Thursday, March 21, 2013

Travis' Book Review: Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 by Phillip Hoose


Moonbird is the story of a particularly extraordinary rufa red knot, a subspecies of migratory shorebirds. The bird is named B95, a title designated to him simply by the letter and number on the tag that scientists branded him with. Coincidentally, B95 was first discovered by scientists in 1995 on an island in Patagonia, the southernmost tip of South America. B95 had his adult plumage when he was first tagged, suggesting that he was at least 3 years old. At the time, B95 and the rest of his flock were preparing for one of the most impressive feats of physical endurance in the animal kingdom – flying to the other end of the earth. Since then, B95 has become a legend, astounding scientists and bird enthusiasts all over the world for his ability to survive. B95 was last spotted in Delaware Bay in May of 2012, on his way to find summer nesting grounds in the Canadian arctic, looking as spry as a juvenile but at least 20 years old. This means that the bird has flown from one end of the earth and back each year, for at least 20 years! In his lifetime, B95 has flown more than the distance to the moon, truly earning the name, “Moonbird.”  Even more amazing is the fact that B95 has survived predators, environmental corruption by humans, plagues of red tide, and powerful storms that can easily knock a bird from the sky.


B95 truly is a great survivor, but unfortunately, his species is in rapid decline. Phillip Hoose does a wonderful job with Moonbird because the book is not only the story of B95, but a means to educate readers about the importance of conservation and protection of the rufa red knot and all wildlife. B95 is the hero of the story, though, and the writer recognizes the importance of focusing the story on the actions of his character. Readers are able to associate a face with the problem – the face of the lone survivor of the initial scientific sample. Throughout the book, Hoose uses a number of literary, journalistic, and scientific writing methods to tell the story of B95 and the great migration of his flock. The story follows a narrative, chronicling the birds from the beginning of their journey, to the end, where it will start all over again. To complete the narrative part of the story, Hoose fills the work with anecdotes, footnotes that elaborate on the story, and profiles the scientists that contribute to the study of the birds and the growing conservation efforts. He incorporates photographs and maps, as well, which really illustrate just how impressive the birds migration patterns. Once the story has been told and the problem presented, Hoose then empowers the reader by telling them about regular people putting forth extraordinary efforts to save the species. He then gives readers tips on how they, too, can become part of the effort, including contact information for a number of the groups or individuals. 


The only negative criticism I have of the book is that it often feels too much like a text book. I love the anecdotes, footnotes, and empowerment boxes, but the pages are filled with them. I often found myself jumping away from the narrative to read the boxes or captions, which could sometimes be a little repetitive. Then, I would have to reread a few lines so that I could reenter the narrative. After reading the first few chapters, though, I found it easiest to simply finish the chapter and then return to the notes. Other than that, Moonbird is a well-written, thought-provoking look at the importance of the individual species in the world’s ecology. Moonbird is part narrative, part educational, and part call-to-arms. It serves to motivate individuals, but can easily be the basis of a study or resource for a school report on the importance of conservation. I would highly recommend it to middle readers, teens, or to anyone wanting to understand the importance of conservation and world ecology. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Susan's Book Review: Endangered by Eliot Schrefer


Endangered features nearly everything I love in a book: animals, underdogs, useful knowledge, survival, a strong female character, and beautiful writing. Sophie is 14 and in Congo during her summer break from school to visit her mother at her bonobo sanctuary. She grew up there until she was 8, but now she lives in Miami with her Dad. Sophie meets Otto, the baby bonobo at the heart of the story, when she “rescues” him from a man selling him on the side of a crowded road. She’s naively convinced she did the right thing because the animal was too skinny, had open sores, and was obviously scared. (Later she learns a hard lesson when the man shows up with two more sickly bonobos and her mother refuses to buy them, knowing it only creates a market for it.) Sophie and Otto bond quickly. Baby bonobos who are separated from their mothers must have a surrogate mother or they almost always die. Sophie is working to wean Otto onto one of the professional sanctuary surrogates when a civil war breaks out. The Congo government is corrupt on its best day and after fighting begins, things quickly devolve. Armed men show up and Sophie and Otto manage to escape into the fenced area with the adult bonobos for safety. (The fence is solar-powered so even without electricity, they can rely on it.) When the men kill the workers and decide to stay there, Sophie must learn to communicate with the adult bonobos, find food and fresh water, keep track of Otto, and try to avoid getting sick or injured. After a few weeks of this, she discovers the fence is no longer armed and knows they’ve got to leave before the men figure it out.


