Review of Piper, by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg, illustrated by Jeff Stokely

January 22nd, 2018

Piper

by Jay Asher & Jessica Freeburg
illustrated by Jeff Stokely

Razorbill (Penguin Random House), 2017. 144 pages.
Starred Review

This gorgeous graphic novel turns the story of the Pied Piper of Hameln into a tragic romance.

It’s also a story of prejudice and greed – but with love rising above that. And we find out that the real story isn’t the one we’ve heard.

This version of the story features a deaf teen girl named Maggie who lives in Hameln with an old woman, something of an outcast. She can read lips and talks with the piper, a handsome teen himself. She learns his story, as no one else does.

Maggie enjoys writing stories with her caretaker, an old woman named Agathe. She writes the stories of the villagers the way they should be told.

Did the villagers deserve what they got from the Piper? What if the revenge the Piper took was different than the story we’ve heard?

This book is a quick read but a haunting and poignant tale. The ending especially will surprise you.

PenguinTeen.com

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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Sonderling Sunday – die Grollhütte

January 21st, 2018

It’s time for Sonderling Sunday! That time of the week when I play with language by looking at the German translation of children’s books.

Tonight it’s back to the especially Sonder-book, Der Orden der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, which is the translation of The Order of Odd-fish, by James Kennedy.

Last time, we left off on page 327, in Chapter 24, which is Seite 415, 24. Kapitel, auf Deutsch. The first sentence is a choice morsel to translate. (You’ll certainly want to know how to say this if you ever go to Germany!)

“It was time for the final ritual before the duel: a tea ceremony at the Grudge Hut in Snerdsmallow, in which Jo and Fiona were required to read hundred-line poems insulting each other.”

= Es wurde Zeit für das letzte Ritual vor dem Duell, die Teezeremonie in der Grollhütte in Gimpelgarten, wo Jo und Fiona sich gegenseitig ein jeweils hundert Zeilen langes Gedicht aus Beleidigungen vorlesen mussten.

“distant” = weitab

This is pretty close to a direct translation:
“You can’t just blow it off.”
= Du kannst die ganze Sache jetzt nicht einfach abblasen.
(“You can the whole thing now not simply blow off.”)

This one they had to explain:
“Jo’s head was pounding.”
= Jos Kopf pochte vor Schmerz.
(“Jo’s head throbbed with pain.”)

“Don’t mention it.” = Nicht der Rede wert. (“Not a speech worth”)

I like the way these are one word in German:
“disturbing the peace” = Ruhestörung

“bomb threats” = Bombendrohungen

“foul mood” = übellaunig

“fumed” = schäumte

“our most splendid finery” = unserem schönsten Putz

“showering” = überschwemmen

And surely you’d like to be able to say this in German!
“Behold the glamorous Odd-Fish butlers streaking across the firmament, thoughtfully distributing signed portraits to fans and collectors!”
= Seht dort die glorreichen Butler der Seltsamen Sonderlinge, die über das Firmament gleiten und umsichtigerweise signierte Porträts an Fans und Sammler verteilen!

A nice long word:
“sympathy” = Mitleidsbekundungen

“but he didn’t touch a hair on your head”
= doch er hat Ihnen nicht das kleinste Härchen gekrümmt

“asylum” = Irrenanstalt (“Error-institution”)

“vanity” = Eitelkeit

“society pages” = Klatschspalten

“moping” = schmollen

“spilled” = verschüttet

“sour and scraped-out” = wund und wie ausgekratzt an

“earshot” = Hörweite

And that’s all for tonight! I haven’t been writing Sonderling Sunday for awhile, but next week I’ll know what to tell myself: Du kannst die ganze Sache jetzt nicht einfach abblasen.

Bis bald!

