.

Yet, as Philbrick maintains, the Ex. Ex. is fascinating not because of its successes, but because of what went wrong. Despite the expedition’s scientific discoveries and astonishing adventures, it came to be viewed as a colossal embarrassment. Captain Wilkes was insecure and egotistical with a talent for creating discord and conflict; his morbid hunger for recognition ensured his expedition ended not in glory, but in an ugly court-martial. Wilkes was universally despised by his officers and it is even alleged that Melville based Captain Ahab on him.

Melville and Shakespeare represent that personal flaws are inextricably connected to qualities of greatness; they are not just intertwined: they are one and the same. In exhaustive detail, Philbrick examines whether Wilkes successes can be divorced from his failures. Relying extensively on primary sources, including sailors’ journals, Philbrick recreates the expedition in all its drama and drudgery. Political infighting and petty squabbles sap the energy of the men. This is a fascinating study but, at over 300 pages of text, one few teenagers are likely to have the stamina to wade through. Like the member’s of the expedition: the reader’s eagerness to journey on is worn down by hundreds of Wilkes’s awful decisions and unnecessary cruelties. That said, for those who love true tales of maritime disaster and have an interest in exploration and leadership, it is a memorable and intriguing story.

Sea of Glory also acts as a fascinating counterpoint to Earnest Shackleton’s Antarctic journey seventy years later. Shackleton attempted to cross the continent Wilkes was the first to chart. Where Wilkes’ expedition succeed in its goals, lost scores of men and ended with the Captain despised and forgotten, Shackleton’s journey achieved opposite ends: he failed in his task, but due to determinedly optimistic and solicitous leadership, returned with his entire crew and is well-remembered a hundred years later.

Front matter: includes a Table of Contents, a brief author biography, and an extensive preface. Opening with Wilkes’ court-martial the preface establishes the context of the U.S. Ex.Ex. and raises the issues of leadership Philbrick addresses in the book. A modern rendering of the six ships of the Ex. Ex. Concludes the preface. Back matter: An extensive epilogue briefly explores the legacy of the discoveries of the Ex. Ex.: charts of islands in use through the second World War, the establishment of Antarctica as a continent, etc. The epilogue also discusses why Wilkes accomplishments were so quick to be forgotten, dismisses the idea that a cooler more capable Captain would have achieved more and lays the responsibility for the expeditions obscurity on Wilkes inability to partner with Reynolds, a talented officer Wilkes had severely alienated during the voyage. A notes section includes abbreviations for frequently consulted texts, several paragraphs outlining and annotating additional reading, followed by chapter by chapter acknowledgements and notes that discuss the origins of ideas and quotes. An extensive selected bibliography lists unpublished sources first, followed by published sources and dissertations and ending with a list of publications of the United States Exploring Expedition. The notes and suggestions for further reading are extremely impressive and let the reader understand the origins of information and argument. Acknowledgements thank experts and those who aided in the production of the book. An index completes the volume.

Every Bone Tells a Story

Jacket-1• Grade Range: 6th-10th
• Science related title
• Author: Jill Rubalcaba and Peter Robertshaw
• Every Bone Tells a Story: Hominin Discoveries, Deductions and Debates
• Publisher: Watertown, MA, Charlesbridge
• 2010
• 186 pages.
• ISBN: 978-1-58089-164-6
• Awards: A Junior Library Guild Selection~CCBC Choices~NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People~NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12~Subaru/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books–Young Adult finalist~YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Finalist
• Author’s website: http://jillrubalcaba.com/ and http://acm.csusb.edu/facultydb/sbs/faculty.aspx?id=250

In discrete chapters the authors tell of the discovery of four ordinary people who lived thousands of years, and in one case more than a million years, before recorded history. Most of the action takes place after the exciting discoveries, when in the lab, scientists uncover how these four individuals lived and died.

