The Acadia Files, Book Four, Spring Science by Katie Coppens

Illustrated by Holly Hatam and Ana Ochoa

Tilbury House Publishers, Thomaston, Maine, 2020.

Acadia is a kid who loves science. She’s full of questions and eager to learn their answers. She seeks answers through conversations with her scientist parents and through her own research both in the field and online. Each chapter includes a section of Acadia’s science journal with her findings from her explorations, experiments, and research, vocabulary words that relate to the chapter, and further related questions Acadia has. These sections are packed with information, charmingly illustrated, and show great examples of lab reports following the scientific method, a field journal, and ways to organize information such as a point graph and a timeline.

It’s not always a good idea to start a book series with the last book in the series. It can be confusing and sometimes annoying when the author doesn’t do a good job of explaining references from previous books, so a reader takes a risk. But this book landed in my review pile this week. It was seasonally appropriate—I read it on Earth Day, and looked appealing, so I decided to give it a go. I wasn’t disappointed by starting last. The characters are quite straightforward, as it’s primarily a book about science concepts, so there’s little catching up to do there. The references to the other books provide enough information that you could understand it’s a reference to an earlier book, and many are interesting enough to encourage readers to seek out the story behind the information referenced. That’s great, because as these books have seasonal themes, kids will probably choose to read them season by season rather than in order.

Filled with great information about meteor showers; reawakening plants and animals; ticks, mosquitoes and parasites; Earth Day and pesticides; this book will capture the attention of eager science learners. The charming illustrations make the information very accessible to late elementary school and middle school kids. It’s also easy to see this book used in the classroom or a home school environment. Acadia’s science journal provides a great model for students to use when performing their own experiments, recording their observations in the field, researching, or collecting data.

I received an electronic copy of The Acadia Files, Book Four, Spring Science in exchange for an honest review.

Hidden City Poems of Urban Wildlife

Hidden City

Written by Sarah Grace Tuttle

Illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford

Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2018.

I grew up in the woods with the summer sounds of wood thrushes and katydids lulling me to sleep each night. In spring, we searched the woods for Indian pipes, Dutchman’s breeches, and lady slippers. The squirrels and songbirds joined us at meals at our picnic table among the trees. Despite all this, I was thrilled to move right into Boston when I was a teenager, and I’ve never wanted to be too far from that city since. But in the years I raised my young children, I despaired of giving them the kind of connection to nature that was so easy to nurture in the woods. I wish I had had a copy of Hidden City when they were small.

Sarah Tuttle’s poems evoke the rhythms, sounds, and behaviors of the wildlife tucked in and around a city landscape. Tuttle’s love and knowledge of wildlife and ecology sings through with information artfully included in each poem to help children and their parents know where to look for wildlife and learn more about each species. The poems focus on the everyday sightings of pigeons, sparrows, and dandelions and the more unusual: raccoons at night, snakes in the vacant lot, red-winged blackbirds in the marsh by the railroad track. These rich poems will spark interest—and questions. A rich double-page spread of end notes provides both more information and a list of resources for families wanting to learn more.

Tuttle’s beautiful poems are beautifully paired with artist Amy Schimler-Safford’s colorful artwork. The pictures are not only inviting, but also fun and informative. Many of the pictures have wildlife hidden here and there for eager readers to find. Who wouldn’t want to dive into these appealing pictures to find the dragonfly among the cattails, count the snails at night, or imagine the mouse’s warm paper nest?

To be fair, I must disclose that Sarah Tuttle is a critique partner of mine, so I have known and loved these poems for some time. I will be buying this book for my home library and sharing it with families I know. Even if you don’t know her, if you are raising or teaching children in a city environment, you will want a copy of this book to read and study and to encourage your family to go out and discover the wildlife in your neighborhood.

I received an advance reader copy of Hidden City courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass

mango-shaped-space

Recorded Books, 2007.

Mia Winchell is a middle schooler with a secret: for her, everything has a color as well as a shape or a sound. Until third grade Mia thought everyone saw things that way, but when she tried to explain it in math class everyone laughed at her and her teacher thought she was lying. Since then, she’s kept her secret to herself. But one day in the grocery store Mia meets a little boy who also sees colors for words. Their meeting emboldens Mia to confess her secret to her parents. The confession isn’t easy, and it takes them some time to understand.

It’s been a tough year for Mia. Her grandfather’s death had her whole family, and especially Mia, mourning. Now she has to deal with reinterpreting who she is as someone with a condition named synesthesia. Will she be able to mesh who she once was with who she is now?

I listened to A Mango-Shaped Space as an audio book expertly read by Danielle Ferland. Though I was enjoying the story and fascinated by the details of synesthesia, a condition artists like Van Gogh and Rachmaninoff also had, I must admit that I considered not finishing the book at a point about halfway through. The synesthesia had been explained, and the plot was spiraling toward both inevitable bad decisions of adolescence and difficult facts of life. Though I took a break from the story, I couldn’t resist finishing it, and I’m glad I did. Not all of the terrible things I was anticipating came to pass, and the story wraps up in a place of warmth and love that left me feeling buoyed rather than sad.

This book has so many points that readers can connect to. It’s rich in details of neuroscience, personal relationships between classmates and family members, death and grieving. This would make a great addition to a classroom or school library.

I listened to A Mango-Shaped Space as an audio book from my local library.

DNA Detective by Tanya Lloyd Kyi, Lil Crump

Annick Press, 2015.

A middle-grade nonfiction book, DNA Detective tells the fascinating story of how scientists unraveled the mystery of DNA over the years. The text moves chronologically and from scientist to scientist as they advance the theories of how humans, animals, plants, and cells are created. The story is presented in a way that is both clear and interesting.

With such a complex scientific topic, I expected to find this book either hard going or far too simplistic for middle graders, but I was very pleasantly surprised. Tanya Lloyd Kyi laid out the stories and the science in a very engaging and understandable manner. I think kids interested in science would be very interested to read this book.

My largest problem with the book was that once introduced, the scientists were called only by first names. I don’t blame the author or publisher for this–I think it is the current convention for children’s books–but this middle-aged reader had trouble keeping track of Charles and Gregor and would have had an easier time with Darwin and Mendel.

This book would make a great addition to classroom, school, and public libraries and a great gift for inquisitive kids.

I read DNA Detective as a digital advance reader copy courtesy of  Annick Press and NetGalley.