Review of The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine, by Mark Twain and Philip Stead, with illustrations by Erin Stead

January 20th, 2018

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

by Mark Twain
and Philip Stead
with illustrations by Erin Stead

Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 2017. 152 pages.
Starred Review

Oh, this is such a lovely book! The story is based on 16 pages of notes discovered in Mark Twain’s papers. It was discovered by a researcher hoping to write a Twain cookbook – found because of the word “Oleomargarine.” Mark Twain House & Museum authorized Philip and Erin Stead to make a book from those notes, which were based on a story Mark Twain spun for his daughters at bedtime while in a Paris hotel.

The result is delightful. Philip Stead retained Mark Twain’s folksy style. He presents it as a conversation with Mark Twain – but where Mark Twain disappears right before the story ends. He includes some discussion between the two authors. Here’s a small example:

“How did she know she was a fairy?” I asked.

“Because,” answered Twain, “the woman in question was only four and a half inches tall. It was the scientific conclusion to make. Now, let’s try not to interrupt, shall we?”

The story turns out to be a gentle one – about a boy named Johnny who, through his kindness, receives the gift of understanding the speech of animals and gains a family of animal friends. The animal friends are observant and know what happened when Prince Oleomargarine disappeared, so they tell Johnny.

The story is presented in picture book format, with Erin Stead’s delicate woodcut illustrations on each spread, and many spreads with few words or no words at all. It’s a book to savor slowly and would make magnificent classroom reading or for reading aloud at bedtime for a sequence of nights (imitating the original creation of the story).

Okay, I was browsing through the book for the delightful language, and found a part I simply have to quote. This is supposedly what Mark Twain said to Philip Stead as he was relating the story, and is off on quite a tangent from the tale of Johnny. It started with a skunk who was the first to befriend Johnny.

“Of course,” he added, “I could have saved myself – and Johnny – from the silly prejudices of the unenlightened. I could have lied and said porcupine or kangaroo instead of skunk.

“But if I lie to you once, you will never trust me again. And if history is our guide, our entire undertaking will be lost –

“Napoleon,” he explained, “lied to his men at Waterloo. He said: We are going to have a great time! They did not.

“King Henry VIII lied to Anne Boleyn, and the whole thing caused nothing but headaches.

“There are other examples, too! –

“Consider George Washington. He made an awful stink about the nobleness of truth telling after the fact, but the sad reality is this – he looked that cherry tree in the face and told it: This won’t hurt a bit.

“History tells us these things. And we can trust history on the matter of lies because history is mostly lies, along with some exaggerations.”

Spend some time savoring this uplifting and ultimately very silly story.

Here are Twain’s notes: (Much better in this book form!)
http://admin.rhcbooks.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Twain-fragment.pdf

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Review of The Four Tendencies, by Gretchen Rubin

January 19th, 2018

The Four Tendencies

by Gretchen Rubin

Harmony Books, 2017. 257 pages.
Starred Review

The Four Tendencies is an interesting approach to motivation. It really does seem to work for me – though I’m the same tendency as the author. I was discussing it with friends on Facebook, and some think it’s a little too simplistic, but of course you’ll get more nuances if you read the book.

Here’s the basic idea: People are divided up by whether they meet or resist outer and inner expectations.

Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations.

Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond only to inner expectations.

Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations.

Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike.

Within this framework – which she definitely doesn’t claim is the last word on someone’s personality – she gives tips about how to motivate someone from that type.

I agree with the things she says about my tendency – an Upholder – but where the book is helpful is helping me see why what motivates me (“Just do it!”) doesn’t necessarily work on others. This book actually explains a lot about some things that went wrong in my interactions with my ex-husband, who I believe is the opposite type. And it sheds light on why the ways I tried to motivate my kids often didn’t work.

To identify our Tendency, we must consider many examples of our behavior and our reasons for our behaviors. For example, a Questioner and a Rebel might both reject an expectation, but the Questioner thinks, “I won’t do it because it doesn’t make sense,” while a Rebel thinks, “I won’t do it because you can’t tell me what to do.”

The main question this book is trying to answer is “How do I get people – including myself – to do what I want?” It’s a book about motivation.

