V O L U M E  3 ,   N U M B E R  6   •  J U N E   2 0 1 0





In this issue

For a list of books mentioned in this issue, see link below.
Masthead art © by William Steig, used with permission of Pippin Properties, Inc.

Five questions for Sy Montgomery

It’s pretty hard to get hold of nature writer Sy Montgomery. If she’s not  visiting snakes in Manitoba, it’s bears in Southeast Asia, dolphins in the Amazon, tarantulas in South America, or man-eating tigers in India and Bangladesh. Her most recent book is Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot, with incredible photographs by her frequent collaborator Nic Bishop. Montgomery joins researchers investigating the gentle, large, and flightless kakapo, all eighty-seven of them living on two small islands in far southern New Zealand. I don’t know where Sy was when she answered these questions (via dictation over the phone to an assistant), but let’s all hope another engrossing book about science in the wild is forthcoming.

1. Are there any animals you’re afraid of?

Only the anopheles mosquito, which carries malaria!

2. Which animals would you like to take home?

I would love to live among all the animals I’ve written about, from tarantulas to tigers. But many of these species can’t be domesticated. (I’m certain that having a tiger in our house, for instance, would create problems with my Border collie, Sally, and our chickens!) That’s one reason why it’s so important that we protect these creatures’ natural homes in the wild.

3. Do you think the kakapo know people are trying to help them?

Animals are often very sensitive to the intentions of the other species around them. One reason is that their survival often depends on being observant. Frequently, animals are better than people at being able to tell who’s a friend and who’s a foe, who’s afraid and who’s confident. And kakapo, being parrots, are exceptionally intelligent and curious. But kakapo can’t enjoy being captured and outfitted with radio collars; surely a mother kakapo would object if she knew scientists were taking her eggs away, even when they’re being taken to an incubator for their own safety. Still, I think it is possible that the kakapo consider the people they meet as potential friends. But what’s most important isn’t whether or not the kakapo know people are trying to help — but that we are helping!

4. Why such big efforts to save small species?

It doesn’t matter if a species is big or small. It doesn’t matter if a species looks pretty or ugly, or seems smart or dull. Scientists know that all of life is finely balanced and deeply connected. Our planet is a poorer place when we lose a species, and humankind itself is diminished. The highest and best use of humans’ efforts, in my opinion, is protecting and defending the glorious diversity of life on Earth.

5. How do we nurture children’s natural impulse to save animals?

Because children are naturally connected to life, let’s allow them to play and explore outside. That means preserving the sorts of places kids find magical — woods, streams, meadows — and not ruining these special places with housing developments and malls. Stand up for your local nature conservancy. Don’t jam kids’ lives with electronic equipment. We might think our kids are safer at home glued to the TV or computer screen, but this puts them in grave danger of losing the real, sweet, green, breathing world. Let’s recognize and celebrate kids’ power to save local wild spaces as well as endangered species. With a little adult help, even the youngest kids can work on a beach cleanup or raise funds to donate to a conservation project (saveworlddraw.org, for instance, sells children’s original artwork and lets the kids decide which environmental project gets the donation).

Children can powerfully affect how the adult world operates. Young people who instigate protests (against offshore oil drilling, for example, or against the legal clubbing of baby seals) or organize in support of legislation (say, to reverse global climate change) get far more media attention than a bunch of adults parading around with placards. Similarly, a child’s letter to the local paper can pack a greater emotional punch than one from an adult.

Children are also powerful as consumers, even if they don’t pay for the items they buy themselves. If kids don’t like it that orangutans’ tropical rainforests are being destroyed for palm oil plantations, they can boycott products (including many brand-name cookies and snacks) with palm oil in them.

A teacher colleague has told me that studies show kids are effective educators, too: seventy percent of what parents know about the environment they’ve learned from their own children! So kids are not just our future leaders, future guardians of the world in all its glorious diversity — children are ALREADY extremely important agents for the changes we need to protect our planet and its animals.  

—Roger Sutton

Calling all naturalists

Closer to home (at least in North America), two nonfiction books look at other species in peril, and a book of poems praises nature’s survivors.

