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December 2007
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February 2008

Stranded Whales

The Whale Scientists: Solving the Mystery of Whale Strandings
by Fran Hodgkins
Houghton Mifflin, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0-618-55673-1
64 pages, with color photographs

Another excellent offering in Houghton Miffin's Scientists in the Field series, The Whale Scientists explores theories about why whales beach themselves; not surprsingly, we humans figure into both the causes and the solutions. In fact, our changing relationship with these sea creatures provides the book's arc. Hodgkins begins with a history of industrial whaling and ends with the story of a successful (and labor-intensive) rescue of two pilot whales. Outfitted with satellite tags, they continued to provide scientific data even their release back into the ocean. The scientists in the book include a Smithsonian curator, a specialist in whale necropsies, and a Woods Hole expert on whale ears, who makes analogies to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

A Cybils longlist nominee in the middle-grade and young-adult nonfiction category, The Whale Scientists is particularly well-pitched for its age range, well-documented, and good reading for children in the fifth grade on up. Every Scientists in the Field title I've read so far can be appreciated by grown-ups, too. I'm certainly game for a whale watch now!

Science Book for Kids: Sneeze!

16533 Sneeze!
by Alexandra Siy and Dennis Kunkel
Charlesbridge, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-57091-654-0
46 pages

Colorized electron micrographs devoted to a routine bodily function are the big draws in this picture book for seven to ten year olds. For the layman, I'll translate: you will marvel over the tinted, blown-up photos of delightfully disgusting environmental irritants like pollen, mildew, and household dust. The almost glowing orange dust mite (765 times its actual size) practically defines the word "gross."

Grainy (and markedly less compelling) black-and-white photographs show children in different sneeze-inducing situations, like spicing up food, dusting furniture, and snuggling with a cat. These pictures and their captions (" 'Pass the pepper, please,' Isaiah says.") indicate that the book is for younger readers. But the science explanations start with the relatively simple ("A sneeze is a reflex, an automatic reaction that can't be stopped once it starts."), and advance fairly quickly. ("The electrical impulse zips along the axon until it arrives at the synapse, the point of communication between two neurons.") The neuroscience particulars may elude all but the savviest in the target age group. My advice for younger scientists: enjoy the micrographs now, and hang onto the book for tenth grade biology.

Sneeze! was on the longlist in the Cybils awards' middle-grade/young-adult nonfiction category.

2008 Newbery, Caldecott, Printz

This morning the two biggest American prizes for children's books went to Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, by Laura Amy Schlitz (which won the Newbery) and The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick (the Caldecott).

Geraldine McCaughrean's White Darkness, a young-adult novel much lauded in the UK, where it was first published, took the Printz award.

My choice for the Caldecott (not that I had a vote), Brian Floca's Lightship, won a Sibert honor for nonfiction. Recognized first in that category was The Wall, by Peter Sís.

The American Library Association lists all 2008 winners and honorees at its web site.

Upcoming Carnival of Children's Literature

The blogs Wizards Wireless plays host to the January Carnival of Children's Literature. The month's theme is Children's Book Awards; submissions must be in by Friday, January 18th. The Carnival goes up on Monday, January 21st. For details, see this post at Wizards Wireless.

What's a blog carnival? Click here.

Reminder: Tomorrow morning brings the announcement of the Caldecotts and Newberys.

Poetry Friday: "Storm Windows"

This morning's rain, thunder, and lightning sent me scurrying to the Poetry Foundation for "Storm Windows," by Howard Nemerov (1920-1991).

People are putting up storm windows now,
Or were, this morning, until the heavy rain
Drove them indoors. So, coming home at noon,
I saw storm windows lying on the ground,
Frame-full of rain; through the water and glass...

Read the entire poem here.

Given today's all-weather windows, storm windows are becoming a thing of the past. And, boy, are they a pain in the neck. I'd never heard of storm windows until I moved up east. (They block the cold and protect your regular windows from ice and snow.) You have to install them in the fall and remove them in the spring. I love it that Howard Nemerov could make something poetic about those seasonal rituals, transforming the ordinary.

For more verses and such, see the Poetry Friday roundup at The Book Mine Set.

Helping Children Like Reading

Blogger Jen Robinson, a guest columnist at PBS Parents this month, put together an excellent post of suggestions for helping children to enjoy reading. (Scroll down at PBS Parents for Jen's roundup of tips, which are toward the bottom of the page.) For our family, a key factor in regard to reading independently was the matchup of book and reader. In our son's case, it was Calvin & Hobbes, which I wrote about last spring. Even now, Junior prefers comics and graphic novels, including the Babymouse series (it's not just for girls), when he reads at home. Sometimes he and his dad grab their books and head to Starbucks for some hot chocolate and reading (and hanging out).

Book Award Happenings

Mark your calendars for Monday, January 14th. Winners of the Caldecott, Newbery, and other children's book awards will be announced at a meeting of the American Library Association, starting at 7:45 a.m. The ALA plans a live webcast of the announcements. (I've never had any luck tuning in, but maybe this year will be different.) An ALA press release gives the details on the events. One new award this year is for audiobooks. This is also a Pura Belpré year; the prize for best Latino book is handed out biannually. (Starting in 2009, it goes annual.)

The Association Jewish Libraries honored the following people with the annual Sydney Taylor prizes: Sarah Gershman (author) and Kristina Swerner (illustrator) for The Bedtime Sh'ma: A Good Night Book; Sid Fleischman for The Entertainer and the Dybbuk; and  Sonia Levitin for Strange Relations. The AJL cited a number of honor books, too; the entire list is at the Sydney Taylor Award web site.

Category winners for the UK's Costa awards included the young-adult novel The Bower Bird, by Ann Kelley. The Costa Book of the Year is revealed on January 22nd.

The following science books for children received a stamp of excellence from the American Assocation for the Advancement of Science and Subaru: Where in the Wild? Camouflaged Creatures Concealed and Revealed; Dinosaur Eggs Discovered!; The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring; and Exploratopia: More Than 400 Kid-Friendly Experiments and Explorations for Curious Minds.

Cybils Finalists, Round II

Announced this morning were the Cybils finalists for Middle-Grade and Young Adult Nonfiction; YA Fiction; Graphic Novels; and Nonfiction Picture Books.

For a link to last week's Round I announcements, click here.

I was on the Middle-Grade/YA Nonfiction committee, and am so pleased with our list. I'm now going through the others and choosing even more great books to read!