Cybils Nonfiction 2014: Chasing Cheetahs

What list of children’s nonfiction books is complete without a few titles from the venerable Scientists in the Field series? Chasing Cheetahs: The Race to Save Africa’s Fastest Cat (Scientists in the Field Series), by the Sibert award winning duo Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop, is a nominee for the 2014 Cybils Award.

Chasing Cheetahs follows Dr. Lauren Marker and her colleagues and students as they work with cheetahs in Namibia. Sadly, the numbers of cheetahs have fallen from 100,000 in 1900 to fewer than 10,000 now. To help spread the word and to do something concrete to prevent cheetahs from going extinct, Dr. Marker has started the Cheetah Conservation Fund. This organization not only rescues injured and orphaned cheetahs, but also helps educate and work with the local farmers who are the most consistent threat to cheetah survival.

It becomes apparent that Dr. Marker is a special person when she talks to a farmer who has killed a mother cheetah, leaving orphaned babies. Instead of being angry or blaming, she asks him questions about why he killed the cheetah. The insights she gains allows her to help the farmers solve their problems and at the same time helps cheetahs. She begins training and donating special dogs that protect the farmers’ goats and encourage cheetahs to feed on the native wildlife that is their natural food, an innovative solution.

Sy Montgomery does a wonderful job of drawing the reader in and making the story compelling by adding mysteries, such as the activities of an elusive cheetah called Hi-Fi. Nic Bishop’s photographs are fabulous, as always, capturing the beauty of the animals and the people who care about them.

The best part about the Scientists in the Field series is that it reveals the less glamorous side of science. In Chasing Cheetahs, the scientists collect cheetah poop and spend many hours in the lab analyzing it. Science isn’t all photo ops with gorgeous cheetahs!

The only thing that might have improved this particular book would have been an interview with one of the Namibian farmers, just for a bit of balance and to give the local perspective. The authors do visit a local classroom in the last chapter to show that the attitudes of the children are changing with exposure to new ideas.

Chasing Cheetahs is likely to inspire budding conservationists to do their bit to help conserve animals. As Dr. Marker says in her advice for saving the world at the end, “Don’t wait for ‘somebody’ to do it.” Each of us must act if endangered animals like the cheetah are to be saved from extinction.

Age Range: 10 – 14 years
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (April 1, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0547815492
ISBN-13: 978-0547815497

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