Rubalcaba and Robertshaw do an excellent job of representing the excitement of the find. They write evocative descriptions of the moment each hominin died and describe the fate of the remains over centuries until the moment their bones are found by a modern human. The vivid images of the Turkana boy’s body bobbing face down in the lagoon or the surprise of college students who pluck a rock from a river only to notice it has teeth, grab the reader’s attention and set the stage for the details that follow. Each chapter includes sections on discoveries, deductions and debates and concludes with further reading, websites and source notes.

The four hominins are drawn from different countries and time periods and represent a diverse assortment of anthropological issues from questions about when language began, through whether humans mixed with Neanderthals, to who has the right to claim pre-historic human remains. Another advantage of the hominin’s diversity is that the anthropologists and filed workers represent both genders and varied ethnicities.

The book outlines arguments and evidence but strongly encourages readers to come to their own conclusions. The evidence and reasoning presented is detailed and sophisticated but written and explained engagingly. Rubalcaba and Robertshaw never talk down to their readers and their strong scientific and anthropological backgrounds come through in their familiarity with long-raging debates, scientific practice and rich ancillary information. Not only do we learn a lot about these four individuals and where they fit into human evolution we also acquire fascinating facts: such as the insight that while agriculture is necessary to support large populations, the hunter gatherers farmers superseded were healthier and taller, and the tidbit that our prominent noses help conserve moisture and give us an edge over our primate ancestors.

The book offers plenty to interest forensics fans, those drawn to both field and lab science, anyone intrigued by human behavior and evolution, and those who just want an exciting, and slightly gruesome, story.

Front matter: A prologue outlines the distinctions between Hollywood archeologists: who find things, and modern day scientists in the field: who seek to find out about things Each chapter and hominin are linked to larger debates: when did language begin and why did we start talking, how did humans disperse and populate the world and are we all part Neanderthal, who were the first North American peoples and how did they get here, and did Asian farmers displace early Europeans or did European hunter gathers simply switch to farming.

There is substantial back matter in addition to each chapter’s list of resources and notes. Further reading is grouped by subject. A timeline provides an overview back 1,800,000 years and focuses in on 50,000-5,000 years ago. A five page glossary defines terms. A cast of characters: Hominins and friends, describes the individuals featured in each chapter. A bibliography is broken down by chapters and topic and includes many web resources. An index, acknowledgements and photo credits concludes the work.

Similar books: Written in Bone, Bodies from the Ice, The Skull in the Rock.

Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley

Jacket-3• Grade Range: 6th-10th
• Science related title
• Author: Sally M. Walker
• Secrets of a Civil War Submarine: Solving the Mysteries of the H.L. Hunley
• Publisher: Minneapolis, MN. Carolrhoda
• 2005
• 112 pages.
• ISBN: 978-1-57505-830-6
• Awards: Book Links Lasting Connections of 2008~Robert F. Sibert Medal 2006~ALA Notable Book 2006~BCCB 2006 Blue Ribbon Book~2006 Orbis Pictus Recommended Book~Bank Street College Best Childrens Books of the Year~Booklist Top 10 Sci-Tech Books 2005~Master List 2007 Rebecca Caudill Award~VOYA Nonfiction Honor list, 2006~2006 New York Public Library Books for the Teenage~Winner 2006 Children’s Nonfiction Award, Society of Midland Authors~Benjamin Franklin Award Finalist 2006
• Author’s website: http://www.sallymwalker.com/

The fate of the Civil War submarine: the H.L. Hunley, remained a mystery for 131 years. The ship and her crew were lost, after sinking the U.S.S. Housatonic, until 1995, when underwater archaeologists discovered and raised her. Walker traces the history of the ship and reports on the cutting edge science and forensic anthropology that allowed archeologists to find the ship and unravel her story.