Once they escape the sanctuary, Sophie must figure out where to go. Her mother left just a few days before the men arrived on a mission to release adult bonobos into the wild. She decides to head to the release site and locate her mother. Along the way, Sophie is confronted with all sorts of challenges and evil and is able to overcome it because of her love for Otto. I really enjoyed seeing the human-animal bond portrayed so realistically. Animals amaze me with their capacity to love and communicate with creatures who don’t speak their language. Some people wonder why we should concern ourselves with animal injustices when there is so much human cruelty in the world, but to me they are connected. There’s an interview in the back of the book with the author and he says we don’t have to ignore a lesser suffering because there’s a greater one out there—that’s a sure route to paralysis. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s unrealistic to think we’ll solve the world’s problems by focusing on one at a time. Sophie could have easily left Otto behind numerous times and it would technically have made her life easier, but she would have lost her purpose.


In my opinion, a great book will make me laugh, cry, and think, and Endangered caused all three in spades. I was emotionally exhausted by the end and curious to know more about both Congo and bonobos. I think teens that like realistic fiction, animal stories, and possibly even dystopias (it’s a real-life dystopia!) will enjoy this book.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Emily's Book Review: Maggie Come Lately by Michelle Buckman

Maggie McCarthy isn’t your average sixteen year-old. While other girls her age are at parties or the mall, she’s out looking for a new washing machine or making dinner for her dad and two younger brothers. Old before her time, Maggie has played housewife since her mother committed suicide when she was only four years old. On her sixteenth birthday, she prays that this will be the year that she becomes pretty and popular and finally has a life of her own, and her wish comes true, but it certainly doesn’t happen in the way she expects. First, her father starts dating Andrea, a woman bent on redecorating the house, making Maggie wear cuter clothes, and eventually taking her place as the woman of the home. Maggie is just focused on getting through day-to-day life and adjusting to her new family dynamic when she hears a noise in the woods and goes to investigate. It’s there where she finds her popular classmate Sue wounded, raped, and left for dead. She saves Sue’s life, and soon she is the most talked-about girl at school other than Sue herself. After years of feeling invisible among her peers and unappreciated by her family, Maggie finally has time to be a normal teenager, but she soon finds that popularity isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. She must decide whether to use her notoriety for a chance to hang out with the in-crowd (and possibly compromise her values), or to become an advocate for other girls like Sue, who may have been raped, molested, or abused.


It’s hard for me to nail down my opinion of Maggie Come Lately. The book is undeniably well-written and its characters are undeniably well-developed, but it moved somewhat slowly for me. The book picks up its pace once Maggie finds Sue in the woods, so perhaps I would have been more engaged if this tragedy had taken place sooner. Buckman does spend the first part of the book introducing a variety of sketchy men in Maggie’s neighborhood who later become suspects in the rape, and their actions create a good amount of suspense later on. Could it be the bearded stranger who recently started hanging out in the area? Is it Mr. Smith, the man with colorful button-down shirts and a cat who is constantly running way? Or is it Mr. Dweller, a trusted youth group volunteer who is loved and respected by everyone in the community other than Maggie? I really respected that a Christian book didn’t back down from the notion that a church leader can be involved in rape or sexual abuse, and I loved that Maggie’s distrust of him didn’t keep her from having a strong faith in God. Though I have limited experience with Melody Carlson’s books (Carlson is another prominent Christian writer for teen girls), I thought Buckman did a better job presenting an issue such as rape than Carlson might. In Maggie Come Lately, characters come to spiritual realizations gradually, and Maggie is a far better developed character than the characters in some of Carlson’s books. I also simply appreciated that Maggie seemed like an ordinary, unassuming teen girl. While other young-adult heroines are bold and quick-witted, Maggie is a character I think quieter teen girls may be able to relate to more easily. While it’s fun to read about smart teens with sharp senses of humor traveling to Amsterdam or plotting school pranks, it’s always hard for me to imagine myself in their place at the age of sixteen. Maggie, however, is someone I could see myself being like as a teen—though I still don’t know if I’m as responsible as she is or if I’d be brave enough to go into the woods if I heard someone moaning in pain.

Overall, this is definitely a book I would recommend. Christian readers will appreciate a well-written book that tackles a topic like rape from a godly perspective, but I don’t think the book’s references to God or Maggie’s faith are prevalent enough or preachy enough to turn other readers off.