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The SB&F Reviews page is updated regularly with new reviews. See our featured reviews below. Check back often for the latest science book reviews from SB&F.

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Featured Children's Book Review

Paul, Miranda. One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of Gambia. (Illus. by Elizabeth Zunon.) Minneapolis: Lerner, 2015. 32pp. $19.99. 2014009382. ISBN 9781467716086. Glossary; C.I.P.

EI, EA, GA
Rating: **

 

Gambia, a small independent nation in tropical West Africa, is situated along its namesake river and surrounded by Senegal, with a narrow coastline bordering the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Its population of 1.9 million is economically dependent on fishing, farming, and tourism. The major ethnic groups are the Malinke, Wolof, Fulani, and Soninke. The book under review is designed for young juveniles, but older children and adults will certainly gain from the story, beginning in 1998, of a young girl, Isatou Ceesay (an English and Wolof speaker), and four adult women who would make a significant impact on the nation’s environment and economy. Plastic bags had replaced traditional containers but the worn, discarded bags created dire ecological problems: livestock died from ingesting them, soil and garden crops were fouled, and the bags harbored malarial mosquitoes. By collecting and washing the cast‑off bags, cutting them into narrow strips, and spooling these into thread, Isatou and the women crocheted plastic purses that were sold in the market. Teaching these skills to more women economically empowered all of them, brought in cash, and resulted in a home industry that provided purses to a growing international market, in turn leading to the creation of a nonprofit organization focusing on literacy and health. The delightful, instructive, and thought‑provoking narrative is accompanied by splendid color illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon, a young woman from the Ivory Coast. Readers will also learn 15 Wolof words and are provided a guide to other readings.‑‑Charles C. Kolb, National Endowment for the Humanities, Washington, DC

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Featured Young Adult Book Review

Zimmer, Mark. Bioluminescence: Nature and Science at Work. (Illus.) NY: Twenty-First Century Books, 2015. 72pp. $34.65. 2014025675. ISBN 9781467757843. Glossary; Index; C.I.P.

YA, GA
Rating**

For an introduction to the somewhat mystical world of bioluminescence, scientist Dr. Marc Zimmer of Connecticut College has authored a colorful and excellent guide to the twin themes of bioluminescence and biofluorescence. This short but informative resource to bioluminescing insects and oceanic creatures highlights their morphological adaptations related to luminescence and some basic chemical processes allowing bioluminescence and biofluorescence to occur, including a description of the many medical uses of green‑fluorescent proteins (GFPs), essential for fluorescing.

Although the intended audience is junior readers (ages 12‑17), any adult could delight in this alluring area of science that features clever means by which animals use bioluminescence for mating, communicating, and capturing prey. In addition, GFPs show considerable potential for use in the investigation of some of the most devastating diseases in the world, including malaria, HIV, and the neurodegenerative Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Although bioluminescence has been observed for thousands of years, it is clear that this is yet an infant science. Zimmer informs the reader how GFPs can be used to understand how viruses, parasites, and other pathogens behave. Nature’s organismic diversity, especially bioluminescing creatures, has fascinated many scientists, resulting in the discovery of many compounds including luciferin, luciferase, and aequorin as well as the concept of quorum sensing of bioluminescent bacteria. This book is an excellent vehicle for enticing interested youth to this relatively new field of science. The book concludes with a glossary, bibliography, index, and sources for further information (books, websites, videos, and TED talks).‑‑John D. Chilgren, Education Business Group, U.S. Treasury, Portland, OR

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Featured Adult Book Review

 

Garrigues, Richard. Photo Guide to Birds of Costa Rica. (Illus.) Ithaca, NY: Cornell, 2015. 264pp. $24.95. 2015015122. ISBN 9781501700255. Index; C.I.P.

GA

Rating:  **

Costa Rica is a birder’s nirvana. The 903 species of birds found in this accessible Central American country include startling diversity. With fifty different kinds of hummingbirds, a dozen species of parrots, including two types of macaws, as well as trogons, toucans, puffbirds and cotingas, who can resist looking for birds in Costa Rica? Inevitably, birders identify those birds using the classic field guide written by Richard Garrigues and illustrated by Robert Dean. Now Richard Garrigues has given us something new: An abbreviated guide to about 40% of the Costa Rican birds using photographs instead of illustrations for identification. And these are no ordinary photographs: Collected from 50 different photographers, each color image sharply displays the typical characteristics of the species. In several cases, these photographs show features more clearly than the corresponding illustrations in the author’s more complete guide. We see the bright white plumage of the juvenile spectacled owl, striking color dimorphisms that distinguish male from female trogons, and hanging oropendola nests. The various small green parrots are clearly distinguished by species’ typical color patterns, making identification nearly instantaneous. The author explains that his choice of 40% of the country’s birds actually covers about 75% of the species one is likely to see on a typical birding trip to Costa Rica. And for many, this beautiful guide will fulfill their needs. However, the more invested birder may not forgive the absence in the guide of blue‑headed parrots, azure‑hooded jays, or smooth‑billed anis.‑‑Judy  Diamond, University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, NE