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I find it difficult to convey my enthusiasm for this book without sounding ridiculous. “It’s about these parrots! That smell like honey! And they’re almost extinct, and these people had to wait five years for a chick to hatch so they could go to New Zealand for ten days to write this book! You should totally read it.” Yeah. But that’s pretty much how I feel.
The story has a great sense of urgency, both because the parrots are so endangered (87 are living at one point during the course of the book) and because Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop had such a short window of time to do on-site research, gather observations, and take photographs (visitors are only allowed to stay on the parrots’ island for ten days). I’m not normally the type to get worked up over an endangered species, although I do believe we humans need to undo some of the damage we’ve done, but these birds were thrilling, and I give credit for my enthusiasm to Montgomery and Bishop for gripping storytelling and great photos.
As with other Scientists in the Field books, readers really get a sense of what it is that scientists do and why their jobs are important and interesting (I say this as someone who never enjoyed science class). Here, we see the dedication of the scientists (and the governmental support they receive) as well as what their day-to-day job entails. Waking up at all hours to help heat a kakapo chick? Check. Hiking through all weather to locate birds and monitor food supplies? Check. Store a dead penguin in your fridge? Check. Highly recommended for budding scientists or environmentalists, maybe fourth grade and up (that includes you, grown-ups).
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is one of those non-fiction books where it’s hard to tell whether you liked it for the story it told or the way it told the story. Here, I think both are effective. The story is certainly one that needs telling – the history of discrimination against female pilots in this country, particularly in regards to the space program, and Stone’s way of telling the story engrosses the reader – building up her case, citing examples of institutionalized sexism, making you feel for the women involved, describing the fitness and isolation tests, and finally the story of how women were ultimately welcomed to NASA. It’s a great book for kids interested in becoming pilots or astronauts, and also a great way to learn about our country’s history of sexism.
My “currently-reading” shelf on Goodreads is actually accurate. I can’t think of the last time this happened – there are usually a handful that I’ve finished but just don’t feel like reviewing (since joining Goodreads, I find it physically impossible to mark a book “read” until I’ve written at least a few words – I haven’t decided whether or not this is a good habit). I suppose being caught up on something trivial like that is what happens when you spend a weekend on the couch, stuffed-up and achey. I really don’t want to go to work today, but I haven’t called in sick because I’ve been feeling pretty good in the evenings. It’s the mornings when I lay around and moan. I also need to get out of the house.
I love that my classes are making me branch out and try new things. Normally I would never have picked up a book like Nic Bishop Spiders – which relies on full-page, close-up photographs of spiders. Eww. While I’m not afraid of spiders, I’ve never enjoyed looking at close-ups. But this book had me ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the colors (although I avoided looking to closely at the tarantulas) and reading spider facts out loud to whoever would listen. If I enjoyed it, a spider fan would be in raptures.
I was similarly hooked by Team Moon – I’ve never been big into space and astronauts and all that, but like Spiders, the book was just so gosh-darned enthusiastic about the subject – and the text/photo combo presented the story so well – that the excitement was catching.
Between the two of these, I’m completely convinced to keep an eye out for other Sibert Medalists and honor books. When non-fiction is good, it is very very good.