Chronological chapters outline the construction and design of the submarine, which was spurred by wartime necessity. Confederates desperately needed to break the crippling blockade of Charleston’s harbor and the Hunley offered a way. Walker discusses the submarine’s potential importance to the Confederate War effort but goes no further into Civil War history. The only discussion of race is the fact that it was an African American Union sailor on the Housatonic: Robert Flemming, who spotted the Hunley and gave warning. Pictures, maps, photographs and primary sources help convey the physics, drama, excitement and danger connected to the Hunley. Before her first official mission two crews gruesomely died in training exercises. These historic chapters take us up to the moments just after the Hunley earns her place in history: as the first submarine to sink and enemy ship in war, and leaves us with the questions: what happened to the ship and crew; what caused them to perish?

The second half of the book seeks to answer these questions as Walker traces attempts to locate, excavate and study the ships remains. Walker does a good job including the various elements leading to the ships successful recovery: tracing the efforts of a passionate amateur: Clive Cusssler and a team of underwater archeologists, through the legal tangle associated with finding a famous shipwreck, to the scientific and research breakthroughs necessary to piece together the puzzle of exactly what happened to the ship and her crew. Drawings and photographs help personalize and elucidate the science, which includes stratigraphy: the study of sediment, forensic anthropology: which reveals astonishing personal details from human remains and high-tech artifact conservation.

The range of topics covered by Walker makes the book appealing to kids intrigued by the Civil War, as well as those attracted to the submarine’s dangerous history and the adventure of treasure hunting. It is also a natural for kids interested in forensic anthropology. The team does full facial reconstruction for all eight of the crew. While an astonishing amount is learned from studying the ship and crew’s remains, many questions are left unanswered. Walker makes clear the story isn’t over and the preserved artifacts may yet tell a more complete tale.

A prologue sets the stage and creates a dramatic frame for both the historical and the scientific stories. We are introduced to the mystery surrounding the Hunley’s disappearance, the engineering marvel she was and the compelling science behind her recovery. Contents include not only the chapter titles but also list all the back matter including the glossary. At the end an author’s note describes Walker’s research methods and motivations and thanks various experts. A page of source notes attributes quotes and background information. Photographs are credited. A nine volume selected bibliography is included, but gives no guidance as to which works are most likely to be accessible to children. Two websites are included. Clive Cussler’s site links to reports on hundreds of shipwrecks he has investigated and the Friends of the Hunley site has lots of up to date information. A brief glossary gives definitions for twenty or so terms likely to be unfamiliar. An index concludes the book.

Bomb: The Race to Build-and Steal- the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon

Jacket-14• Grade Range: 6th-Adult
• History related title
• Author: Steve Sheinkin
• Title: Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
• Publisher: New York, Roaring Brook
• 2012
• 266 pages.
• ISBN: 978-1-59643-487-5
• Awards: Newbery Honor Book~National Book Awards Finalist~Robert F. Sibert Award~YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction~Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year~BCCB Recommended Title~CCBC Choice (Univ. of WI)~Washington Post Best Books of the Year~Maine Student Book Award Master List~VA Jefferson Cup Winner (Older Readers)~Vermont Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award Master List
• Author’s website: http://www.stevesheinkin.com/

At secret locations in America, brilliant and eccentric scientists raced to develop the atomic bomb ahead of Hitler. Meanwhile teams of Allied spies sought to sabotage German efforts, while Soviet agents infiltrated and stole the bomb’s plans, before it was even deployed.

Sheinkin masterfully tells the big story of the creation and theft of the most destructive weapon ever invented. His cinematic style, and exemplary editing and pacing make Bomb a real page-turner. He introduces tens of characters, from Robert Oppenheimer: the original, brilliant absent-minded-professor, through Knut Haukelid: a Norweigan real-life Jason Bourne, to Harry Gould: an innocuous American whose desire to please caused him to hand the world’s deadliest weapon to one of the century’s most ruthless dictators.

