A view of the “important jobs” that soil and all the things that live in it have.
Considering the uncountable plants, animals, fungi, and microbes that live there, soil is a busy place—as the page design goes overboard in reflecting, with floating labels, teeming dollops of fact in diverse typefaces, snippets of photographs, and larger images done in a printlike style shoveled together in high-density arrays of angled or undulating lines on every spread. After opening with an overview of soil’s roles, particularly in regulating climate, the discourse plows through its organic and inorganic elements, how it varies in different environments, the living things that populate it, and, in broader context, how the dusty surfaces of the moon and Mars compare. Earthworms are such major players that they get two spreads of their own, six mentions of their “poop,” and instructions for setting up a catch-and-release “worm hotel.” Because the visuals are more about flash than furthering understanding, and the authors too seem bent on cramming in the dazzle (“Astronauts tried tasting moon dust!”), readers with a yen to dig deep may just scuff through this before going on to more fertile surveys like Marc ter Horst’s Hey There, Earth Dweller, illustrated by Wendy Panders and translated by Laura Watkinson (2019), or Tom Jackson’s Earth Sciences (2019).
Peeks under lots of rocks and logs but barely scratches the surface.
(projects, glossary, index)
(Informational picture book. 7-9)
A highlights reel of the great scientist’s life and achievements, from clandestine early schooling to the founding of Warsaw’s Radium Institute.
In big sequential panels Bayarri dashes through Curie’s career, barely pausing at significant moments (“Mother! A letter just arrived. It’s from Sweden,” announces young Irène. “Oh, really?…They’re awarding me another Nobel!”) in a seeming rush to cover her youth, family life, discoveries, World War I work, and later achievements (with only a closing timeline noting her death, of “aplastic anemia”). Button-eyed but recognizable figures in the panels pour out lecture-ish dialogue. This is well stocked with names and scientific terms but offered with little or no context—characteristics shared by co-published profiles on Albert Einstein and the Theory of Relativity (“You and your thought experiments, Albert!” “We love it! The other day, Schrödinger thought up one about a cat”), Charles Darwin and the Theory of Evolution, and Isaac Newton and the Laws of Motion. Dark-skinned Tierra del Fuegans make appearances in Darwin, prompting the young naturalist to express his strong anti-slavery views; otherwise the cast is white throughout the series. Engagingly informal as the art and general tone of the narratives are, the books will likely find younger readers struggling to keep up, but kids already exposed to the names and at least some of the concepts will find these imports, translated from the Basque, helpful if, at times, dry overviews.
Together with its companions, too rushed to be first introductions but suitable as second ones.
(glossary, index, resource list)
(Graphic biography. 7-9)
A subatomic narrator describes how helium, a nonrenewable resource, is formed deep underground.
The very simple cartoon style of the illustrations suggests a breezier ride than the scientifically challenging content delivers. With much reliance on explanatory endnotes, Rooney sends her zippy narrator—newly freed from a popped balloon (see Eddie the Electron, 2015)—barreling its way past billions of nitrogen and oxygen atoms to the top of the atmosphere. Eddie describes how uranium and thorium trapped in the newly formed planet’s crust self-destructed to leave helium as a stable byproduct. Billions of tedious years later (“I thought I would die of pair annihilation!”) that helium was extracted for a wide variety of industrial uses. Following mentions of Einstein and how Eddie is mysteriously connected to other atoms “in a way that surpasses space and time,” the popeyed purple particle floats off with a plea to cut down on the party balloons to conserve a rare element. Younger readers may find this last notion easier to latch onto than the previous dose of physics, which is seriously marred both by the vague allusions and by Eddie’s identification as a helium atom rather than the free electron that his portrayals in the art, not to mention his moniker, indicate.
A sketchy teaser in search of an audience.
(Informational picture book. 7-9)