Planet Hunter: At the Frontier of Space Research

Have you ever wanted to visit the laboratory of a ground-breaking research scientist? Now you can, because Planet Hunter: Geoff Marcy and the Search for Other Earths by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein will allow you to feel like you are standing right next to Dr. Geoff Marcy in his quest to find extrasolar planets (planets that revolve around stars other than our sun).planet hunter

Vicki Wittenstein begins by taking us to the site of the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii. The telescopes are on a mountain so high that it rises above the clouds. The temperatures are below freezing, even in the summer, and getting to the telescopes is treacherous because of the narrow icy roads and high altitude (The author had to have an oxygen supply to visit.) Who knew that astronomy could be dangerous?

Once we’ve met Dr. Marcy and his team, the author explains carefully and clearly how to go about looking for planets orbiting around far away stars. The planets themselves are not visible because they do not reflect enough light to be detected by a telescope. Dr. Marcy uses a spectrometer to look for evidence that a star is wobbling. Stars wobble when gravity from nearby planets is tugging on them. Gathering data to establish the presence of a single planet can require years and years of tedious work. Dr. Marcy and his team have been successful, however, and have discovered half the extrasolar planets now known.

Can you imagine what it must be like to find a planet revolving around a far away star? What are the planet’s characteristics? Is it able to support life? How many extrasolar planets are out there? These are the kinds of difficult and exciting questions Dr. Marcy pursues.

This book is filled with gorgeous full-color photographs and illustrations. The “To Learn More” section at the end contains plenty of additional sources of information, as well as an extensive and helpful glossary to explain all the terminology used.

Planet Hunter is sure to thrill children interested in science and particularly those enamored with space and astronomy. It covers such a unique and contemporary topic (the first planets outside our solar system were found in 1992). Although listed as middle grade, this book is also appropriate for high school and adults who want to catch up on this area quickly, because of the high level of detail given.

For another review of Planet Hunter and suggested activities, see Simply Science.

Growing With Science celebrates Planet Hunter with related hands-on activities for children.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Boyds Mills Press (March 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1590785924
ISBN-13: 978-1590785928

Book was provided by author.

Cloud Forest Insects

Hold onto your hats, you are about to enter the cloud forests of Central America. You will be traveling with scientist and adventurer Randall Barnes. Hope you brought your insect net, because you are going to be  hunting eight exotic and beautiful insects. You need to bring back specimens for an exhibit at the museum, so keep a sharp lookout. field-guide-to-Insects

That’s the exciting feel of The Field Guide to Insects: Explore the Cloud Forests by Paul Beck. With a glorious mix of photographs and colorful illustrations, each page has the look of a nature journal written in the field. The cover is textured to make it feel worn. You can almost smell the dampness and hear the monkeys screeching.

Even better, each page is full of amazing facts to read about each insect. That is, to read if you can keep from opening the enticing pouches attached to the pages. Inside each pouch is a model insect to assemble. I have to admit my son had those open in a flash and we had the diorama in the back all set up before reading the rest. The models are excellent for kinesthetic and visual learners. Both will be highly engaged by this book. The most reluctant reader you know will not be able to put this book down, if they are at all interested in nature or adventure.

The Field Guide to Insects: Explore the Cloud Forests is coming out this summer, and would be perfect for one of those days when the kids say, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.” After making the models, setting up the diorama and reading, they are sure to be inspired to go on their own bug hunts and to make their own nature journal. The book is so filled with creativity and imagination, it is guaranteed to stimulate all sorts of stories and projects.

I already had found and loved Tarantulas Inside and Out, published by SilverDolphin. Now I have seen this one, I am totally enamored with their books. They are absolutely wonderful!

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Silver Dolphin Books (June 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1607100932
ISBN-13: 978-1607100935

Note:  Although Amazon lists the reading level as ages 4-8, the book says it is for ages 8 and up, which would  a better estimation. I would say that assembling the models does require a certain amount of fine motor skill and those younger than 8 would probably need assistance from an adult. The author is not afraid to use advanced entomological terms, either.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Check It Out.

Into the Deep with William Beebe

The first thing you notice about the reviews of Into the Deep: The Life of Naturalist and Explorer William Beebe by David Sheldon is that they are all about William Beebe. David Sheldon has done such a great job of presenting his subject that details of the book are in the background. William Beebe is the star from page one.

into-the-deep

And what an exciting star he is. A naturalist, explorer and prolific writer, William Beebe accomplished a great deal in his lifetime. Although called Into the Deep in reference to Beebe’s record breaking descent into the ocean in the pioneering Bathysphere, the story actually covers Beebe’s entire life. Beebe explored nature around his home and made collections as a child. He even had an owl for a pet. Later he traveled around the world, first on collecting expeditions and later to study animals in their natural habitat. After his retirement, he founded a research station in Trinidad. He was a man of many hats, being a naturalist, pioneer in the field of ecology, explorer of ocean depths, and an ardent conservationist. To paraphrase David Sheldon, William Beebe did what many of us only dream about (after all, who gets to have an owl as a pet?)

As for the book, you have to admire people who are more than capable as authors and illustrators, too. David Sheldon has done a lovely job capturing both the exotic animals Beebe encounters and the look of wonder and joy on Beebe’s face. At the end is a “Diving Deeper into the Story” section with more details of Beebe’s life and quotes from his books. A glossary and list of resources are also included, making this book a very useful reference as well as an interesting biography.

I didn’t know much about William Beebe before reading Into the Deep. Now I can’t wait to find Beebe’s books listed in the “Resources” and read more about his adventures.

If you are interested in some ocean-inspired activities, try my Growing With Science blog.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing; New edition (July 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1580893414
ISBN-13: 978-1580893411

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post is at Playing by the Book.

Look to the Stars

Several children’s books have been released to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the flight of Apollo 11. Look to the Stars by Buzz Aldrin and Wendell Minor (Illustrator) is remarkable because it is much more than merely an account by the second human being to touch the surface of the moon. Dr. Aldrin shows us how this incredible accomplishment is part of a long history of discoveries and advancements, and how it may lead to many more new things in the future. In fact, he spends relatively little time on the Apollo 11 mission, given his giant part in it. When he does mention it, he humbly thanks all the nearly 400,000 others that worked to make the project possible. Here is a man who understands his place in history.

Look-to-the-stars

I admit I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Look to the Stars. Even though it was a New York Times bestseller, it hasn’t gotten as much ‘buzz” (sorry) as some of the others on the same topic. Once I had read it, however, I was hooked. Yes, Buzz Aldrin is a “celebrity,” but he has still done a good job keeping the information relevant and exciting to children. The quotes on every page and the phases of the moon over the page numbers let us know that extra thought was put into the details of this book. The illustrations are perfect, such as a view of a future child space tourist looking back over the surface of the moon towards a vibrant blue earth in the distance. The personal touches, such as putting his wedding day on the fascinating time line in the back of the book, made me smile.

Although recommended for ages 4-8, I would say that this picture book would definitely be appealing to older children as well. Pick up a copy and go on your own personal journey into space.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 14, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0399247211
ISBN-13: 978-0399247217

nonfictionmonday

Nonfiction Monday is a blogging celebration of nonfiction books for kids. For more information, stop by Picture Book of the Day. This week’s post also happens to be at Picture Book of the Day.