Here’s a section from the first chapter:

Knowing other people’s Tendencies also makes it much easier to persuade them, to encourage them, and to avoid conflict. If we don’t consider a person’s Tendency, our words may be ineffective or even counterproductive. The fact is, if we want to communicate, we must speak the right language – not the message that would work most effectively with us, but the message that will persuade the listener. When we take into account the Four Tendencies, we can tailor our arguments to appeal to different values.

On the other hand, when we ignore the Tendencies, we lower our chances of success. The more an Upholder lectures a Rebel, the more the Rebel will want to resist. A Questioner may provide an Obliger with several sound reasons for taking an action, but those logical arguments don’t matter much to an Obliger; external accountability is the key for an Obliger.

The book isn’t long. It might give you some useful insights into motivating yourself or others. I think it’s worth a read, but the choice is yours. (There, maybe I’m learning – I didn’t order anyone to read it.)

gretchenrubin.com
harmonybooks.com

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Review of La Belle Sauvage, The Book of Dust, Volume One, by Philip Pullman

January 17th, 2018

La Belle Sauvage

The Book of Dust, Volume One

by Philip Pullman

Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 451 pages.

It’s no secret that Philip Pullman is a magnificent writer. His rich use of language, his astonishingly detailed, imaginative worlds are all marks of a master craftsman. So, yes, I was impressed by how well-written this book was.

But did I enjoy it? Not so much.

This surprised me. I enjoyed The Golden Compass and The Subtle Knife. (Not enough to want to read them again, but I did enjoy them.) In this book, I liked the character of Malcolm tremendously – but not really anyone else.

This book is a prequel to His Dark Materials. Lyra, who is a young girl in those books, is now a baby – and a baby with a prophecy about her, a baby who needs protection. In the majority of the book, Malcolm is trying to rescue baby Lyra from danger in his canoe, named La Belle Sauvage, riding over floodwaters, pursued by one of the most horrific villains imaginable.

You don’t have to read the first trilogy to enjoy this, since it is a prequel. (Knowing Lyra must make it does help make things a little less scary.) Maybe if I had reread the original trilogy I would have been ready for what seemed like out-of-place fantastical elements, including an encounter with faeries and traveling through some sort of mystical kingdom. I know it’s an alternate universe, but I had forgotten that they’re not really going with a scientific explanation of alternate universes, since the one Lyra’s in has lots of magic.

And I know – it’s magic – it’s an alternate universe – but this time the explanation of “Dust” as an “elementary particle” of a “Rusakov field” responsible for consciousness – seemed rather silly. That’s not really how elementary particles work. This Dust is also what makes the alethiometer magically answer questions. And that, too, seems a bit silly reading it afresh. If the author just called it “magic” and didn’t try to make it sound scientific, it would work better. (Ah! That’s the problem! When I read The Golden Compass, I just thought it was dealing with a world where magic existed, and I hadn’t read any pseudo-scientific explanation.)

All that aside, there’s a fair amount of coincidence. How does the monstrous villain keep following Malcolm? Now, to be fair, that particular coincidence simply makes the book all the more intensely frightening. But when the good guy happens upon Malcolm later, that seems a little more remarkable.

I liked that Malcolm wondered how baby Lyra’s daemon could know the shapes of various animals to take on that it hadn’t yet seen. I imagine someone complained about that in the first book, so now it’s something remarkable about Lyra’s daemon rather than an oversight by the author.

And I do love the daemons – an animal expression of a person’s soul that lives outside their body. Children’s daemons can change form at will, but adults’ daemons have a set form. An interesting thing is that no two people in the book have the same form for their daemons.

I never do like it when the Church is villainous, though I knew to expect it from the first trilogy. In this book, there’s an extra sinister effort to get children to turn in their parents to the forces of evil run by the Church.

All that said, La Belle Sauvage is an absorbing read. Philip Pullman’s world-building is full of intricate details and extremely atmospheric. You can see this by how the book begins:

Three miles up the river Thames from the center of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadow, there stood the Priory of Godstow, where the gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priory there was an inn called the Trout.

