Is it snowing around you? Windy? Unseasonably warm?

I had a hard time thinking of an appropriate theme for this week, but finally settled on weather again. One of my brothers-in-law lives on the lucky side of Buffalo, NY—lucky this time, at least. He only got 4 inches of snow. We’ve gotten so much rain in the last few days that we had another “Swan Lake” flood in our back yard. Plus, there seem to be more volcanic eruptions than usual around the world, not to mention earthquakes. So I thought I’d review books on weather and natural phenomena this week.

Happy Thanksgiving


Anatomy of a Tornado
Terri Dougherty
The natural world of our planet is capable of many awe-inspiring, fearful events and a tornado is among the most amazing occurrences. This book is part of a series discussing disasters and starts with photos and a description of a tornado’s destructive force. (It really does sound like a fast-moving train roaring overhead.) Tornadoes need certain storm conditions to form, which are clearly and graphically described through the use of illustrations and highlighted explanations. There is also a clever experiment using a role of paper towels to let the reader comprehend how a tornado develops. Concise photos of tornadic activity from start to finish give good visual understanding of the storm’s shape. The book also explains away myths about twisters and shows ways of staying safe during a tornado. These destructive forces can occur anywhere and at any time, although they tend to be more prevalent at certain times of the day and year. Photos of the devastation caused by a tornado are breath taking. The book is a good jumping off point for a science teacher’s discussion of weather and its affects on humans and the planet.
BIBLIO: 2011, Velocity/Capstone Press, Ages 8 +, $30.65.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle Reader
ISBN: 978-1-4296-5494-4
ISBN: 978-1-4296-6281-9

Volcano Alert!

Paul Challen
Some people spend their whole lives keeping an eye on the “sleeping giant” hovering over their land. Some volcanoes erupt with regularity, flinging molten rock high in the air or oozing a steady stream down the mountain side. Others, like Mount St. Helen in Oregon, slumber for more than a century before erupting. There are a lot of interesting tidbits of information tucked into this brief overview of volcanic activity and many of the photos are spectacular. Plus, who wouldn’t want to make a volcano? The reader will learn about the four types of volcanoes, the type of rock they make and myths related to why volcanoes erupt. The word volcano comes from the Roman myth that their god Vulcan sent up molten rock and metal as he worked at his forge making weapons. Volcanoes coat everything in their paths with ash or lava, destroying villages and trees, but they also are responsible for building new islands in some parts of the world. Although the reader might be inspired to learn more after reading this Guided Reading Level Q book, there is no bibliography except for a couple of websites.
BIBLIO: 2011, Crabtree Publishing Company, Ages 8 to 10, $8.95.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-7787-1595-5
ISBN: 978-0-7787-1628-0
Water Wise
Alison Hawes
One in a series of books put out by Crabtree Connections teaching about history, medicine and environment among other things, this brief paperback discusses water and the ways we can use it more wisely. For instance, only 3% of all water on our planet is drinkable, yet people routinely waste gallons while brushing their teeth or watering the lawn—especially people in wealthy countries. People in poor countries frequently have improper sanitation and can get deadly diseases such as cholera or dysentery because their water supplies are polluted. Much useful information is contained in the book, but nothing really entices middle-grade children to care. Perhaps relating water shortages to lack of a swimming pool or only being able to wash one’s hair or taking a full bath once a week with water the whole family has to share, would give children more of an appreciation for the water problems the world is facing. Simple experiments would also drive the point home. However, teachers will certainly find value in using the information as a starting point in discussing the Earth’s water resources.
BIBLIO: 2011, Crabtree Publishing Company, Age 8 to 12, $8.95.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Middle Reader
ISBN: 978-0-7787-9925-2
ISBN: 978-0-7787-9904-7

Team Work Pays Off

Writers spend a lot of time by themselves thinking of how to write what they want to say, what their characters are like and who are the secondary characters. But writers also need help from critique partners and understanding families. This post is about sharing and working together. I chose books that have non-human main characters, just to make it more fun.
This first story is sweet and might still be in stores or on-line.

Duck and Goose: It’s Time for Christmas
Tad Hills
Duck is walking in the snow with his friend Goose. Duck has a purpose, but Goose wants to play. So Duck tells Goose that it is not time for catching snowflakes. Then Goose must be told it is not time for sledding, nor is it time for making snow angels. Goose also learns it is not time for throwing snowballs and it is not time for making a snowgoose. Duck tells Goose it is not time to skate, which is a good thing, because Goose doesn’t do that very well. He does make quite a handsome snow fort, even though it is not time for doing that either. The next to last scene is Duck calling to Goose to come on as he holds a star behind his back and stands near two other birds decorating a fir tree. When Goose comes, Duck tells him it is time for Christmas and Goose stands on Duck’s head to put the star on top of the tree. A cute story with nice repetition of the phrase “It is not time for…,” makes this a child pleaser. The expressions on Duck and Goose’s faces add to the story’s charm. This is part of the “Duck and Goose” series.
BIBLIO: 2010, Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House Children’s Books/Random House, Inc., Ages 1 to 4, $6.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Board Book
ISBN: 978-0-375-86484-1

I really enjoyed to drawings in this book.

Elmer and the Hippos
David McKee
Illustrated by David McKee
Elmer, the patchwork Elephant, comes to rescue in another book as he has in books since 1989. This time he must help the hippos get their dried up river back so they don’t use up all the water in the elephants’ river. Things are testy at the elephants’ river as the two groups of animals vie for rights to use the water. Elmer explains the problem to the elephants who agree to share, but not with good grace. He follows the dried up river to a mountain where a bird tells him about big rocks falling and blocking the water. So he and his cousin Wilbur and all the other elephants help the hippos clear the rocks away. When they’re almost done, the water pushes the rest of the rocks away and everybody gets a bath. Because they had such fun working together and then swimming together, the hippos and elephants remain friends. The illustrations are cute and enticing and the story line is a good lesson in working together.
BIBLIO: 2010 (orig. 2003,) Andersen Press USA/Andersen Press Ltd., Ages 4 to 8, $16.95
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Picture Book
ISBN: 978-0-7613-6442-9


Since this is an animated movie spin-off, I cannot find an author to credit. I’m not a big fan of books designed to feed off movies, but this one is cute, even if it is about snails.

Turbo Racing Team
Can a garden snail—and a small one at that—really win the Indy 500? He can if he has big dreams and lots of determination. This book is the print version of the recently released movie and video game by the same name. A product of DreamWorks animated cuteness, the story does have some worthwhile messages to relay—believe in yourself, follow your dreams and be careful whom you admire. Turbo, a.k.a. Theo, is supposed to follow his brother Chet’s lead and work in the garden, but he’d rather be a race car driver like his hero, Guy Gagné. Turbo accidentally ends up in the engine of a drag-racing car which has special additives in its gasoline. The chemical mix gives our intrepid snail super speed and the ability to pick up radio waves. After rescuing Chet from snail-eating crows, our fearless hero happens to meet a human big dreamer who is willing to sponsor Turbo’s dream, if the snail will promote Dos Bros taco restaurant and mobile kitchen on his shell. With the help of other racing snails, the other owners of stores in the taco place’s dilapidated strip mall and finally his brother, Turbo fulfills his dream of winning the Indy 500. Along the way, when he discovers that his idol has clay feet, Turbo takes especial joy in beating him.
BIBLIO: 2013, Simon Spotlight/Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, Ages 6 to 9, $5.99.
REVIEWER: Sarah Maury Swan
FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-1-4424-8420-7
ISBN: 978-1-4424-8421-4