Another entry in Houghton Mifflin’s Scientists in the Field series, The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe, written by Loree Griffin Burns, takes a look at 2006–2007’s sudden and unexplained drop in the number of honey-bee colonies in the U.S. Burns tells the story as a dramatic scientific mystery, leading readers through the unfolding crisis and the attempts to solve it. Profiles of the beekeepers and scientists, details about bee types and honey making, and information about the important roles bees play in global food production are included, along with Ellen Harasimowicz’s crisp photographs. (8–12 years) 

The Buffalo Are Back, the latest ecodrama from veteran nature writer Jean Craighead George, focuses on how the buffalo went from numerous, to near extinction, and, eventually, to recovery. George’s book touches on a lot of topics (e.g., settler and Indian relationships, the Dust Bowl, President Theodore Roosevelt’s preservation efforts, etc.), with the plight of buffalo remaining the backbone of her compelling narration. Wendell Minor’s rich paintings evoke time and place with measured nostalgia. Back matter includes suggestions for “Places You Can Visit Where Buffalo Roam” as well as a bibliography. (7–10 years)

Joyce Sidman’s Ubiquitous: Celebrating Nature’s Survivors features fourteen deft poems extended by background information and Beckie Prange’s entrancing illustrations. The survivors here range from bacteria (nearly four billion years thus far) to us (one hundred thousand), from ancient (mollusks) to newcomers (crows). Master of both the precisely observed (dandelions from bud to seeds aloft) and the accurate impression (crows conversing), Prange drenches her bold linocuts in vivid watercolor. We humans are put in our place: as a concluding note points out, “99 percent of all species that have ever existed are now extinct.” (7–10 years)

—Chelsey G. H. Philpot

Get outside

These picture books celebrate being busy outdoors, whether you’re working, playing, or just floating downstream.

The Village Garage, written and illustrated by G. Brian Karas, gets readers outdoors and on the job with a crew of municipal workers. The crew happily undertakes all sorts of jobs around town: cleaning up road debris in spring; filling potholes in summer; tackling leaves in fall; and bringing out the salt, sand, and snowplows in winter. Truck fanatics will dig the spotlighted heavy-duty vehicles and big machines, but there’s a lot in the cheery text and decidedly nonmechanical art for the less truck-enthused, too. (3–6 years)

Readers who have enjoyed previous outings with Elisha Cooper and his sketchbook (Beach, A Good Night Walk) will be rewarded once again with Farm. Constantly varying spreads keep things lively — from a page that describes several barn cats to spreads of the large farm dwarfed by the immense sky — capturing the essentials of farm life, big and small. The language is both poetic and straightforward, conveying sights and sounds: “Kernels rattle against the silo’s metal sides like someone typing very loud and very fast.” (4–8 years)

Another look at farms and farming for a slightly older audience, Country Road ABC: An Illustrated Journey Through America’s Farmland, written and illustrated by Arthur Geisert, is a fresh look at modern family farming in the Midwest. From “A is for ammonia fertilizer” to “Z is for z-brace” (a glossary at the back explains all), we are shown reality rather than nostalgically beautified scenes. While this book is perfect for alphabet learners who have a fascination with farms and machinery, it also serves as a document of twenty-first-century agriculture and as a love letter to Geisert’s home in Iowa. (4–8 years)

Elisha Cooper goes back outside with Beaver Is Lost. Intent on his gnawing, Beaver doesn’t realize that the log he is riding has slipped downstream to a lumber camp, where it’s loaded onto a truck, Beaver still attached, for the ride into the big city. How will he ever get home? The placid tones of Cooper’s watercolors never leave a happy ending in doubt, and Beaver’s journey, attentively captured in wordless panels, is a satisfying circular adventure that will have pre-readers eager to make the trip again and again. (2–5 years)

Hooray for Summer!, written and illustrated by Kazuo Iwamura, is a sweet, old-fashioned picture book. Three little squirrel children play outside until a sudden thunderstorm blows up. They take shelter in a cave created by the roots of a giant tree. The cave is already occupied by two mice; soon a bunny joins them, and they all wait out the storm together. In Iwamura’s delicate paintings, most of the pages are made up of sky to give the perspective of small creatures in a big, sometimes scary world. (3–6 years)  

—Kitty Flynn

Family listening

While the actual reading levels of these books vary, all four of the following audiobooks are perfect for all-age listening — from a classic Jack London title to the newest series by the author of the popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.

What Rick Riordan did for Greek mythology in his Percy Jackson books, he now does for ancient Egypt. His new series, the Kane Chronicles, features siblings Carter and Sadie Kane (fourteen and twelve, respectively), children of a famous Egyptologist. The Red Pyramid begins with a bang, literally: the children’s father disappears in an explosion that reawakens the gods and monsters of ancient Egypt. Carter and Sadie set out on a quest to rescue their father and banish Set, the god of chaos, before he destroys North America. The dual narration (Kevin R. Free reads Carter’s chapters; Katherine Kellgren, Sadie’s) ratchets up the tension of the nonstop action. (10 years and up)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (a 2010 Newbery Honor Book) is a rather different sort of quest book — quieter, deeper, and, in the capable hands of narrator Janet Song, entrancing. Young Minli, discouraged by her life in an impoverished village in the shadow of barren Fruitless Mountain, sets out on a quest to change her family’s fortunes. On her arduous journey to find the powerful Old Man of the Moon, Minli is assisted by creatures from Chinese folklore, including a talking fish and a dragon. The folktales from China interwoven throughout enrich the main story; Song’s reading makes both components equally compelling. (9–12 years)