The inn was an old stone-built rambling, comfortable sort of place. There was a terrace above the river, where peacocks (one called Norman and the other called Barry) stalked among the drinkers, helping themselves to snacks without the slightest hesitation and occasionally lifting their heads to utter ferocious and meaningless screams. There was a saloon bar where the gentry, if college scholars count as gentry, took their ale and smoked their pipes; there was a public bar where watermen and farm laborers sat by the fire or played darts, or stood at the bar gossiping, or arguing, or simply getting quietly drunk; there was a kitchen where the landlord’s wife cooked a great joint every day, with a complicated arrangement of wheels and chains turning a spit over an open fire, and there was a potboy called Malcolm Polstead.

Malcolm was the landlord’s son, an only child. He was eleven years old, with an inquisitive, kindly disposition, a stocky build, and ginger hair. He went to Ulvercote Elementary School a mile away, and he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own, playing with his daemon, Asta, in their canoe, on which Malcolm had painted the name LA BELLE SAUVAGE.

Those that have read His Dark Materials will almost certainly want to read this. If you haven’t yet – you might prefer to start with that one since you can read all three books in succession and won’t be stymied by those annoying words that end this book: “To be continued . . .”

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Review of The Pink Umbrella, by Amélie Callot, pictures by Geneviève Godbout

January 16th, 2018

The Pink Umbrella

by Amélie Callot
pictures by Geneviève Godbout

Tundra Books, Penguin Random House, 2018. Originally published in French in 2016 in Canada. 76 pages.
Starred Review

Ah! A wonderful 2018 children’s book for which I can post a review! Why? Because it’s translated from French and was originally published in Canada in 2016 – so it’s not eligible for the 2019 Newbery. I probably wouldn’t have read it, but it’s a picture book. I’m glad I did because I was enchanted.

The Pink Umbrella is the story of Adele, who runs a café called The Polka-Dot Apron in a small village next to the sea.

For the villagers, the café is a refuge,
a small lantern always lit.

It’s where everyone meets. Where they cry, laugh, yell, argue and love. The café is the heart of the village.

And Adele is the heart of the café. She is the village’s sun – lively, sweet and sparkling.

Adele is known for gathering people together. And her friend Lucas helps by supplying the café. But there’s something else Adele is known for:

The thing everyone knows about Adele is that she doesn’t like the rain.

When the weather is nice, she smiles, she whistles, she sings at the top of her lungs, she throws open the windows and props open the door….

But when it rains, Adele stays inside.
She can’t help it; she loses her spirit.
The rain is gray, cold and dreary.

However, one beautiful market day on Wednesday (the café has many uses besides being a café and Wednesday is market day), someone leaves behind two bright pink rubber boots with suns carved into the soles. They are just Adele’s size! She asks all week, but no one claims them.

The next week, someone leaves behind a bright pink raincoat. It, too, fits Adele perfectly.

But the next market day the weather is bad. Lucas and Adele are taking care of the market stall, but few customers come, so Lucas leaves early.

When the truck disappeared from view, Adele turned around to close the café, roll herself up in her quilt and wait for the sun to take the place of the clouds . . .

But she stopped short, stunned! In the entrance, under the coatrack, was an adorable umbrella.
It was pink . . . with polka dots!

And only one person could have left it there.

Adele smiled.

Because the day was done, because she wanted to, and because opening an umbrella inside is bad luck . . . Adele put on the boots and the raincoat and, on the doorstep, opened the pink polka-dotted umbrella.

There was only one step to take, and she took it with joy. She turned the key in the lock and went for a walk in the rain.

It really wasn’t so bad. The air smelled wonderfully of damp grass, and the rain played a pretty melody as it fell on the umbrella.

And yes, she sees her friend Lucas as she goes on her walk.

I probably shouldn’t have quoted as much from this book as I did, lest you think that’s all there is to it. I wanted to convey the charming language used. But the marvelous old-fashioned pictures are what completely win your heart. They are large and beautiful, cartoon-like but filled with atmosphere. Adele is beautiful and like a ray of sunshine indeed – but all the more so when she’s all dressed in pink, brightening up a gray day.

