Scat by Carl Hiaasen

Scat is Carl Hiaasen’s latest book for middle grade/YA readers. Nick Waters and some of his friends are pulled into an eco-avenger’s plot to save endangered Florida panthers and put a halt to illegal drilling going on in the Everglades. When Nick’s strict (and sort of crazy) biology teacher goes missing during a wildfire that breaks out on a class trip, no one is sure whether to be worried or elated. Even weirder, though, is that one of their more “infamous” classmates, Smoke, isn’t with the class when the fire breaks out. And he doesn’t show up for school. And he had threatened Mrs. Starch the day before. Did he set the fire to get rid of Mrs. Starch?!

Scat deals with a serious ecology topic (similar to Hiaasen’s other novels), but it’s also a very funny book. One of my favorite characters is a substitute teacher who follows very specific guidelines. For example, he always teaches page 263 on Fridays. No matter the subject. Without fail. Every Friday. And he wears a tuxedo and bow tie to class. As a teacher, this had me in stitches. I can only imagine how I would feel as a student reading it!

Unlike Hiaasen’s other books, this one has a bit more mystery. Readers are kept in suspense- I couldn’t put the book down. It is also very contemporary. Nick’s dad is a National Guardsman on tour in Iraq and Nick struggles with his feelings about the war. There are also passing references to Facebook and Myspace.

My favorite aspect of the book is the Florida Panther. This gorgeous animal is one of the most endangered in the world, with between 60 and 100 left in the wild. No one who reads this book can walk away without gaining a love for these majestic animals. And I think that is exactly what Hiaasen is aiming for.

This is a great book that I can’t wait to recommend to my students. I think it will appeal to boys and girls alike, and those who love mysteries and funny books. This is another slam dunk for Carl Hiaasen!

Non-fiction Monday

The Young Birder’s Guide to Birds of Eastern North America (Peterson Field Guides)
by Bill Thompson III is a great book for anyone, young, or old, who is interested in birds and birding.

Bill Thompson is well-known in the birding world as the editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest. His newest field guide for Eastern North American birds is aimed at a much younger audience than expected- kids.  This portable, slim, field-friendly guide is perfect for young birders.

The first 40 pages in this slim (easily packed into a bag) volume focus on the hobby of birdwatching and how to get involved.  For any child or person new to birding, Thompson is the authority on birdwatching.  The first few chapters do a great job of convincing the reader that birding is cool and fun, something that I don’t think many children consider.  Birding is also fairly inexpensive and can be done almost anywhere, at any time.

The field guide is slim and easily placed into a bag or pocket, yet it is packed to the gills with information.  The guide covers  200 common or intriguing birds from Eastern North America,  Each bird receives a page with a picture, the basics to identify the bird and its voice, a range map and a “wow” factoid about the species. Thompson does not fall into the trap of only featuring exotic, rare birds that kids will have a hard time seeing.  Instead, the sparrows, finches, sea birds, and cardinals are all well-represented.  I used the book while watching my birdfeeder this past weekend and it was perfect.  The bottom of each page also has a check box, where kids can mark the birds they have seen, to begin their life-list of sightings.

One of my favorite things about this book is that Thompson apparently consulted with his eleven-year old daughter’s class in coming up with the design of the book, so the book is child and adult friendly. The Wow factoids are fun and informative, and the pictures of each species are breath-taking. Plus, the cover is wipeable, meaning it will survive those days out in the backyard!

The field guide covers all types of habitats and all of Eastern North America.  This would make a great gift for kids from 8-18.

Blog Action Day

So I’m a little late…..

This is my contribution to Blog Action Day, an attempt to bring the global community of bloggers together to explore one issue: the environment. Today’s the day! If you have your own blog, why not join in?

Novels with an Environmental Theme:
The Talking Earth (Jean Craighead George): Billie Wind is a Seminole Indian whose father works for NASA. She doesn’t believe in the legends and beliefs of the traditional Seminoles. Instead, she “wants answers”. Billie is punished by the elder council and sent to live in the Everglades until she believes in the little people and talking animals. Her journey takes her through the Great Swamp, meeting all sorts of creatures. Her perspective on life changes by the end of the book. A great book for dealing with over-development and endangered species.

California Blue (David Klass): John Rodgers lives in a small logging town in California. While running in the forest one day, he stumbles upon a strange chrysalis. It turns out that an extremely rare butterfly makes its home in the redwoods. John is thrust into the middle of a vicious fight between environmentalists and loggers in his hometown- loggers that include his father.

And Then There Was One: The Mysteries of Extinction (Sierra Club Books): While this is not a novel, I do love this book. A great non-fiction book, the author cites specific animals and explains how humans are impacting their lives. While it is a very serious topic, the information is presented in a fun and interesting manner.

The Lorax (Dr. Seuss): This is my favorite book with an environmental theme. I read it aloud 5-6 times each year and also perform it as reader’s theater. The Lorax ties into my journeys theme, environmentalism, and so much more! Of course, I always use The Lorax with my monarch butterflies, and my students love it!

Pond Scum (Alan Silderberg): Eleven-year-old Oliver enjoys tormenting insects, but his life takes a turn when his family moves into an old house which an assortment of animals do not want to vacate! A fun book, great for reluctant readers.

First Light (Rebecca Stead): Peter’s father is a glaciologist and his mother is a geneticist. The family moves to Greenland temporarily so that his father can research the effects of global warming on glaciers. Thea lives in a secret world under the glacial ice. Their two worlds collide and Thea and Peter discover that their destinies are more intertwined than they ever could have imagined.

There are many more novels with an environmental theme out there. This is just a quick glance at some! Let me know if you want to add any more to the list!