The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood is the first entry in a new series, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place — a cheerier cousin of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. The howlingly funny Howling recounts the adventures of plucky fifteen-year-old governess Penelope Lumley and her young charges: three children raised by wolves. Narrator Katherine Kellgren’s spot-on voicing of this madcap romp is a wonder of tongue-in-cheek deadpan humor, as Penny soon has the three reciting their lessons in a symphony of woofs, growls, and, yes, howls. A must-have title for summer family listening. (9–12 years)

And speaking of essential listening . . . if you are a family in search of a classic to share on a summer road trip, you have a real treat in store: acclaimed actor Jeff Daniels reading Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. Daniels’s approach is straightforward yet fluid, intimate and accomplished. Listeners will thrill to the harrowing adventures of the dog Buck, ripped from his comfortable life on a California ranch to work as a sled dog in the harsh Alaskan wilderness, eventually answering the call of the wild to become a legendary leader of a wolf pack. A superior treatment of an unforgettable book. (12 years and up)  

—Martha V. Parravano

Writers worth watching

Get summer off to a fresh start: here are four novels for young adults by some promising newcomers to the field.

In Ship Breaker, Nebula Award winner Paolo Bacigalupi’s debut YA novel, teenaged Nailer lives in a dystopian future America where climate change and humankind have wreaked havoc on the land and society. Bacigalupi’s novel vividly depicts a “whole waterlogged world . . . torn down by the patient work of changing nature.” It’s difficult for characters to know who to trust as money and greed separate the haves from the have-nots and dictate loyalty. This thriller will grab and keep readers’ attentions as Nailer fights to survive. (12 years and up)

Stephen Wallenfels’s POD has the human race in survival mode as it faces a common threat to its existence. When black pearlescent orbs — “Pearls of Death” — descend on Earth and hover just over its surface, they obliterate every human who ventures out into the open. This creates a series of crises for sixteen-year-old Josh, trapped with his father in Washington State, and for twelve-year-old Megs, trapped alone in LA, as depicted in their compelling, alternating stories. The PODs vanish after a month-long siege, leaving Josh and Meg on the brink of a world remade by terror and tragedy. (12 years and up)

Emily Horner’s entertaining debut, A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend, has something for everyone: road trips, fortuitous stranger encounters, friendship drama, optimistic romanticism, and a fresh treatment of a lesbian heroine. Devastated by her best friend Julia’s death, seventeen-year-old Cass finds purpose and direction in working on the production of a musical theater script Julia had been writing . . . until her middle-school nemesis Heather is cast in the lead role. Horner manages to treat the grieving process with respect while maintaining a positive tone. (16 years and up)

In The Mark by Jen Nadol, sixteen-year-old Cassie can see a kind of blurring glow that appears around people who will die that same day. Soon after she realizes the mark’s meaning, Cassie learns via its mysterious power some startling truths about her family. Nadol’s first novel avoids sensationalizing and moralizing in favor of a thoughtful dramatization of a fascinating philosophical conundrum — does Cassie have a responsibility to save every marked person she sees? Musings on fate and freedom never stray too far from Cassie’s perspective and her quest to define herself, her family history, and her purpose in life. (14 years and up)

—Cynthia K. Ritter

From the Editor

Our “Five Questions for . . .” feature goes live at the American Library Association’s annual conference being held in Washington, D.C., later this month.  On June 26th, 27th, and 28th I will be at the Horn Book booth (#2960) with five questions for each of the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, Sibert, Coretta Scott King, Printz, and Scott O’Dell awards. Here is the schedule:

Saturday, June 26th: 
1:00 p.m.  Matt Phelan, winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for The Storm in the Barn
4:00 p.m. Tanya Lee Stone, winner of the Sibert Medal for Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream

Sunday, June 27th:
11:00 a.m.
 Rebecca Stead, winner of the Newbery Medal for When You Reach Me
1:00 p.m. Libba Bray, winner of the Printz Medal for Going Bovine
2:00 p.m. Charles R. Smith Jr., winner of the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award for My People
3:00 p.m. Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award for Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal

Monday, June 28th:
1:00 p.m.
Jerry Pinkney, winner of the Caldecott Medal for The Lion & the Mouse

Each interview will run about fifteen minutes. If you will be attending the conference, please stop by for any or all.  

Roger Sutton
Editor in Chief

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