Book List

Best Middle-Grade Nonfiction of 2018

Another inviting example of scientific field work in a consistently appealing series.

BACKYARD BEARS

CONSERVATION, HABITAT CHANGES, AND THE RISE OF URBAN WILDLIFE

From the Scientists in the Field series

In Asheville, North Carolina, wildlife biologists study a growing black bear population, one example of city-dwellers and animals who try to coexist around the world.

Around and within Asheville, black bears are proliferating. Four specialists, led by Colleen Olfenbuttel, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s black bear and furbearer biologist and a professor at N.C. State University, conduct field investigations that include capturing, tagging, and following bears fitted with radio collars. Cherrix writes with affection about her hometown, offering readers an immediate account of bear captures and the scientists’ work. Accompanied by local wildlife photographer Steve Atkins (who contributes many of the book’s full-color photos), she joins the scientists (who all present white) for two bear encounters. Photos show the splendid Blue Mountains scenery, bear habitat in suburban backyards, and the bears themselves, including an irresistible cub less than 2 months old. Readers see scientists in action as well as schoolchildren having a rare opportunity to see and touch a bear, temporarily sedated for a physical exam. The writer weaves in information about black bear life, the history of human-bear relationships in the area, habitat changes, and even tips for bear encounters. A middle chapter describes other examples of urban human/wildlife cohabitation: leopards in Mumbai, India; eastern coyotes across the United States; feral chickens in Hawaii; turkeys in Boston; starlings throughout North America; wild boars in Berlin; and the threat of capybaras in Florida.

Another inviting example of scientific field work in a consistently appealing series. (glossary, notes, bibliography, acknowledgements, index) (Nonfiction.10-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-328-85868-9

Page Count: 80

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 14, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

Copious kid-friendly information on a vitally important topic, stylishly presented, makes this book essential. Knowledge is...

EAT THIS!

HOW FAST FOOD MARKETING GETS YOU TO BUY JUNK (AND HOW TO FIGHT BACK)

A comprehensive compilation of fast-food marketing practices aimed at youth and ways kids can recognize and combat them.

In this slim, 15-chapter book, Curtis begins with the basics, clearly explaining what marketing is: “the art and science of persuasion.” The author’s upbeat, nonpatronizing tone is a selling point in itself as she explains how fast-food marketers place product brands in entertainment culture—movies, TV shows, and video games—to persuade kids to identify with or become loyal to a type of junk food; how they infiltrate schools by creating fundraisers and teaching resources that feature their product; and how they create kid-friendly spokescharacters such as Ronald McDonald, among many other manipulative practices. The good news is that the book’s target audience—kids—will feel empowered as they learn how they are being influenced and are educated in ways to fight back. Segments labeled “Do This!” suggest ways readers can participate in anti–fast-food advocacy and tell stories of real-life kids and parents who exposed junk-food marketing practices. Facts about the unhealthy results of eating fast food based on statistics from countries around the world are included as well as information on what real food is. Collins’ snappy designs depict youth of many ethnicities and share space with clear, well-chosen stock photographs.

Copious kid-friendly information on a vitally important topic, stylishly presented, makes this book essential. Knowledge is power. (sources, glossary, author interview) (Nonfiction. 9-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-88995-532-5

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Red Deer Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

An impassioned call to look at the world in unique ways with plenty of practical advice on how to cultivate a curious,...

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CALLING ALL MINDS

HOW TO THINK AND CREATE LIKE AN INVENTOR

Celebrated inventor Grandin shares her experiences and insights into her processes of tinkering and building, offering excellent advice to aspiring young inventors for realizing their own innovative ideas.

