Science facts more surprising than science fiction for teen readers.




The lack of a spine, or even a brain, doesn’t keep invertebrates from learning, remembering, and solving problems.

Defining intelligence as “the ability to benefit and learn from experience and to apply that information to new situations,” the author of Elephant Talk (2011) provides fascinating examples of mindfulness, memory, and learning in a wide variety of invertebrates from earthworms to dragonflies and spider wasps. She includes chapters on jumping spiders, octopuses, honey bees and paper wasps, Argentine ants, mantis shrimps, box jellyfish and slime molds. Text boxes set off on yellow backgrounds offer fast facts about each species described and clear explanations of complicated concepts. Readers accustomed to the smooth storyline of narrative nonfiction may find Downer’s exposition demanding, but this fact-filled text has intriguing examples and surprising, memorable details. Picture Darwin’s family gathered together to play music to earthworms; slime molds mapping the best routes between U.S. urban areas; using the sound of a file on a wooden stake to attract fish bait (a method called “worm grunting”); experimenters playing tug of war with octopuses unwilling to give up their LEGO blocks. Ample backmatter supports the information, making this an ideal starting place for research on any one of these species.

Science facts more surprising than science fiction for teen readers. (endnotes, glossary, bibliography, further reading) (Nonfiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4677-3739-5

Page Count: 88

Publisher: Twenty-First Century/Lerner

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2015

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From the Ape Quartet series , Vol. 1

Congolese-American Sophie makes a harrowing trek through a war-torn jungle to protect a young bonobo.

On her way to spend the summer at the bonobo sanctuary her mother runs, 14-year-old Sophie rescues a sickly baby bonobo from a trafficker. Though her Congolese mother is not pleased Sophie paid for the ape, she is proud that Sophie works to bond with Otto, the baby. A week before Sophie's to return home to her father in Miami, her mother must take advantage
of a charter flight to relocate some apes, and she leaves Sophie with Otto and the sanctuary workers. War breaks out, and after missing a U.N. flight out, Sophie must hide herself and Otto from violent militants and starving villagers. Unable to take Otto out of the country, she decides finding her mother hundreds of miles to the north is her only choice. Schrefer jumps from his usual teen suspense to craft this well-researched tale of jungle survival set during a fictional conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Realistic characters (ape and human) deal with disturbing situations described in graphic, but never gratuitous detail. The lessons Sophie learns about her childhood home, love and what it means to be endangered will resonate with readers.

Even if some hairbreadth escapes test credulity, this is a great next read for fans of our nearest ape cousins or survival adventure. (map, author's note, author Q&A) (Adventure. 12-16)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-16576-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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A fascinating and comprehensive analysis of the tragic decline of giraffes and the heroic efforts to reverse this trend.



Giraffes have been known to humans for millennia, and this book introduces this beloved species and the threats it faces.

Ancient petroglyphs of giraffes exist in Namibia, and giraffes’ striking features have been familiar in illustrations from ancient times to the present day. The scientific community widely assumed that they were abundant. However, a report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature alerted scientists to a 40% decline in the number of giraffes in the wild between 1985 and 2015. The author describes the study of giraffes, beginning with field studies by pioneering Canadian biologist Anne Innis Dagg in the 1950s, and the gradual growth in understanding of giraffe subspecies, characteristics, and behavior that led to the discovery of their “silent extinction” and the movement to conserve and protect the species. The author systematically analyzes the reasons behind their declining population, which include animal predators, poaching, habitat loss, war, climate change, and trophy hunting. The book is engagingly designed, with color photographs, informative sidebars, detailed features such as those about giraffe taxonomy and the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, and information about conservation and rescue organizations.

A fascinating and comprehensive analysis of the tragic decline of giraffes and the heroic efforts to reverse this trend. (giraffe guide, glossary, source notes, selected bibliography, further information, index, photo credits) (Nonfiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5415-3238-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Twenty-First Century/Lerner

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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