Wednesday, September 06, 2017

In the Beginning...: Older Than Dirt--A Wild But True History of Earth by Don Brown and Dr. Mike Perfit

This hole in the earth is my home, such as it is.

Earth is your home, too, and its story is deeper and older than the dirt I'm digging in.

Hey! Earth is older than dirt!

Who's better at getting down and dirty than a groundhog? And this woodchuck wastes no time chucking wood! His job is to guide young readers through the history of our favorite planet--from the Big Bang until today. Groundhog is assisted by his subterranean straight man, an earthworm with a surprisingly expressive face (despite his sole features being two nondescript eyes) who knows all the right questions to ask his dirt-moving docent as he sightsees through geologic time.

Graphic artist and storyteller Don Brown provides the wisecrack-studded narration and engaging cartoons to take the reader way back in his comic time machine to make sense of Earth's 14.5-billion year (but who's counting?) history, pointing out that our home sphere is a spinoff from space dust shaped by gravity.

Our familiar globe was once a cloud of rock, dust and gas. The rock and dust collided to make clumps. The clumps swirled around to make our solar system and sun. About 4.5 billion years ago, some of the clumps joined together to make Earth. Groundhog begins at the beginning, with molten Earth slowly cooled by galactic winds to form a core, surrounded by red-hot magma mantle which slowly hardened into the rocky lithosphere at the surface. But Earth has also had its "baby bang," when a smaller loose planet careened into it, leaving behind some of its mass, with the rest bouncing off to form Earth's Moon.

Groundhog faithfully relates the story, unfortunately choosing the wrong metaphor for his wormy student:

"THWACK! Some scientists say it was a punch to the gut and others say it was a slap to the shoulder."

"What's a shoulder?" asks Earthworm.

But our trusty narrator digs in, describing the changes wrought by volcanic action and a multitude of meteor strikes on the neophyte planet by which Earth acquires minerals and gases which combine eventually to form an atmospheric and watery oceans. Groundhog describes the transition from a primordial water world to solid land beset by erosion and tectonic forces which create a changing world of continents and oceans teeming with life forms, from snowball earth to tropical earth to the great die-offs after big asteroid strikes and the slow rise of good old dirt that makes animal and human life possible.

It's a dramatic story that lends itself well to the graphic novel style, in Don Brown's and Mike Perfit's Older Than Dirt: A Wild but True History of Earth (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), which tells Planet Earth's tale with plenty of facts laced with wise and witty repartee between his two, ahem! well-grounded characters.

A winner of the American Library Association's Sibert Award for nonfiction, with the aid of noted geologist Dr. Mike Perfit, author-illustrator Brown skillfully uses paneled pages and speech balloons to provide the earth science education delivered by his earthy narrators in a storyographic format just right for this introduction to the geologic backstory of our favorite planet. Middle readers will love this chance to dig down deep into our Earth's history and will surface with a deeper understanding and valuation of the planet that is our place in space.

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