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Current Issue: December 2014 Vol. 50 Iss.12

December Issue Highlights

The December issue of SB&F features the 2014 Holiday Gift Guide that includes recommendations for kids, preteen/teens, and young adult/general audiences.

This list is also available online. You can purchase copies of the book by clicking on the titles on this online list. By doing so you also support SB&F, as we receive a small commission on all books bought through our links on Amazon.  You can also read more about it on this AAAS News Story

You may also notice that the Editor's Choice section is longer than usual in this issue. That's because we reviewed so many really good books and videos this month, which made us and our reviewers happy.
Our January issue will feature our Best Books and Films list covering all of the titles that we reviewed in 2014. We will also be announcing the winners of the 2015 SB&F Prize in our February issue.
We wish all of you who celebrate a very happy holiday season. And we wish you all a very good new year.
For back issues, see Archives.


Featured Reviews.

Bardoe, Cheryl. Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle. (Illus. by Alan Marks.) Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2014. 32pp. $16.95. 2012038692. ISBN 9781580895545. Glossary; C.I.P.

EP, EI, EA ««

That's right "dung,” also known as "feces” or "poop.” Now that that's out of the way let's see what's beautiful about a creature named after poop, or rather because it eats poop! First remember that one in four of every insect is a beetle, approximately 350,000 species described. Beetles have colonized most all of earth's environments and with so enormous diversity it's no wonder that perhaps 7000 of those species utilize dung for a habitat and energy source. To the dung beetle another animal's waste is a precious pile of food and drink. Bacteria live in the damp dung breaking the waste down into nutritious juices which the beetles suck up. The author's prose is clear and often clever. The illustrations, originally watercolors, are excellent and illustrate the text from the habitat level of the dung beetles. The author simplifies the diversity of dung beetles by dividing them into three types based on the ways they feed on the poop. Dwellers eat in place on the dung pad, while other types move dung away. Dwellers mate in the dung pat, lay eggs in it and later the larvae develop in it. Rollers push balls of dung away from the pad. Competition between male rollers can be fierce. (Some species have long horns on the carapace used in combat with rivals.) Winners become king of the dung hill and win mates. Female rollers lay an egg in each ball, where the larva later develops. Tunnelers burrow beneath the dung pat, cramming the passage with stores of dung. Male tunnelers have underground battles with other males for control of the tunnels and of the females who later lay eggs in the passageways. Dung which was once waste sustains the adult beetles and provides fuel for new life. The buried dung enriches the soil providing nutrients for plants. The ancient Egyptians were impressed with dung beetles referring to them in hieroglyphics as scarabs, symbols of life and renewal. Perhaps young readers too will become impressed with dung beetles and develop an "inordinate fondness” for them.‑‑Frank M. Truesdale, emeritus, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA


Latham, Irene. Dear Wandering Wildebeest: And Other Poems from the Water Hole. (Illus. by Anna Wadham.)Minneapolis, MN: Millbrook Press, 2014. 32pp. $17.95. 2013030195. ISBN 9781467712323. Glossary; C.I.P.

K, EP, EI, EA, GA ««

A book of children's poetry can be obvious, routine, and honestly not very interesting. Here's a book with a difference. Each poem is an integrated spread of clear simple poem, nearly primitive art work, and a paragraph of facts and science. Most of the poem topics do not identify the subject by name. The poem on zebras, for example, never mentions the animal in the title and text, but the illustrations gives the reader proof of identification. Just as the "Dust Bath at Dusk” must be about an elephant, as the illustration makes the identification obvious. Some poems tell all such as "Rhino Knows” with clear identification in text, title, and drawing. My favorites just give hints. "The Watchman's Song' tells of an animal's calls, posture, and ecological position without naming names. The drawing and sidebar explains meerkats all in detail. If read parent to child, I'd recommend each poem be read once without title or drawing and have the child guess what it is about. Then reread it with all the details. Each page could be an exploration and experience. Creative color drawings throughout tell each story, but each poem elaborates more and sidebar facts complete a sometimes complex portrait of an animal and place. A short glossary and bibliography continue the animal explorations.‑‑James W. Waddick, Kansas City, MO


Crump, Marty. The Mystery of Darwin's Frog. (Illus. by Steve Jenkins and Edel Rodriguez.) Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2013. 40pp. $16.95. 2012947844. ISBN 9781590788646. Glossary; Index; C.I.P.

EA, JH ««

Impressively, Peter Lourie describes the "real life" daily world of polar bear biologists. He describes data collection, not just the glamour of handling anesthetized polar bears, but also the details of preparing for fieldwork and entering data after a long day in the field. He connects data collection with the need for data because data by itself is not science. Data must be part of a methodical system of inquiry. Lourie alludes to the larger questions and squarely provides evidence for the need to collect data. He portrays scientists as tangible people and may inspire students to pursue careers as scientists. We need books that do all this. Lourie also accurately depicts wildlife biology as a career. As a professor of a wildlife biology program, I was impressed that he conveyed, in fewer than 100 pages, concepts that we teach in our bachelor's degree in wildlife science. Although a college program goes into more detail, Lourie provides substantial details that I have not read in a book about wildlife biology that was meant for the general public, and school age readers at that! The photos are distinctive and uniquely suited for the theme of the book. For instance, one photo has a sketch overlaying the bear's body to illustrate the best places to administer anesthetic from a dart gun. The work is accurate and has broader applications to science in general. This book should sit on the library shelves of grade and high schools to encourage students to explore science as a career.‑‑Jorie M. Favreau, Paul Smith's College,  Paul Smith's, NY



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