March 30, 2015

Medical detectives

The Secret of the Yellow Death: A True Story of Medical Sleuthing
by Suzanne Jurmain

Yellow fever was an incurable disease that ravaged American and Cuban communities throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Many U.S. soldiers contracted the disease during and after the Spanish-American war. In May 1900, four American doctors and a Cuban doctor were tasked with finding out the cause of yellow fever and how to prevent it.

Short suspenseful chapters detail the doctors' investigations and experiments as they tested three hypotheses: was yellow fever caused by a bacteria, from contact with infected clothing or bedding, or from the bite of a mosquito? Human volunteers were needed. Each volunteer signed a consent form which described the risks and payments. This was the earliest recorded instance of informed consent and served as a prime example of medical ethics in practice.

Clearly written and well-researched, this is an excellent detective story for middle grade and high school readers.

March 27, 2015

Olive oil effective treatment for head lice

Head Lice
by Elise Gravel

A funny take on a not-so-funny insect, Gravel's book is amusing if a little short on fact.

Head Lice To Dead Lice
by Joan Sawyer and Roberta MacPhee

Get rid of lice permanently with this handy guidebook. Sawyer and MacPhee reassure parents with their matter-of-fact tone and gentle humour. They start with a personal story (Sawyer's) about a family's lice battle and a brief history of head lice and the often dubious folk remedies used to combat them. They then detail the dangers of using pediculicides (insecticidal shampoos, rinses, etc) on children and suggest a far less harmful alternative, olive oil. Olive oil works by smothering lice and making them easier to comb out. By following Sawyer and MacPhee's olive oil treatment plan and their sensible home cleaning advice, families can successfully get rid of head lice with a minimum of stress.

A must-have for every family.

March 25, 2015

Zombie-making parasites!

Zombie Makers: True Stories of Nature's Undead
by Rebecca L. Johnson

Fungi that feed on organs and tissue, worms that make crickets drown themselves, wasp larvae that turn caterpillars into zombie bodyguards - these are some of the horrific parasites that can take over the bodies and brains of unsuspecting creatures. The icky stories are supplemented with wonderfully gross photos that will enthrall kids and teens alike. Included are scientific backgrounds that explain how the parasites do what they do and why. The book ends ominously with T. gondii, with which many humans are infected. 

A deliciously scary read.

What's Eating You? Parasites -- The Inside Story
by Nicola Davies
illustrated by Neal Layton

The cartoon parasites in Davies' book are so cute and friendly-looking, you may want to keep them as pets. While she does mention some unpleasant facts, her presentation tones down the grossness factor which will appeal to more sensitive readers. She also describes ways that animals deal with parasites, extols the strength of our immune system, and ends on a reassuringly upbeat note.

A funny and cheerful book.

March 23, 2015

Spider webs

The Spider
by Elise Gravel

A comical look at spiders, with silly quips and cartoon pictures. It helps in portraying spiders as generally friendly creatures that should not be feared. Kids may even learn a few facts as they read.

Spiders and Their Webs
by Darlyne A. Murawski

Published by National Geographic, this is a close-up examination of nine types of spiders and the webs they build. Large colour photos are accompanied by spider facts such as body size, habitat, and food, while the main text describes web construction and how spiders capture and eat prey. Murawski even shows kids how to make spider webs more visible and includes anecdotes about her photographic adventures.

Good for ages 6-8.

March 20, 2015

Sumi, a coho salmon

Salmon Creek
by Annette LeBox and Karen Reczuch

Sumi's story begins as a memory of hearing her salmon mother's song about home and a journey to the sea. So when Sumi is born, she recognizes her birth creek and then, as she grows a bit older, the scent of salt water. 

With poetic text that moves seamlessly from free verse to rhyme, we follow Sumi the coho salmon from her birth in fresh water to her life in sea, before the final journey back to lay eggs and begin the cycle anew.

A sympathetic story and vibrant pictures turn this book into a plea for salmon conservation that children will readily embrace.

March 18, 2015

The fish that changed the world

The Cod's Tale
by Mark Kurlansky
illustrated by S.D. Schindler

The Atlantic cod was once an abundant fish. A voracious eater, it was very easy to catch and thus became a staple at tables everywhere. It was cod that sustained the Vikings, the Basques, and the European explorers. The Pilgrims survived on cod, as did African slaves (who made do with poor quality salted cod), the American Revolution was fought partly because of cod, and frozen cod became popular as fish sticks.

Presented in an easy-to-read picture book format, Kurlansky's story is enlivened with fun illustrations, dubious recipes, and a helpful timeline running through key pages of text. He ends with an important question: what will happen ... if there are no more fish? For answers, read Kurlansky's excellent book World Without Fish.

Highly recommended.

March 16, 2015

Ancient fish

Tale of a Great White Fish: A Sturgeon Story
by Maggie de Vries
illustrated by Renné Benoit

Sturgeon have lived in Earth's waters since the time of the dinosaurs. Maggie de Vries tells the story of one white sturgeon as she grows, spawns, and hunts for food along British Columbia's Fraser River. Along the way, she contends with predators, rock slides, hooks, nets, and the draining of her home lake. The quietly dramatic story is enhanced with equally dramatic watercolours of the big fish and her surroundings. Also of note is the passing of years, effectively conveyed by three key statistics - the sturgeon's age, length, and weight. Spanning nearly 200 years, a tiny fry grows into a 1,698-pound big fish nearly 20 feet long.

An interesting story, well-told.

March 13, 2015

Funny-looking birds

Weird Birds
by Chris Earley

Earley's photographs of weird and wonderful birds are perfect for browsers who enjoy flipping through pages of books. They're bound to be arrested by the blue-footed booby, the resplendent quetzal, the greater sage-grouse, the wattled jacana, and the tawny frogmouth. Short paragraphs describe interesting facts about each bird.

Quite fascinating.

March 11, 2015

A loon story

by Susan Vande Griek
pictures by Karen Reczuch

Griek's poetic text tells the story of two loon chicks as they grow into adulthood. More detailed information about loons are included in an end note. The wonderful paintings by Reczuch capture the loons in all their beauty.

Highly recommended.

March 9, 2015

Arctic birds

A Children's Guide to Arctic Birds
by Mia Pelletier
illustrated by Danny Christopher

There are nearly 200 species of birds that nest in the Arctic. This is a guide to twelve of them: the thick-billed murre, arctic tern, red phalarope, common eider, long-tailed duck, tundra swan, gyrfalcon, snowy owl, common raven, rock ptarmigan, red-throated loon, and snow bunting. Each double-page spread reveals a dramatic picture, the bird's Inuktitut name, its length and wingspan, its nesting location, its prey, and its song. Also included is a description of nesting materials, the number of eggs the bird usually lays, what the chick looks like, where the bird spends the winter, and an interesting feathered fact. Two very helpful pages show pictures of the different eggs and a bird size comparison picture.

Well-organized, clearly written, with a nice, clean layout and attractive cover. A useful and appealing book.

March 6, 2015

Self-taught artist

Hokusai: The Man Who Painted a Mountain
by Deborah Kogan Ray

Hokusai was a prolific Japanese artist whose work transcended ancient notions of class and tradition. Deborah Kogan Ray illustrates her biography of Hokusai with her own richly coloured paintings. 

Good for ages 9 and up, Ray's book also provides an interesting peek at early Japanese history.