Monday, December 7, 2009

Nonfiction Monday: Scientists in the Field

This week's Nonfiction Monday post brings reviews of two books from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Scientists in the Field series. Both titles, The Frog Scientist and Saving the Ghost of the Mountain, are currently nominated for the Cybils Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction category.

by Pamela S. Turner, photographs by Andy Comins
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, $18.00
Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils consideration.

One summer at Girl Scout camp, a friend of mine and I became kinda obsessed with finding frogs. We'd skip swim time to hunt around for the little guys, holding their soft, slippery bodies in cupped hands, peering in at them to see what they looked like as they tried to get away from us. This is exactly how Tyrone (aka The Frog Scientist) first became interested in frogs. While I went on to pursue other interests, Tyrone took his passion for amphibians and his intellect to good use becoming a scientist. A major focus of his work is studying the effect of the pesticides, notably atrazine, on the sexual development of male frogs. It seems that atrazine may be causing male frogs to develop into she-males, thus cramping their procreative style and putting their continued existence at risk. The Frog Scientist takes readers along as Tyrone and his students at UC Berkley collect frogs from across the country, perform experiments to test hypotheses, and analyze data.

While this might not sound like particularly exciting stuff, it actually is! Maybe it was all of the large, vibrant photographs, maybe it was the human-interest side of story about how Tyrone and his students came to be frog scientists, maybe it was the clear and concise descriptions of their work and how they use the scientific method to learn more about the frogs, or maybe it was author Pamela S. Turner's engaging writing style - or maybe it was all of that. All I know is I wanted to see how the experiment turned out, and it made me think about how the things we do as people can effect the lives of little creatures (both in causing them harm and figuring out ways to make it better). The back of the book also features a bunch of information beyond the standard bibliography and index, including ways to help frogs in your community, recommended websites for further exploration into the topic and a series of lessons for teachers made specifically to tie-in with the book.

by Sy Montgomery, photographs by Nic Bishop
Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, $18.00
Review copy provided by publisher for Cybils consideration.

When scientist Tom McCarthy first dreamed of becoming a field biologist, I have a feeling he didn't realized how much poop was involved. As the conservation director of the Snow Leopard Trust, his travels to Mongolia to track and study the beautiful, elusive and endangered species don't often result in sightings, but he certainly sees a lot of their poop. "He's discovered what he's looking for - what we've flown half-way across the globe to find. It's five inches long, full of hair and little red seeds. It's a piece of poop. Tom is thrilled." While Tom may not find too many actual snow leopards, their scat (as the fecal matter is known) is able to provide lots of information about their eating habits, where they live, and how many different leopards inhabit a given area. In his work, he also partners with the locals to protect and preserve the species, working through native translators to explain the importance of the snow leopard to Mongolia's Gobi Desert eco-system.

Saving the Ghost of the Mountain is, in part a book about snow leopards, with interesting trivia-style facts scattered throughout the text. It is also, in part, a book about the work of a field biologist. It is also a book that provides a glimpse into Mongolian history and culture. And ultimately, it is about the importance of conserving environments and protecting the species that live there both for their sake and for the health of the eco-system. Helpful maps at the start of the book set the scene and large, bright photographs of the research team, snow leopards, locals and the desert landscape help to bring to life the story of this one expedition and the larger effort to save the snow leopard from extinction. Much of the information on snow leopards and Mongolia comes from observations and direct quotes from scientist Tom McCarthy, but no bibliography is included. There is, however, a website where readers can "learn what books the author read to research this book" and "read excerpts from the author's field diary." An index and website to learn more about the Snow Leopard Trust are provided.

For the full Nonfiction Monday round-up, visit Rasco from RIF.

The LibrariYAn is an Amazon Associate. If you click from links on this blog to Amazon and buy something (anything!), I receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

No comments:

Post a Comment