A lavish array of big, bright, close-up photos of lush desert flowers and scaly or many-legged creatures will entice young naturalists to dip into this quick visit to the Sonoran Desert. The text isn’t likely to draw nearly as much notice, though it does have its moments: “We look around and find the lizard’s little black droppings. They crumble as you pick them up—they are made of nothing but the digested remains of dead ants!” The author, a BBC cameraman, opens with one spread on deserts of the world and a second that tallies proper gear for brief outings, then takes young readers out into the scrub for illustrated encounters with a nesting hummingbird, cacti (“Plants that Bite”), a Gila monster, and other wildlife. After side visits to the Grand Canyon and unidentified cliff dwellings, he closes with warnings about environmental threats. Less a specific travelogue than a series of cursory field notes and generalities (“Native Americans are very skilled at using the plants that grow in the desert as medicines”), this companion to Tim Knight’s Journey Into Africa (not reviewed) and Journey Into the Rain Forest (2001) is designed more for armchair travelers than readers with a serious or assignment-driven interest in desert ecosystems. (Nonfiction. 9-11)
The devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey is explained, from the storm’s origin to its ongoing aftermath, in this photo-heavy book.
In retelling the story of how a storm got so big it caused 82 deaths and billions of dollars in damage along the Texas coast, Minneapolis-based author Felix details the science of hurricanes for those unfamiliar and unpacks why this and a series of other hurricanes made for one of the most damaging weather years on record. Although it’s packed with info-boxes, a glossary, tips for safety during a hurricane and helping survivors afterward, a snapshot of five other historic hurricanes, and well-curated photos, it misses an opportunity to convey some of the emotion and pain victims endured and continue to feel. Instead, much of the text feels like a summation of news reports, an efficient attempt to answer the whys of Hurricane Harvey, with only a few direct quotations. Readers learn about Virgil Smith, a Dickinson, Texas, teen who rescued others from floodwaters with an air mattress, but the information is secondhand. The book does answer, clearly and concisely, questions a kid might have about a hurricane, such as what happens to animals at the zoo in such an emergency and how a tropical storm forms in the first place. A portion of the book’s proceeds are to be donated to the Texas Library Association’s Disaster Relief Fund.
The photos effectively convey the scope of Harvey’s impact, but while journalistically sound, this informative book doesn’t capture the fear and shock those who lived through the hurricane must have felt.
Is it a planet? A dwarf planet? What’s up with that mysterious body that, even in our best telescopes, floats tantalizingly at the edge of visibility?
Pairing a lighthearted narrative in a hand-lettered–style typeface with informally drawn cartoon illustrations, this lively tale of astronomical revelations begins with the search for “Planet X.” It then sweeps past Pluto’s first sighting by Clyde Tombaugh and its naming by 11-year-old Venetia Burney to the later discovery of more icy worlds—both in our solar system’s Kuiper belt and orbiting other stars. Meanwhile, sailing along with a smug expression, the mottled orange planetoid is “busy dancing with its moons. / Cha-cha / Cha-cha-cha” and Kuiper buddies as it waits for Earth’s astronomers to realize at last that it’s different from the other planets (“BINGO!”) and needs a new classification. Ceres inexplicably rates no entry in the gallery of dwarf planets, and the closing glossary isn’t exactly stellar (“World: Any object in space”), but fans of Basher’s postmodern science surveys will feel right at home with the buoyant mix of personification and hard fact.
A rare chance to shine for the former ninth planet.
(photos and additional detail, “Note from the Museum,” suggested reading, bibliography, index)