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Featured Children's Book Review

Collard III, Sneed. Hopping Ahead of Climate Change: Snowshoe Hares, Science, and Survival. Missoula, MT: Bucking Horse Books, 2016. 64pp. $18.00. 2016003845. ISBN 9780984446087. Glossary; Index.


Rating: **

As a nature enthusiast and science teacher, I really enjoyed Hopping Ahead of Climate Change. The author combined beautiful pictures and captivating graphics with engaging writing to bring to life the story of how researchers are using the scientific method to help understand how climate change may impact snowshoe hares and the ecosystems that rely on them. Throughout the book, pages are devoted to topics including the genetics of coat changing, color changing species throughout the world, as well as other research being performed in the lab to understand the molting triggers for snowshoe hares.

As I read this book, I found myself talking endlessly to my students, colleagues, and wife about the facts and insights delivered throughout the book. Did you know that less than 1 out of 10 hares survive a year?

Beyond the engaging story, the book is a terrific example of how science, when done well, can help us understand impacts on animals as our environment changes. Students often struggle with designing experiments that collect data without bias. These researchers were savvy enough to find a way to measure whether a hare was mismatched to its environment and use that data to make predictions about future hare survival.

Readers will gain insight into how science works and also appreciate the challenges faced by animals as they attempt to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. I highly recommend this book for all readers though it is designed for older elementary and middle school students and well suited for all science classes.‑‑Scott Runkel, The Community School, Sun Valley, ID


Featured Young Adult Book Review


Stenn, Kurt. Hair: A Human History. New York, NY: Pegasus Books, LLC, 2016. 256pp. $26.95. 2016932443. ISBN 9780691165172. Glossary; Index; C.I.P.

YA, C, T, GA

Rating: **

This compelling narrative takes an honored place alongside such informative and fascinating historical essays as Henry Petroski’s The Pencil (1990) and The Toothpick (2007), Mark Kurlansky’s Salt: A World History (2002), and—most closely—Skin: A Natural History (2006) by Nina Jablonski. These seemingly mundane subjects are entertaining and informative works written for public audiences. Like these authors, Stenn is a well‑published expert on his subject with 30+ years of expertise studying hair as a Professor of Pathology and Dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine and Director of Skin Biology at Johnson & Johnson. Supposedly the idea for this book came to him while sitting in a barber’s chair. He clearly illustrates how hair has played a crucial role in fashion, the arts, sports, commerce, forensics, and industry. He divides his subject into three parts: defining hair and related materials such as fur and feathers (biology, physiology, and history, genetics, cell biology, and human evolution); hair as “the ultimate communicator” (head hair and beards, barbers and beauticians, styling, coloring, ethnic differences, wig‑making, and uses in art); and lastly focuses on “hair in human service” (beaver pelts, wool, spinning and weaving, and uses beyond clothing – such as rope and musical instruments, and DNA analysis). Although not comprehensive (American bison could be included in part three), there is a recurring theme that all hairs, from wherever they arise (human, sheep, beaver, platypus, or porcupine) are alike, though they vary in degree: long or short, stiff or soft, black or white, sticky or smooth.‑‑Charles C. Kolb, National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, DC

Featured Adult Book Review

Emery, Nathan, with a forward by Frans de Waal. Bird Brain: An Exploration of Avian Intelligence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton, 2016. 192pp. $29.95. 2015010155. ISBN 9780374298517. Index.


Rating: **

What do we mean by intelligence in birds? Do birds think in the same ways as our primate cousins, or is a bird brain really a stupid brain? Nathan Emery‘s noteworthy book explores the very core of what is meant by intelligence. If intelligence is related to the ability to flexibly solve novel problems, then are some birds, like the famous Grey parrot, Alex, or the talented tool‑using New Caledonian crows, truly intelligent? Emery provides a broad overview of the diversity of avian cognitive abilities, and he describes and illustrates cognitive experiments in a way that makes them readily comprehensible. We learn that pigeons have a remarkable gift for discriminating between different objects and that humming birds have enormous brains relative to their body size. The book, lavishly and artfully illustrated throughout, is organized as a series of short essays embedded in chapters with such entertaining titles as, From Birdbrain to Feathered Ape, Where Did I Hide that Worm? and The Right Tool for the Job. The book struggles in two nontrivial areas: There is an uneven balance of attractive design with readability, since pale grey fonts are used in the text. The text also vacillates between two distinct voices: one is entertaining but sometimes simplistic; the other is technical and assumes readers will be familiar with terms such as stem amniote. Although better integration of the voices would be helpful, this book still fills a meaningful niche as a beautiful example of science presented as art.‑‑Judy Diamond, University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, NE