Monday, February 25, 2008

Reviews: Cybils Non Fiction (YA/MG)

My mother, Alice Herold, served on the Non Fiction (Middle Grade/Young Adult) judging panel for the Cybils. She also reviews books for this site and The Edge of the Forest. Today, for Non Fiction Monday, I bring you her capsule reviews of four of the Cybils shortlisted titles. I'll post the other three next week.

Reviews by Alice Herold

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style
by Adrian Dingle, illustrated by Simon Basher

The Periodic Table: Elements with Style [Editorial interruption: That's one cool title!] is a completely original book about the 111 known elements. Dingle and Basher bring the elements to life, presenting them as cartoon characters and giving them a first-person voice. Radium looks like a newborn--a smiling baby boy encased in an oval shape, sound asleep. Helium is a pink balloon with a zen-like expression who says, "I am a noble gas with no color, taste, and smell. My main uses are in weather balloons and airships which need lighter than air properties." Dingle and Basher also include detailed information about each element--symbol, color, weight, density, standard state, classification, melting point, etc. The Periodic Table: Elements of Style also includes a helpful glossary and a colorful poster.

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and Science of Ocean Motion
by Loree Griffin Burns

Did you know there is a floating garbage dump between Hawaii and California as big as Alaska? It lies in a convergence zone where currents come together and force the surface waters to sink. Did you know that 100,000 marine mammals in the Pacific Ocean die each year due to plastic ingestion? There is an underlying Save the Oceans theme in Tracking Trash, but Burns presents it in a way that leads the reader to think about the causes of pollution, rather than the effects. A glossary, a booklist, and a website resource list are included in the appendices. (I also learned that OSCURS--Ocean Surface Current Simulator--can tell you where and when lost cargo will wash ashore if you input a date and specific ocean location [longitude and latitude] where the cargo was lost.)

Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything
by Eve Drobot, ed.

Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything is my solution to increasing my Jeopardy! score. Ten writers and eighteen authors are behind this ambitious book that covers a range of information about, well, everything. The authors have included additional features as well for each topic, including "Career Opportunities," "Timelines," "Spotlight," "Kids' Questions," "Answers," and "Number Crunch" among others. One of my favorite features is "Tune-In" which offers a more in-depth look at a certain subject. This informational and fun-to-read "encyclopedia" makes a wonderful gift for a child eight years and older.

Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas
by Russell Freedman

Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas reads like a mystery. First Freedman debunks the assumption--Columbus discovered America in 1492--and then moves on to other, more compelling evidence: 1) Archaeologists in the 1970s discovered tools and the remains of ancient fire pits near Pittsburgh dating back 18, 000 years; 2) A 13, 500-year-old spearhead was found in 1933 next to a skeleton of a woolly mammoth in New Mexico; 3) Leif Erikson and crew established the first European settlement on North America around 1, 000 A.D. on the Northern tip of Newfoundland; and 4) There is a tower in Newport, Rhode Island that may date back to 1405-1433 when a mighty Chinese Armada set sail with 250 ships and perhaps 28, 000 crew members. Who Was First? is a fascinating and well-researched journey.

Up next week: Mom's reviews of Marie Curie, by Kathleen Krull, The Wall, by Peter Sis, and a longer review of the winning Non Fiction (MG/YA) title, Tasting the Sky, by Ibtisam Barakat.