Grandin explores the history of inventions from the ancient to the contemporary, the science behind them, and the steps various people took to create and improve upon ideas as they evolved, and she also suggests ways in which young inventors can think about and understand what it means to innovate. What makes Grandin’s narrative particularly engaging are the many anecdotes she shares about her own childhood fascination with questioning, investigating, building, and inventing. She shares how her autism enabled her to see things in unique ways, paving the way for her innovative work in animal behavior. Grandin describes herself as a visual, “bottom-up thinker,” the type of scientist who gathers data and then arrives at a hypothesis. She passionately encourages young people to use their imaginations, stressing inquisitiveness and open-mindedness as the keys to problem-solving as well as the importance of tactile experiences and hands-on experimentation. Included in the text are 25 kid-friendly projects to help develop those skills. Mixing history, science, and memoir makes for an occasionally digressive narrative that is sometimes unwieldy but never boring.

An impassioned call to look at the world in unique ways with plenty of practical advice on how to cultivate a curious, inquiring, imaginative mind. (diagrams, photos, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-3820-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

Appealing design adds further value to this dramatic demonstration of science in progress.

SNOWY OWL INVASION!

TRACKING AN UNUSUAL MIGRATION

In the winter of 2013-2014, when snowy owls from the Arctic began appearing far south of their usual winter homes, scientists took advantage of a rare research opportunity.

An unusually large irruption of snowy owls, seen in huge numbers in eastern Canada, New England, and the mid-Atlantic coast and as far south as Florida, spurred observers to develop new techniques to track and learn more about this Arctic species. One likely hypothesis for their sudden migration into unlikely areas is a population explosion caused by the unusually high lemming numbers the previous summer, which provided more food for hatchlings. Another points to strong southeasterly winds blowing them off course. Using leg bands and small GPS transmitters, scientists followed the movements of specific birds, discovering new facts about a bird not previously well-studied. Markle introduces the birds, the lemmings, and the science in lively, clear prose organized into chapters profusely illustrated with well-captioned photographs. With long experience in explaining the natural world to young readers, she deftly chooses information that will be of particular interest and provides the necessary background. Separate sections explain lemming population booms, differences between male and female owls, tundra, and owl feeding habits. A map shows the travels of several birds, including a “star reporter” named Baltimore.

Appealing design adds further value to this dramatic demonstration of science in progress. (author’s note, sources, glossary, resources, index, photo credits) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5124-3106-3

Page Count: 52

Publisher: Millbrook/Lerner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

An appealing, elegantly designed introduction to another much-maligned species.

THE HYENA SCIENTIST

From the Scientists in the Field series

A practiced and proficient team returns to the African plains to visit a field camp in Masai Mara, Kenya, where zoologist Kay Holekamp has been studying spotted hyenas for 30 years.

This surprisingly engaging title introduces a species whose bad reputation is nearly universal. Holekamp disagrees. Her study of eight generations of hyenas has revealed the spotted hyena to be “an unexpectedly brave, smart, and extremely social species” as well as the “most formidable carnivore in Africa.” During their 10-day visit, Montgomery and Bishop go with the researchers for morning and evening observations, watch one sedate a young male with a dart gun so all can take measurements and specimens, see a skirmish in a war between rival factions of the large Talek West hyena clan, and, during a downpour, when flood threatens, help evacuate precious specimens and equipment. Montgomery’s graceful prose draws readers into the experience with clear explanations and vivid description. Bishop’s striking photographs show off the doglike hyenas’ furry cuteness. He includes close-ups of cubs at play and rest, researchers at work, and adult hyenas interacting with one another, as well as tent scenes, other wildlife, and the always-impressive scenery. Readers may be inspired by the stories of the white scientist’s diverse team of assistants: a retired medical social worker, U.S. graduate students, and a young Kenyan who hopes to study in the U.S.

An appealing, elegantly designed introduction to another much-maligned species. (fast facts, bibliography, acknowledgements, index) (Nonfiction. 10-15)

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-544-63511-1

Page Count: 80

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

A true disaster story rivetingly told.

CAPSIZED!

