October 30, 2015

Saving bats

The Bat Scientists
by Mary Kay Carson
photographs by Tom Uhlman

Dr. Merlin Tuttle, the founder of Bat Conservation International, has dedicated his life to saving this misunderstood mammal. Bats are often thought to be disease-carrying, scary creatures that get into your hair and suck your blood. In reality, most bats do not have rabies, fly too well to ever get close to humans, and use their tongues to lap up blood (which they usually take from animals like cattle). Bats actually play an important role in controlling insects, pollinating plants, and regrowing forests. 

The many photographs of bats flying, roosting, or being held are fascinating, revealing an animal that actually looks rather cute. Meanwhile the work of Tuttle and his fellow scientists is engagingly told. Bats are threatened not only by the mysterious White-nose syndrome, but by human encroachment, wind turbines, and loss of natural roosts. The work of bat scientists mean better understanding of bats and ways to save them by gating caves, building roosts, and turning abandoned mines into bat sanctuaries.

Readers of this book will come away with an appreciation of bats and a drive to ensure their survival. Highly recommended.

October 28, 2015

Bat physiology

Outside And Inside Bats
by Sandra Markle

Markle's Outside and Inside series - other titles include spiders, birds, sharks, snakes, alligators, and more - take kids right inside animals' bodies to figure out how they work. With bats, she explores the intricacies of flight and how bat wings function, how their senses enable them to find specific foods, how they digest their meals (with accompanying gross photographs), and how they raise their young.

Clearly written and well-thought out, this is a good book for kid scientists who are interested in skeletons and other inner workings.

October 26, 2015


For children who are curious about bats, here are a couple of titles that'll whet their appetites.

by Adrienne Mason
illustrated by Nancy Gray Ogle

The simple text and excellent pictures make this an ideal introductory book.

The Life Cycle of a Bat
by Rebecca Sjonger & Bobbie Kalman

This book is a bit wordier and the contents could use some tweaking - Making babies is after Nursery colonies, Bat pups, and Growing up - but it provides good information in an easy-to-understand way. Kids will enjoy the colour photographs.

October 23, 2015

Witchy artifacts

Witches & Magic-Makers
by Douglas Hill

Just in time for Hallowe'en, this book is packed with pictures of magical amulets and talismans from around the world that could enhance the usual witch or wizard costume. A few facts and figures are thrown in for context, though the tiny print is easily glossed over. The busy pages make this an ideal book to dip into now and again and in any order. Good for Harry Potter fans.

October 21, 2015

A torrent of evil

Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem
by Rosalyn Schanzer

The New England Puritans believed in two worlds: the Natural World they could see or feel and the Invisible World of shadows of phantoms. So it wasn't a stretch to believe that witches were to blame for the mysterious illness that swept through Salem. 

Rosalyn Schanzer's unembellished account of the hysteria that followed is chilling. She incorporates actual courtroom testimonies that are so far-fetched as to be unbelievable. That the so-called judges could condemn so many innocents on hearsay alone is terrifying and unconscionable. A final chapter of what happened next is a sobering look at the cost of the unjustly accused.

It's a vivid story come to life with Schanzer's black and white scratchboard illustrations. Accented with red highlights, they add an appropriate sinister air.

Highly recommended.

October 19, 2015

What really happened in Salem?

The Salem Witch Trials: An Unsolved Mystery from History
by Jane Yolen and Heidi Elisabet Yolen Stemple

The book begins with a short introduction narrated by a young girl. She wants to be a detective like her father. They're interested in historic unsolved mysteries and the Salem witch trials is one of them. The trials took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. A number of girls fell ill and no one knew why. A local doctor declared them bewitched. In the hysteria that followed, over one hundred people, mainly women, had been declared witches and nineteen were hanged.

The story's layout is similar to that of a free-verse poem. This structure ensures that the basic facts are simply related. Historical context is provided in a separate text box, designed to look like pages from a detective's notebook. Other boxes act as a glossary which define key words used in both story and notes. The book ends with five possible hypotheses to explain the mystery, leaving readers to draw their own conclusions.

An interesting way to teach history and to spark investigative research. Don't overlook the bibliography, which is included on the title page. The pictures are good too.

October 16, 2015

Time to vote

Canada Votes: How We Elect Our Government
by Linda Granfield

Election day is coming up and soon we'll be off to the polling stations, sometimes with kids in tow. If your children are less than interested in the voting process, Linda Granfield's book will help. Canada Votes is an entertaining look at elections - when they're called and by whom, who can vote, who can run, and what happens after polling stations close. There's even interesting information about voter discrimination, election fraud, and the nomination process, with a bit of history thrown in. Cartoon illustrations (by Craig Terlson) add a funny, light-hearted touch. 