At first, I liked the book so much, I thought it was really written more for adults than for children. But then I thought about how very much fun it would be to read the book to my four- and five-year-old nieces. It’s a book about joy, and a book about love, and a book about getting out in the rain, and a book about the joys of wearing pink!

If I were doing a preschool storytime in February, I would enjoy using this book for a book with a theme of love where it’s not overtly stated. Yes, it’s on the long side – but even though there are many pages, most don’t have a lot of words, and the big beautiful pictures will keep their interest. But of course, more fun would be sitting down with a child who loves pink, or a child who loves wearing rubber boots in the rain – and reading it together.

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Review of One Last Word, by Nikki Grimes

January 15th, 2018

One Last Word

Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance

by Nikki Grimes

Bloomsbury, 2017. 120 pages.

This book is a tribute to poets of the Harlem Renaissance, and contains fourteen poems by poets from that time. The poems are illustrated with artwork by Cozbi A. Cabrera, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Ebony Glenn, Nikki Grimes, E. B. Lewis, Frank Morrison, Christopher Myers, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, Shadra Strickland, and Elizabeth Zunon.

But the heart of the book is the Golden Shovel poems Nikki Grimes has written in tribute to the Harlem Renaissance poets.

The idea of a Golden Shovel poem is to take a short poem in its entirety, or a line from that poem (called a striking line), and create a new poem, using the words from the original…. Then you would write a new poem, each line ending in one of these words.

Nikki Grimes does this with the poems she’s selected and included. She either uses one line or the entire poem, and uses those words as the ending of the lines of her own poem.

For example, the first poem selected is “Storm Ending,” by Jean Toomer, and the first line of the poem is “Thunder blossoms gorgeously above our heads,” and that first line is printed in bold. Then Nikki Grimes wrote a poem, “Truth” that uses these six words as the last word in each of the six lines.

It’s a lovely way of paying tribute to the original work. This book would be good simply as an anthology. But with Nikki Grimes’ poems playing off the original poems, and the work of this distinguished collection of artists, this book is something much more.

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Review of Precious and Grace, by Alexander McCall Smith

January 14th, 2018

Precious and Grace

by Alexander McCall Smith
narrated by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2016. 9.75 hours on 8 CDs.

Here’s another book about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, with co-directors Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi. The main puzzle of the book involves a Canadian lady who wants to find the place where she grew up in Gabarone and the lady who cared for her. But Mma Ramotswe senses there’s more to the case than meets the eye.

Other plot threads involve a stray dog befriended by Fanwell and a business scheme which Mr. Polopetsi falls for. And guess who’s up for Woman of the Year? It’s Grace Makutsi’s nemesis, Violet Sepotho.

It’s interesting that this one doesn’t have a surprisingly amusing title, but boils the work down to a story of friendship between two interesting ladies, Precious and Grace. They have their difficult moments, but ultimately they help people solve their problems. The book is filled with the usual gentle philosophy.

I’m now enjoying listening to these in audiobook format, getting more of the flavor of the book, as well as correct pronunciation, with the skilled narration and lovely accent of Lisette Lecat.

There’s nothing really new in this installment. But if you’ve come this far, you’ll enjoy another installment of philosophy and friendship with Precious and Grace.

alexandermccallsmith.com
recordedbooks.com

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Review of Patina, by Jason Reynolds

January 13th, 2018

Patina

Track: Book 2

by Jason Reynolds

A Caitlyn Dlouhy Book (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), 2017. 233 pages.

This is the second book in Jason Reynolds’ Track series, each one featuring one new member of the “Defenders” track team. Both volumes so far end with a race, but you don’t find out who wins until the next volume. (This is a little annoying. By the time I got to read Patina, I’d forgotten Ghost had left off in the middle of a race, so I wasn’t nearly as invested as I would have been if the end of the race had been the end of the book. Once the series is done, it will keep kids reading on in the series, though.)

