Patricia Newman writes middle-grade nonfiction that inspires kids to seek connections between science, literacy, and the environment. The recipient of the Green Earth Book Award and a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru Science Books and Films Award, her books have received starred reviews, been honored as Junior Library Guild Selections, and included on Bank Street College’s Best Books lists. During author visits, she demonstrates how her writing skills give a voice to our beleaguered environment.
Sea Otter Heroes: The Predators that Saved an Ecosystem
For readers interested in marine ecosystems (and even some who aren’t), this mystery will be engrossing: Why does a polluted slough on California’s west coast allow seagrass to thrive when scientists would expect algae to kill it? Surrounded by farmland, full of birds, seals, and sea otters, this estuary arouses the curiosity of Brent Hughes, a young marine biologist who makes solving this puzzle the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation. Newman takes readers through each step of Hughes’s investigation, including myriad observations, researching the history of the slough, and coming up with a hypothesis. Hughes believes that sea otters make the difference by eating large crabs, thus allowing green slugs called sea hares to gobble up the algae. As he tests his hypothesis, readers can follow each step—including spotting otters with transformers implanted, and using large buckets to simulate differing environments. When further experiments reveal a trophic cascade (top predators affecting an entire food chain), readers can rejoice that Hughes has come up with an important discovery that reinforces the value of all major predators in maintaining an ecosystem. All this is presented in a beautifully designed book replete with charts and color photos (many taken by Hughes and Newman’s daughter), each page bordered in evocative blues and greens. Photos of the otters, recovered from near-extinction to become the top predators in the slough, emphasize their claws, shaggy coats, sharp eyes, and long and short whiskers that can make them look slightly humorous. The author urges young enthusiasts to become aware of ecosystems and to do everything in their power to preserve them. Useful are a glossary, a hands-on science project, and lists of books and websites for further study. Reviewer: Barbara L. Talcroft (Children’s Literature).
Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch
Photographed by Annie Crawley
We follow three marine biology graduate students as they join the scientific crew aboard the research ship New Horizon and explore the effects of plastic pollution on marine life. Their target, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is located in the North Pacific Central Gyre. Ocean gyres are created by patterns of currents that allow floating debris to accumulate. One woman studies the “rafting community,” creatures that attach themselves to other marine life or floating debris. She found that plastic pieces as small as a pencil eraser could harbor thousands of microscopic life forms, while large pieces of plastic often were covered by barnacles, crabs, and fish eggs. Putting tons of plastic debris “rafts” into the ocean could alter the relative number of creatures in the ocean. Another student looked at the consumption of plastic by marine life and found that almost 10 percent of the fish they examined had ingested plastic. Given that marine phytoplankton (the first link in the ocean food chain) supply between half to two thirds of the earth’s oxygen, that fish feed three billion people worldwide, and that the fishing industry drives the income of 10 percent of the world’s population (p.27), disruptions in this elaborate web of life are of serious consequence. The main goal of this book is to raise awareness of an already significant and growing problem. Suggested actions that individuals, as well as groups like school classes, can take to make a difference and help educate others are offered. Explanatory photo captions, source notes, a glossary, book and web resources, and an index all serve to enhance the value and usability of this book. Appropriate for any school or classroom library as a resource for ecology, marine science or community action lessons. Reviewer: Paula McMillen, Ph.D. (Children’s Literature).
Nugget on the Flight Deck
Illustrated by Aaron Zenz
Excitement builds as Nugget, a brand-new aviator, learns his way around an aircraft carrier and makes his maiden voyage on a “bird.” Readers learn many slang words such as “bird,” which means aircraft. Lively illustrations and clever design make this a visually appealing book, and one that children will learn from as well as enjoy reading. Nugget begins his journey aboard a carrier on a very blue sea. He learns his way around the carrier as he picks up the gear he needs to fly. Nugget’s plane receives fuel in the air and engages in a practice dogfight. When the day’s exercises are over, he lands the aircraft safely aboard the carrier as a very yellow sun is setting. Nugget has had an eventful day and so have readers, who have shared this journey with him. Although there is a lot of unfamiliar terminology, kid friendly definitions and diagrams are given in sidebars with the text. This title, which is an excellent choice for would be aviators, communicates the excitement and adventure of a very exacting profession. The aviator’s alphabet, facts about carriers, and places to go for additional information are included at the back of the book. Reviewer: Jeanne K. Pettenati, J.D. (Children’s Literature).
Patricia Newman’s author visit presentations empower kids to use their communication skills to become stewards of our environment. Each multi-media session engages students with demonstrations, volunteer opportunities, humor, and a sense of purpose. Newman helps kids understand how passion—in her case for the environment—can be the springboard for writing and revision.
A day-long author visit depends on the school’s needs, but usually includes two assemblies, a writers’ workshop, and a book signing. Presentations run from 45-60 minutes. Newman typically speaks to students in grades K-8, but is happy to meet with parents for evening programs as well.
To learn more about Patricia Newman and her publications please visit www.patriciamnewman.com.