THE SHORTEST DAY

CELEBRATING THE WINTER SOLSTICE

Generic ancient and modern figures in the illustrations accurately reflect the superficiality of this bland account of the winter solstice’s natural signs and traditional commemorations. Struggling to confine her discussion to the northern hemisphere alone, Pfeffer uses charts and a demonstration to show how the Earth’s orbit creates seasons, shows astronomers in ancient China and (apparently) Egypt measuring the sun’s movements, describes fire ceremonies of the Incas and an unspecified, fur-clad people, then mentions old customs that have come down to modern times, such as the hanging of evergreen wreaths, and the decoration of trees. Author and illustrator make only vague references to pagan symbolism, and avoid direct references to nonpagan religious symbols altogether—until the page devoted to St. Lucia’s day in Sweden, billed as the origin of the season’s custom of giving gifts. Closing with a handful of poorly designed activities (“Around March 21, June 21, and September 21, repeat steps 1 to 5”), and a skimpy resource list, this well-meaning effort is likely to leave readers more confused than enlightened. (Web sites) (Picture book/nonfiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-525-46968-0

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2003

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Young environmentalists will appreciate seeing how facts can defy frenzy.

COUGAR FRENZY

From the Orca Echoes series

Through the investigations of young Cricket and her friends, readers learn how to distinguish evidence of a cougar from other animals—and are briefed on cougar conservation and monitoring.

When Cricket and her friend Shilo notice a foul smell coming from piled-up snow and branches under a bush, Cricket suspects that a cougar has hidden its dinner. Her father, Warden McKay, proves her right when he shows up at her school, giving an emergency presentation about cougars. A cougar has been seen in their village, which is located inside Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta. After Cricket’s dad informs kids about some cougar facts, Principal Singh gives students a rare week off from school. It’s odd, then, that the warden’s children proceed to wander the village. However, McDowell’s books about Cricket typically favor facts about wildlife above all else, and, also typically, this one does not disappoint. It even clarifies one statistic as specifically Canadian. Overall, the dialogue is more natural than in Salamander Rescue (2016), if equally packed with information. The nine chapters and epilogue are accessible, entertaining, and empowering for young naturalists. The compelling plot twist: Anxious villagers are accusing cougars of a series of large-mammal crimes. Cricket, knowing that cougar relocation can be fatal, wants to ensure continued, occasional village visits by a family of tracked cougars. She devises a scheme to trap the real culprit. Illustrations are pleasant enough, depicting a largely white cast, though at least three characters have Asian surnames.

Young environmentalists will appreciate seeing how facts can defy frenzy. (Fiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4598-2064-7

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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EARTHQUAKES

EARTH’S MIGHTIEST MOMENTS

What is an earthquake? What causes it? The author and illustrator of Caves: Mysteries Beneath Our Feet (2001) tackle this difficult topic for beginning readers with only partial success. It’s hard to picture an earthquake, and harder still to imagine “a rock up to sixty miles thick . . . bigger than the United States . . . floating on an ocean of rock 1,800 miles deep.” The author describes how tectonic plates rub together and split apart, shaking, breaking, and releasing gasses from inside the earth. He describes how scientists measure the strength of earthquakes with the Richter Scale. Brightly colored illustrations are decorative but not especially helpful. For example, the illustration of one plate slipping below another shows wide bands of magenta, red, orange, a black line, blue, and brown bands, with yellow arrows pointing in opposite directions. Hard to tell what’s happening. This entry in the Earthworks series will be tough going for its intended young audience. (Nonfiction. 7-9)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-59078-243-7

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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