Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bridging the Gap XI: On My Own Science Series

In my post of March 3 (Nonfiction That Makes the Grade) I described the qualities which make a nonfiction book exciting and educational for elementary and middle school students.

I recently had a chance to sample the On My Own Scienceseries from Millbrook Press, a Minneapolis-based publisher which has specialized in nonfiction series for grades 2-5.
In addition to the useful elementary science report fare, such as Why Does It Rain? and Volcanoes Inside and Out, this series has some intriguing titles which seem to be drawn from timely news reports of discoveries in diverse areas of science, including The Search for Antarctic Dinosaurs, Supercroc Found, and Real-Life Sea Monsters.

For example, Shipwreck Search: Discovery of the H. L. Hunley recounts the fascinating story of the search for and eventual discovery in 1995 of the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley, a narrow, forty-foot human-powered sub which became the first underwater craft to sink an enemy ship.

Author Sally Walker begins the account of the discovery with a brief history of the search, begun after the Civil War with conventional divers in helmets and pressure suits and culminating in scuba divers' finding the craft buried under several feet of sand and debris in 1995. As the discovery phase gives way to recovery, Walker takes care to cover the different roles of historians, engineers, archaeologists, forensic anthropologists, and genetic biologists who take part in the raising, preservation, and interpretation of the material found inside the Hunley, a priceless, if inadvertent, time capsule of the Civil War era. Illustrations and text show how forensic artists reconstructed the facial features using the skeletons of the crew to aid in their identification. As a result of the DNA and forensic study, crew members have been identified and the names and drawings of these men are included in the text.

Walker recounts one fascinating find aboard the Hunley. Family legend had told of a lucky talisman carried by its captain, George E.Dixon, a dented gold piece which had stopped a bullet which struck him in the Battle of Shiloh. Amazingly, archaeologist Marcia Jacobsen found this coin, with its poignant engraving, "Shiloh, April 6, 1862 My Life Preserver. G.E.D.," among his bones.

Books in this series include considerable backmatter, including afterwords, bibliographies, glossaries, and references.

For those kids who favor nonfiction books for their recreational reading, this series has some appealing titles and solid science to offer. Accelerated Reader levels for this series range from grade 3.2 to 4.5, right on target for beginning chapter readers.

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