October 14, 2015

Canadian government

Who Runs this Country, Anyway?
by Joanne Stanbridge
revised by Elizabeth MacLeod

A positive review of this book was posted previously (http://inquisitive-kids.blogspot.ca/2013/03/making-government-non-boring.html). An updated version is now available which takes into account the Idle No More movement, the Fair Elections Act, and the shooting on Parliament Hill in 2014. 

Canada Close Up: Canadian Government
by Elizabeth MacLeod

This is a good introductory book that'll give kids basic information about how government works. The large font and short length (57 pages) makes it a quick, educational read. Good for primary grades.

October 12, 2015

Kids' guide to politics

The Art of the Possible: An Everyday Guide to Politics
by Edward Keenan

In clear, concise, conversational prose, Edward Keenan shows kids how political decisions are made and how politicians use rhetorics (arguments and debates) to influence voters. He explains the pros and cons of conflict, the danger of bias and polarization, and the different ideologies that make up political parties (left-wing, right-wing, etc). He uses case studies to further clarify his points, providing kids with a clear-eyed view of how government works or doesn't work. It'll help them make sense of the often confusing political process and may just spur them to become active citizens. After all, children are most affected by political decisions. Maybe it's time to give them the vote.

October 9, 2015

Unbelievable true story

On Two Feet and Wings
by Abbas Kazerooni

At just nine-years-old, Abbas is forced to flee Tehran when the Iranian army lowers the recruitment age to eight. His father had arranged for both Abbas and his mother to fly to Istanbul, but his mother is prevented from leaving. So his father tells Abbas to continue on his own, making further arrangements for someone to care for him. But on arrival in Istanbul, Abbas was abandoned in the airport with a list of hotels. Abbas has no choice but to fend for himself in a country where he knows no one and does not speak the language.

It is incredible that Abbas managed to survive in circumstances that even an adult would find challenging. Abbas was scared, lonely and sad, but he was also smart, resourceful, and precocious, with an entrepreneurial spirit that served him well. He was able to earn money for food and lodging and, following his father's instructions, apply for a visa to England. Abbas was fortunate to be helped by caring strangers; most had great empathy for a child alone. Their kindnesses stand in stark contrast to the seeming heartlessness of Abbas' father. In their phone conversations, his father was often angry, demanding, and controlling in not letting Abbas speak to his mother. That Abbas so wanted to make his father proud is often painful to hear. Abbas' joy in getting his visa is wonderful to read, but tempered in the epilogue, which mentions further hardships he was forced to endure. Readers are left with lingering questions: did he reunite with his parents? what happened in England? Another book about his life would be welcomed with interest. For now, Abbas' memoir is an unbelievable story filled with courage and resilience.

Highly recommended.

October 7, 2015

Boy gets new leg

Hamzat's Journey: A Refugee Diary
by Anthony Robinson

Hamzat was a young boy who lost a leg during the Chechnya-Russia war in 2001. Through a relief organization, he was able to travel to England to receive an artificial leg. He and his family were later granted asylum there.

Hamzat's words are simple and straightforward, giving readers a glimpse of life during war. But his story is strangely unemotional, and events unfold very smoothly. It gives the impression that hardships are easily overcome. Not all refugees have Hamzat's good fortune so this should not be the only book one should read about the refugee situation.

October 5, 2015

War damage

Children of War
by Deborah Ellis

This book, published in 2009, is a collection of interviews Ellis conducted with Iraqi children and teens - victims of the ongoing Iraq war. Most of them were living in Jordan, where their parents worked illegally or were unemployed, or where they awaited immigration visas to the United States or Canada. Their stories are bleak and incredibly sad, filled as they are with heart-wrenching sights and no hope for the future. 

This book is not for everyone, but those who read it will come away with deep thankfulness for living in a country without war, and hopefully, with a sense of compassion for all refugees everywhere.

October 2, 2015

Living a non-religious life

What If I'm an Atheist? A Teen's Guide to Exploring a Life Without Religion
by David Seidman

Talking about religion is hard; even harder if you're contemplating atheism, especially as a teenager. Reaction to nonbelievers can be negative and hostile. Seidman's book is helpful in explaining what atheism actually means and whether or not it's safe to speak out. He offers advice on how to broach the topic and how to handle arguments for religion from parents and others who challenge your belief. Seidman maintains a calm, sympathetic tone throughout, backed by copious research and interviews with atheist and religious teens. Straightforward and open-minded, his book is a good resource for anyone seeking answers to a life without religion.