A BOOK ABOUT WHALES

Conversational text and pencil illustrations introduce the largest members of the cetacean order.

The first page of dryly humorous text faces a full-page illustration that is immediately engaging: A fisherman in a small boat has unwittingly cast his line near an enormous humpback whale, which seems to be deciding whether a playful tug is warranted. The author/illustrator tells readers he knows they are already whale lovers, but he wants to tell them more, because “I’m very chatty.” The layout is exceptional, with blue lettering, blue wavelike patterns under each page number, and thoughtful placement of the myriad, masterful illustrations. Some of the illustrated explanations make good use of common objects to explain whale anatomy, as in a colander for baleen and an accordion for ventral pleats. There is also great fun in size comparisons of whales with other things, including a train carriage and Tyrannosaurus rex. The text falls short in its editing; there are errors and inconsistencies in word usage, taxonomy, and spelling. Its greatest failing is in its section “And Humans?” It mentions the 1986 international whaling ban, adding that there are “some who try to get around those rules.” The next paragraph tells about Indigenous peoples who still use traditional whaling for their survival—but doesn’t mention that their actions are lawful. Readers may well draw the wrong conclusion here, leading to a whale of a missed teaching opportunity.

Appealing but unpolished. (bibliography, whale-watching sites, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3502-8

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Abrams

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Contentwise, an arbitrary assortment…but sure to draw fans of comics, of science, or of both.

FLASH FACTS

Flash, Batman, and other characters from the DC Comics universe tackle supervillains and STEM-related topics and sometimes, both.

Credited to 20 writers and illustrators in various combinations, the 10 episodes invite readers to tag along as Mera and Aquaman visit oceanic zones from epipelagic to hadalpelagic; Supergirl helps a young scholar pick a science-project topic by taking her on a tour of the solar system; and Swamp Thing lends Poison Ivy a hand to describe how DNA works (later joining Swamp Kid to scuttle a climate-altering scheme by Arcane). In other episodes, various costumed creations explain the ins and outs of diverse large- and small-scale phenomena, including electricity, atomic structure, forensic techniques, 3-D printing, and the lactate threshold. Presumably on the supposition that the characters will be more familiar to readers than the science, the minilectures tend to start from simple basics, but the figures are mostly both redrawn to look more childlike than in the comics and identified only in passing. Drawing styles and page designs differ from chapter to chapter but not enough to interrupt overall visual unity and flow—and the cast is sufficiently diverse to include roles for superheroes (and villains) of color like Cyborg, Kid Flash, and the Latina Green Lantern, Jessica Cruz. Appended lists of websites and science-based YouTube channels, plus instructions for homespun activities related to each episode, point inspired STEM-winders toward further discoveries.

Contentwise, an arbitrary assortment…but sure to draw fans of comics, of science, or of both. (Graphic nonfiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77950-382-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: DC

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Pretty but insubstantial.

THE BIG BOOK OF BIRDS

Zommer surveys various bird species from around the world in this oversized (almost 14 inches tall tall) volume.

While exuberantly presented, the information is not uniformly expressed from bird to bird, which in the best cases will lead readers to seek out additional information and in the worst cases will lead to frustration. For example, on spreads that feature multiple species, the birds are not labeled. This happens again later when the author presents facts about eggs: Readers learn about camouflaged eggs, but the specific eggs are not identified, making further study extremely difficult. Other facts are misleading: A spread on “city birds” informs readers that “peregrine falcons nest on skyscrapers in New York City”—but they also nest in other large cities. In a sexist note, a peahen is identified as “unlucky” because she “has drab brown feathers” instead of flashy ones like the peacock’s. Illustrations are colorful and mostly identifiable but stylized; Zommer depicts his birds with both eyes visible at all times, even when the bird is in profile. The primary audience for the book appears to be British, as some spreads focus on European birds over their North American counterparts, such as the mute swan versus the trumpeter swan and the European robin versus the American robin. The backmatter, a seven-word glossary and an index, doesn’t provide readers with much support.

Pretty but insubstantial. (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-500-65151-3

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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