Book Review Wednesday: Citizen Scientists

CITIZEN SCIENTIST: BE A PART OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY FROM YOUR OWN BACKYARD
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.

What great friends I have!

First of all, thanks so much to all who sent their good wishes and happy vibes my way yesterday. I spent most of yesterday  in a day dreamy fog imagining book signings and (ack) interviews with Oprah. I’m just starting to calm down and doubt myself again. So much for artistic confidence. : )  I had a great figure drawing session today followed by an excellent writing partner meeting and a good haircut. Things do seem to be going my way.

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