The first book featured Ghost, who’s used to running from problems. This second book features Patina, who’s carrying a heavy load for her family. As in the first book, the track gives her insight about her life, this time it’s Patina learning to run a relay and be part of a team.

Patina’s father died years ago, and her mother has diabetes, with both her legs amputated and needing dialysis. So Patti and her little sister Maddy live with their uncle and aunt. But Patti feels very responsible for Maddy, and responsible for her mother, too, to some extent. On top of that, Patti’s going to a new school, a private “academy,” and is new on the track team.

I like where Patti describes her Sunday ritual of doing Maddy’s hair.

I do Maddy’s hair every Sunday for two reasons. The first is because Momly can’t do it. If it was up to her, Maddy’s hair would be in two Afro-puffs every day. Either that, or Momly would’ve shaved it all off by now. It’s not that she don’t care. She does. It’s just that she don’t know what to do with hair like Maddy’s – like ours. Ma do, but Momly . . . nope. She never had to deal with nothing like it, and there ain’t no rule book for white people to know how to work with black hair. And her husband, my uncle Tony, he ain’t no help. Ever since they adopted us, every time I talk about Maddy’s hair, Uncle Tony says the same thing – just let it rock. Like he’s gonna sit in the back of Maddy’s class and stink-face all the six-year-old bullies in barrettes. Right. But luckily for everybody, especially Maddy, I know what I’m doing. Been a black girl all my life.

The other reason I always do Maddy’s hair on Sundays is because that’s when we see Ma, and she don’t wanna see Maddy looking like “she ain’t never been nowhere.”

I like the way this series focuses in on each featured character. There’s always a story. Patina’s story isn’t quite as dramatic as Ghost’s, but Patti still has plenty to deal with in this book. And I like the way some things get worked out with the team.

jasonwritesbooks.com
simonandschuster.com/kids

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Review of Where the Animals Go, by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti

January 12th, 2018

Where the Animals Go

Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics

by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti

W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. First published in Great Britain in 2016. 174 pages.
Starred Review

This is an amazing, fascinating, and eye-catching book.

This book is a set of maps and charts showing how animals move around the world. There are migrations diagrammed and feeding patterns and responses to wind currents. There are maps for every continent and every ocean, and there are maps for land animals, creatures of the air, and creatures of the sea. The format is extra large, and some pages pull out to be even larger. All the maps and graphics are beautifully done.

I thought I could read through this book quickly, because so many of the oversize pages are covered with maps. But there’s text to go with every map, and the print is tiny! So it took me longer than I thought, and it would take some time even to read just a map or two.

Here’s how the Introduction begins:

From footprints to fallen feathers, nests to droppings, the history of where animals go has been a history of physical traces. This book is about a new era, one in which the traces we follow are imprinted not in the earth but in the silicon of computer chips. And while the maps and studies we feature rely heavily on data processing, the desire to study animal movements with new inventions long predates the Information Age. In 1803, John James Audubon was tying threads to the legs of songbirds in order to prove that the same individuals returned to his farm each spring; a map from 1892 illustrates the month-by-month migration of seals in the North Pacific; in 1907, a German apothecary equipped pigeons with automatic cameras in order to document their journeys; in 1962, three scientists from the University of Illinois taped a radio transmitter to a duck; and in 1997, two of the world’s first GPS collars confirmed that elephants from Kenya sometimes cross the border into Tanzania.

The maps in this book show things about animals such as baboon troupes in Kenya, mountain lions crossing the Alps, elk inside and outside Yellowstone, pheasants in the Himalayas, pythons in the Everglades, information flow among ants, sharks around Hawaii, sea otters in Monterey Bay, bird migration paths, and density of penguin colonies.

Each page is packed with information – so it’s no wonder it takes a long time to read – but the maps are eye-catching and communicate lots of information quickly. You’ll be pulled in, then want to know more.

This book lets you in on new discoveries scientists are making about animals all the time – now that we have more effective ways to track them and learn about their worlds.

Once you open this book, you’ll have a hard time putting it away.

wwnorton.com

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