Book Review Wednesday: Citizen Scientists

By Loree Griffin Burns
Henry Holt and Company, 80 pages
ISBN 9780805090628

Some books make me want to stand on a chair in the middle of my local independent book store and shout, “You have got to get your kid this book!” It is rare that a nonfiction book would ignite this kind of passion but CITIZEN SCIENTIST: BE A PART OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY FROM YOUR OWN BACKYARD is rare. Loree Griffin Burns manages to offer so much in a single volume that the book itself becomes a discovery.

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The first discovery comes in the form of citizen science projects. The book is a year-long journey of four such projects– one for each season. The book begins in the autumn with monarch butterfly tagging, moves into bird counting in the winter, frog counting in the spring, and ladybug counting in the summer.

Each section is further divided and starts with a 2nd person narrative nonfiction explanation of the project. The use of the 2nd person places the reader smack dab in the moment of discovery. Keep reading and find out more about the science behind the project. Meet the scientists who oversee the projects and get a sneak peak at their instruments and labs. Next, meet actual young citizen scientist who are making a difference in the study of the featured organisms. Burns includes a check list to help children prepare for their study of the natural world, a quiz to check reader knowledge, diagrams of each critter, maps, and fabulous photos with thoughtful captions. The back matter includes a glossary, an index, and a resource page of field guides, internet resources, and other citizen science projects. (Imagine me breathless on my chair. I am.)

Since all learning is connected, readers get a dose of geography (migration paths) and economics (families who are paid for finding monarch tags in the central Mexican mountains where they live) with their science. Like the best educators, Loree Griffin Burns’ unique voice is comforting and empowering. She inspires children and their families to “contribute to understanding and improving our world.” Civics too!

This is one of the most thoughtfully designed nonfiction books that I’ve seen. Each season/project is color coded. The designer uses halftones of that color as the background for the 2nd person narrative then continues the section with white background and a ribbon edge of a matching hue. A reader can easily turn to the season they want by looking at the edges of the closed book. The fonts are playful and unique and carefully chosen elements set off the page numbers.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the clear and well-composed photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. The photos work so seemlessly with the text that there is a wonderful sense of balance between the writing, photos, and design.

With this book, Loree Griffin Burns relates the excitement and wonder of earnest observation of our natural world. She quotes Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor who oversees the printing, distribution, and recovery of monarch butterfly tags, “If you are interested in conserving a particular organism you have to understand it. You have to understand every little aspect of its biology.” In CITIZEN SCIENTIST, Burns has managed to put together a well-researched and wonderfully written book that invites action on the part of all young citizen scientist.

Okay. I’m getting of the chair and putting it away.

10 thoughts on “Book Review Wednesday: Citizen Scientists

    1. Hey Michelle- When I started reading, I had just dropped off a kiddo at an activity. I figured I’d read a little then do some errands and get back to it. Nope. I sat in the car and devoured the whole book! : )

    1. Kids retain new information when they have a scaffold or hook to hang it on. Integrating subject areas help with this process. Even if a child doesn’t have a background in entomology they may have taken a trip to visit the worlds biggest ball of yarn on the migration path. Cool! A hook.

  1. Hi Anna, this looks like a book that would be thoroughly enjoyed here in Singapore since it’s chock-filled with facts and information. Glad to have you share it this week for Nonfiction Monday.

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