An engaging, entertaining compendium that will inform and confound.

IT'S ALIVE!

From the Two Truths and a Lie series

With “fake news” now such a prominent topic of conversation, a book that asks readers to separate bizarre but true stories about nature from fake ones is quite timely.

This is the first of a series that presents Ripley’s Believe It or Not–type true stories about the natural world alongside Barnum-esque fabrications and challenges readers to discern the real from the fake. Two out of every three stories are completely true, and one is an outright lie. Some false stories are based on fact, and others are complete imagination. All the stories are accompanied by color photos, maps, and illustrations. Some of the strange but true subjects include fungus-infected zombie ants, book scorpions, and a chicken named Mike that lived for several years after being beheaded. The fabrications include a walking moss that feeds off decomposing animals, the worm-size African threadsnake that lives in the ears of wild dogs and consumes earwax, and the Amazon “megaconda.” Unlike the bogus tree octopuses that supposedly inhabit trees in the Pacific Northwest, most of these invented phenomena are convincing and difficult to separate from the real. It is up to readers to sort out the fakes from the facts. Sound advice is given on how to seek and evaluate information online, and, for the impatient, the fakes are revealed in an appendix.

An engaging, entertaining compendium that will inform and confound. (photos, maps, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: June 27, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-241879-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2017

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Pretty but insubstantial.

THE BIG BOOK OF BIRDS

Zommer surveys various bird species from around the world in this oversized (almost 14 inches tall tall) volume.

While exuberantly presented, the information is not uniformly expressed from bird to bird, which in the best cases will lead readers to seek out additional information and in the worst cases will lead to frustration. For example, on spreads that feature multiple species, the birds are not labeled. This happens again later when the author presents facts about eggs: Readers learn about camouflaged eggs, but the specific eggs are not identified, making further study extremely difficult. Other facts are misleading: A spread on “city birds” informs readers that “peregrine falcons nest on skyscrapers in New York City”—but they also nest in other large cities. In a sexist note, a peahen is identified as “unlucky” because she “has drab brown feathers” instead of flashy ones like the peacock’s. Illustrations are colorful and mostly identifiable but stylized; Zommer depicts his birds with both eyes visible at all times, even when the bird is in profile. The primary audience for the book appears to be British, as some spreads focus on European birds over their North American counterparts, such as the mute swan versus the trumpeter swan and the European robin versus the American robin. The backmatter, a seven-word glossary and an index, doesn’t provide readers with much support.

Pretty but insubstantial. (Nonfiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: June 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-500-65151-3

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care.

OIL

In 1977, the oil carrier Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of oil into a formerly pristine Alaskan ocean inlet, killing millions of birds, animals, and fish. Despite a cleanup, crude oil is still there.

The Winters foretold the destructive powers of the atomic bomb allusively in The Secret Project (2017), leaving the actuality to the backmatter. They make no such accommodations to young audiences in this disturbing book. From the dark front cover, on which oily blobs conceal a seabird, to the rescuer’s sad face on the back, the mother-son team emphasizes the disaster. A relatively easy-to-read and poetically heightened text introduces the situation. Oil is pumped from the Earth “all day long, all night long, / day after day, year after year” in “what had been unspoiled land, home to Native people // and thousands of caribou.” The scale of extraction is huge: There’s “a giant pipeline” leading to “enormous ships.” Then, crash. Rivers of oil gush out over three full-bleed wordless pages. Subsequent scenes show rocks, seabirds, and sea otters covered with oil. Finally, 30 years later, animals have returned to a cheerful scene. “But if you lift a rock… // oil / seeps / up.” For an adult reader, this is heartbreaking. How much more difficult might this be for an animal-loving child?

Like oil itself, this is a book that needs to be handled with special care. (author’s note, further reading) (Informational picture book. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-3077-8

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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