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by Sophie Webb & illustrated by Sophie Webb

Age Range: 10 - 14

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-395-92291-7
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Webb, an ornithologist and artist, describes and illustrates her two-month stay at the bottom of the world, studying a breeding colony of Adélie penguins on Cape Royds, an island off the coast of Antarctica. Though the picture-book format and watercolor illustrations may attract a younger audience, the dense text is intended for upper-middle-grade readers who will find much to savor. Most of the diary describes the day-to-day activities of working scientists who were studying the nesting colonies and the dynamics of the frozen ecosystem. Webb describes the ingenious and sometimes-messy methods used to gather data; for example, in the weekly “diet sampling,” penguins with full bellies are captured, filled up with water, and forced to vomit so researchers can determine what they are feeding on. New technologies are used, too, to determine what penguins eat, how far they swim, how weather conditions affect each colony, and why some colonies are growing larger while others are shrinking. There are transmitters attached to them—radio receivers, which record sounds—and electronic weigh bridges are used to determine how much they’ve eaten. Traditional flipper bands are still used to track movement. Throughout, there are dozens of exquisitely drawn watercolor paintings. Sometimes as many as a dozen thumb-sized drawings appear on a single page, showing penguins posturing and preening or providing the reader with a sequence of events; one terrific example shows a penguin sneaking up to steal a rock from another’s nest. Other full-page paintings show the vast white and gray landscape with evidence of previous explorations, the base camp, or the dappled white and gray ice flows and ocean. The lack of an index limits the usefulness of the title for school assignments, but science enthusiasts will enjoy this attractively illustrated look at science at work. (glossary) (Nonfiction. 10-14)