Sheinkin packs his story with fascinating personalities and intriguing anecdotes. The well-chosen details and telling quotes let the reader get to know the characters and helps to keep them straight. It’s hard to forget Oppenheimer once we’ve been introduced to the fact he once got so wrapped up in thinking of physics he left a date parked in a romantic spot while he walked home and went to bed. Chapters end with cliffhangers, drawing the reader on. But like any masterful storyteller Sheinkin teases out our interest, deftly interweaving chapters on bomb development with those covering espionage and the political and practical maneuverings that led to the bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Sheinkin sets up his story with a dramatic prologue: the moment the spy Harry Gould decides to confess to the two FBI agents who had finally tracked him down: “Yes, I am the man,’ Gold said…There is a great deal more to this story. It goes way back…I would like to tell it all.” The final chapter of the book, after the story has been told, wraps up back at the beginning: with Harry Gold moments before the agents knock on his door, starting up the stairs to try to destroy seventeen years of evidence. An epilogue briefly explores the fates of some of the main characters: the spies Klaus Fuchs, Harry Gold and Ted Hall and the scientist Robert Oppenheimer. A reflective essay briefly summarizes the arms race up to the present day.

Throughout the book period photographs, diagrams and relevant documents enhance understanding. The letter Albert Einstein wrote to FDR, making him aware of the danger of German development of atomic weapons, is reproduced in full. As usual Sheinkin’s source notes are exemplary: he groups his sources according to topic and provides brief annotations for each group to help readers research areas of interest. Photos are credited and all direct quotes are documented by chapter. The acknowledgments include experts who helped him vet material. An index concludes the book.

Bomb does a superb job of telling a compelling and complex story. It is clear Sheinkin respects children’s sophistication, curiosity and intelligence and that respect is both well-placed and returned. When I recently asked a seventh grade boy if he had read Bomb he replied simply: “it’s the best book I’ve ever read.”

For those who want more on this topic, check out the excellent graphic novel Trinity by Jonathan Fetter-Vorn. While it doesn’t cover much of the espionage it does an excellent job explaining the physics behind the bomb and covers the destruction of Hiroshima more thoroughly than Bomb. Another excellent complimentary book is Edward T. Sullivan’s The Ultimate Weapon: The Race to Develop the Atomic Bomb. Sullivan’s work goes into details about the secret industrial complexes, staffed by civilians, where the plutonium and uranium were produced. It also offers more material on the internal debate about using the bomb among scientists, politicians and military leaders and spends more time on the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Isaac Newton-Giants of Science

Jacket-10

  • Biography related title
  • Age Range: Grades 5-8
  • Author: Kathleen Krull, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov
  • Title: Isaac Newton
  • Publisher: New York : Viking
  • 2006
  • 126 pages.
  • ISBN: 978-0-670-05921-8
  • Awards: BCCB Blue Ribbon~School Library Journal Best Book~A Booklist “Top 10 Youth Biography”~ALA Notable Book for Children~Finalist for the Cybils, the Children’s and Young Adult Bloggers Literary Award~A Bank Street Best Children’s Book of the Year
  • Author’s website: http://www.kathleenkrull.com/

Arguably Isaac Newton is the most influential scientist ever. In lively and anecdotal prose Krull explains and contextualizes Newton’s massive scientific contributions and illuminates his prickly and often vindictive personality. Wry pen and ink illustrations compliment this irreverent treatment.

Krull’s Giant’s of Science series sets a high bar for entertaining and informative biographies. Her conversational and assured tone carries the reader along as she explains the personalities and scientific accomplishments of these fascinating and influential individuals; her Isaac Newton is no exception. While most of her unflattering observations are well supported by facts included in the text, some of her more speculative topics: his sexual orientation, mental illness and religious beliefs, suffer from a treatment that feels too glib and condescending. For example can it really be right to refer to the man who elucidated the scientific method, developed calculus, the reflecting telescope, the laws of motion, the theory of gravity and of optics as “several slices short of a loaf.” While Krull does provide a bibliography, her lack of source notes combined with her sensationalist speculations diminishes her otherwise excellent and valuable book.

Front matter includes acknowledgments for research help and contents. Back matter includes a bibliography that highlights books and articles suitable for young readers, websites and an index. The lack of source notes, quotation sources or even an annotated biography is a real flaw in an otherwise outstanding, and highly readable, biography.