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Every Day is Earth Day

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If you are a regular reader you may have noticed that Debbie Glade is hopelessly addicted to reading science books for kids. Today she reviews a special book that is a must-have for any curious child’s library (ages 9 and up). You can buy it in time for Earth Day – April 22, 2013.

I’ve often wondered what scientists of earlier years would think about the environmental challenges we face in the world today. After reading Friends of the Earth: A History of American Environmentalism with 21 Activities ($16.95, Chicago Review Press, Ages 9 and up) I learned that even scientists of long ago encountered many of the same earthly challenges we face today.

The book begins with environmental observations dating back to the very first Americans – Indians or Native Americans – who spoke about protecting forests and taking care to protect natural resources to leave the earth unharmed. I learned that Ben Franklin willed money to be used after his death (1789) to build a pipeline for fresh water for Philadelphia because polluted drinking water was the cause of great illness at the time. Did you know that the Sierra Club was founded in 1892 by John Muir and Robert Underwood?  Learned that, too! And thanks to Teddy Roosevelt, many national parks were established in our country to protect our wildlife and natural resources. The very first Earth Day was established in 1970, the same year the Clean Air Act was passed. This era marks the beginning of what is referred to as “modern environmentalism.”

Author Pat McCarthy introduces readers to 11 key people who made great contributions to the environmental movement, starting with James Audubon, whose love of painting birds helped to educate the world. His Birds of America was published in four volumes in the 1820s and 30s, featuring 497 different species of birds. The cost of printing these volumes was astronomical as each of the illustrations was engraved on copper plates. Most of the funds were raised through subscriptions. The National Audubon Society was established in 1905. Among the many other early environmentalists covered in the book are Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), who was inspired by the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and who would become one of his closest friends, and Cordelia Stanwood (1865-1958), a botanist, bird lover, photographer, teacher and prolific writer.

My favorite environmentalist in the book is Marjory Stoneman Douglas whose respect for the Florida Everglades led to her penning the famous 1947 book, Everglades: River of Grass. Before her book was published, it was commonly believed that the Everglades was a meandering, worthless swamp that should be drained. Of course we now know that there is no other place on earth like the Everglades, and there is great treasure in the abundance of endemic plants and animal species found there. (Miami is my home and I will forever be amazed by the wildlife of the Everglades.) What I admire even more about Douglas than her dedication to the environment is that before 1920, she helped pass laws in Miami to make it mandatory that poor black families had toilets and bathtubs in their homes, and she also set up a fund to provide milk to babies whose families could not afford to by it.

DSC_0216© Debbie Glade

A photo I took in Everglades National Park on a hike in February, 2013

In addition to the featured environmentalists in the book, there are many side stories about other influential and fascinating people as well as 21 fantastic activities for kids to try.  From building a compost pile and journaling like Thoreau to making an organic bird feeder and turning salt water into drinking water (by use of the sun), young readers will delight in trying these activities. The last chapter of the book is entitled, “Where Do We Go From Here?” Author McCarthy touches upon the most pressing environmental issues of our time – global warming, deforestation and pollution. There are also many valuable resources in the back of the book.

Friends of the Earth is the highest quality educational book, one that just may inspire a young person to put his or her environmental concerns into action and pursue a quest to help save our precious planet. Not only is it the perfect resource for celebrating Earth Day, but it is ideal for any day, because we should all be Friends of The Earth and make every day Earth Day.

Not an Exact Science

9781423624554_p0_v1_s260x420A Young Scientist’s Guide to Faulty Freaks of Nature ($14.99, Gibbs Smith Publishing, Ages 9 and up)) is not like most science books you’ve seen for kids. This particular book teaches children that scientists do make mistakes, that we can all learn from them, and  that in fact some are actually very interesting indeed!

The book starts with a little bit of cheeky humor, which just made me want to dive in and read more. There are four chapters including Fascinating and Fearful Discoveries, Catastrophic Chemicals, Agricultural Fiascoes and Man Versus Nature. Each of these chapters has pages with different topics, many with titles so catchy that you cannot wait to read them. Try these on for size: Neanderthal, Not a Dumb Brute After All, The Worst Scientist in the Word Ever, A Poop and a Pee Makes Nice Coffee and Attack of the Blob – Seriously Slimy Sea Snot.

Okay, I know you’re dying to know about the Poop and a Pee topic, so I’ll give you a hint: It’s all about animal poop and their “uses,” and yes, it’s a bit gross and a lot funny. There’s even a poop bomb in that explanation.

Throughout the book are directions to 20 fun science projects kids can do at home like Make Your Own Sea Snot and Make Disappearing Messages. These activities are each followed by Science Factoids that essentially explain why the experiments works. There are also some simple, fun illustrations by Andrew Brozyna and so much fascinating scientific information.

What I love most about this book is the writing style of author James Doyle. He has a clever way of writing with great humor while also truly educating readers about scientific facts they will not likely learn in school.  It’s wonderful that he touches upon the mistakes of past scientists, because mistakes are all a part of the learning process. It teaches young readers that it’s better to try and make an error than it is to do nothing. (Even Einstein made an error in one of his theories.) Another excellent aspect of this book is that basically every type of science is touched upon from chemistry and biology to physics and geology plus everything in between. Doyle is actually a geography teacher at a college in Belfast, Ireland and obviously is a very curious and knowledgeable nerd with a terrific sense of humor – and I mean that in the best possible way. I bet he’s an awesome teacher!

In the back of the book you’ll find websites and books for kids to check out to learn more. This will come in handy because after reading this fun science book, I’m sure your child will be even more curious about science and will want to read more. As I’ve said so many times before, we need more scientists in the world. Getting kids interested from a young age is the best way to ensure we’ll lure them in.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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