As flashy as a butterfly but needs a swarm of support.

INSECT SUPERPOWERS

18 REAL BUGS THAT SMASH, ZAP, HYPNOTIZE, STING, AND DEVOUR!

The insect world is buzzing with superpowers!

Jumping on the superhero bandwagon, Messner and Nickell bring readers a fascinating and fun read that is heavy on action but light on the details. Designed like a graphic novel, the book introduces 18 insects that have extraordinary abilities. Along the way, readers learn about the biological classification system and a sampling of insect orders. Nickell’s illustrations keep the pages turning, as insects are presented as the superheroes (or supervillains) of the book: “The Decapitator” (also known as the Asian giant hornet) is surrounded by action lines and has thunderbolts of power emanating from its viselike mandibles. Other details, such as the benday dots backgrounding the yellow information boxes, create a subtle nod to comic books of old. Messner’s text flows smoothly in this action-packed format but suffers from its lack of space, and this compression may cause confusion, as when the text on the yam hawk moth vacillates between the generic and the specific. Other editorial choices are less than pleasing. The first scientific name mentioned includes a phonetic pronunciation guide, but none of the others do. The backmatter is anemic, consisting of a seven-book, two-website bibliography. Based on the format, the book will be popular, but be ready to recommend supplemental titles to readers who expect more than cursory information.

As flashy as a butterfly but needs a swarm of support. (Graphic nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4521-3910-4

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2019

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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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Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care.

OIL

In 1977, the oil carrier Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into a formerly pristine Alaskan ocean inlet, killing millions of birds, animals, and fish. Despite a cleanup, crude oil is still there.

The Winters foretold the destructive powers of the atomic bomb allusively in The Secret Project (2017), leaving the actuality to the backmatter. They make no such accommodations to young audiences in this disturbing book. From the dark front cover, on which oily blobs conceal a seabird, to the rescuer’s sad face on the back, the mother-son team emphasizes the disaster. A relatively easy-to-read and poetically heightened text introduces the situation. Oil is pumped from the Earth “all day long, all night long, / day after day, year after year” in “what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people // and thousands of caribou.” The scale of extraction is huge: There’s “a giant pipeline” leading to “enormous ships.” Then, crash. Rivers of oil gush out over three full-bleed wordless pages. Subsequent scenes show rocks, seabirds, and sea otters covered with oil. Finally, 30 years later, animals have returned to a cheerful scene. “But if you lift a rock… // oil / seeps / up.” For an adult reader, this is heartbreaking. How much more difficult might this be for an animal-loving child?

Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care. (author’s note, further reading) (Informational picture book. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3077-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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