THE FORGOTTEN STORY OF THE SS EASTLAND DISASTER

On the morning of July 24, 1915, the 2,500 passengers aboard the excursion ship SS Eastland were looking forward to a pleasant outing at a Lake Michigan destination but instead found disaster.

In a tautly written, vividly detailed, suspenseful narrative, Sutton chronicles the event that stands today as the greatest loss of life on the Great Lakes. From the time of the Eastland’s launch in 1903, design flaws making her susceptible to listing were known though kept quiet by the company that owned it. The ship was top-heavy, which became evident when passengers congregated on the upper decks. Several incidents in the intervening years indicated the Eastland was destined for catastrophe. It occurred when the ship was chartered to take employees and their families from Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. This was a major event for the workers, most of whom were first- and second-generation Polish and Czech immigrants and could not take holidays. The Eastland capsized in the Chicago River while still moored to the pier. Seventy percent of the 844 passengers and crew who perished were under the age of 25. Sutton raises several provocative questions: Why is so much known about the Titanic’s sinking and yet so little about the Eastland disaster? Why was no one ever held responsible for this catastrophe? Her fast-paced account makes ample use of primary sources, plaiting them into her narrative naturally as dialogue.

A true disaster story rivetingly told. (maps, photo, diagrams, source notes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: July 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61373-943-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Chicago Review Press

Review Posted Online: April 25, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

An immersive, inviting mix of appealing art and information.

LOOK AT THE WEATHER

A visual compendium of weather phenomena offers some scientific explanations along with more personal reflections.

Teckentrup’s handsome full-color, full-page illustrations in a generous trim size offer a range of perspectives and moods that photographs might be hard-pressed to capture. A conversational, explanatory text supports the art, briefly describing the science behind rain or sunlight or wind. “We have such a strong connection to the weather, we can’t help but wonder about it.” An unseen narrator invites readers to consider their own experiences with weather: “Have you ever seen a glorious, clear summer sky and wondered why it is so blue?” The illustrations are divided into four sections: “Sun,” “Rain,” “Ice and Snow,” and “Extreme Weather.” Landscapes and townscapes depicted are in four-season temperate (rather than desert or tropical) zones. People and animals appear as distant shapes in a very few of the illustrations. The introduction to extreme weather notes that it “feels like someone turned up the volume on our regular weather,” acknowledging human activity as the cause of the rapid warming of the planet. Thunderstorms, hail, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, and droughts are described, and this section ends with a question about the future. A 27-item glossary and an author’s note acknowledging several classical landscape painters constitute the backmatter.

An immersive, inviting mix of appealing art and information. (Nonfiction. 5-10)

Pub Date: April 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77147-286-9

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Owlkids Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

A timely, uplifting story.

CAMP PANDA

HELPING CUBS RETURN TO THE WILD

Deforestation, poaching, pollution, human overpopulation, and climate change have severely damaged the habitats and population of giant pandas in their native China, but government-supported conservation efforts are helping bring back a species that is considered a national treasure.

Thimmesh explains the work of the China Conservation and Research Center for the Giant Panda in the Wolong Nature Reserve, which uses a three-stage program to reintroduce pandas to the wild. The goal of the program is to create a self-sustaining wild panda population, one that can survive and breed without human intervention. Since baby pandas are not born with an innate set of survival skills, CCRCGP scientists must teach the cubs those skills, such as how to find food, avoid predators, and seek shelter. To mitigate human contact with cubs in training, scientists must wear giant panda costumes rubbed all over with excrement and urine so that they look and smell like giant pandas when handling and interacting with cubs. Thimmesh acknowledges critics of this ambitious, expensive program but explains that the panda has become an adored iconic species, and conservationists can build upon their popularity to “broaden public awareness and support for a wider spectrum of conservation concerns.” Complementing Thimmesh’s thoughtful, engagingly written text are many arrestingly adorable color photographs of pandas in training and in the wild.

A timely, uplifting story. (photos, source notes) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-544-81891-0

Page Count: 64

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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