May 24, 2007


Scholastic Question & Answer Series: Can It Rain Cats and Dogs?; What Makes an Ocean Wave? By Melvin & Gilda Berger. Illustrated by Robert Sullivan (Rain); John Rice (Ocean). Scholastic. $6.99 each.

The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark. By Ken Geist. Illustrated by Julia Gorton. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $6.99.

      There’s lots of wet stuff out there – nearly three-quarters of the Earth’s surface is water – and two of the fine entries in the Scholastic Question & Answer Series provide loads of interesting information about the compound without which life as we know it would be impossible. Melvin and Gilda Berger immediately answer the cats-and-dogs question with a clear “no,” but they then point out that it can rain frogs and fish: some have been swept into the air by powerful storms, then dropped from the clouds along with the rain. This book answers some simple-but-puzzling questions, such as why the weather keeps changing (because the sun heats our planet unevenly), as well as some more-complex ones, such as what the difference is between weather and climate (the former describes conditions at one time and place; the latter refers to the usual weather in an entire area). Then, in their book on the ocean, the Bergers tell how high the highest wave ever measured was (higher than a 10-story building); why the Dead Sea is really dead, and why the oceans are salty (salts from soil and rock wash into the oceans but cannot wash out – and Dead Sea water is nine time as salty as ocean water, so almost nothing can live in it); and how fish manage to stay afloat (most have swim bladders that are filled with gas to aid buoyancy). Like all the books in the Scholastic Question & Answer Series, these two are short but packed with information: each question may get an answer that runs only a few lines, but there are lots of questions. Also as usual in these books, the illustrations are pleasant and unobtrusive – knowledge is king here.

      Families looking for a purely fictional ocean tale can try The Three Little Fish and the Big Bad Shark, which is a rather thin story with one significant factual problem, but which nevertheless gets a (+++) rating simply because it’s fun – and the illustrations are attractive. This is merely the tale of the Three Little Pigs told in an underwater version, with three small fish trying to make homes for themselves despite the attacks of a huge and fierce shark. The first fish makes a seaweed home, the second a sand home, and the third builds a home in an old wooden ship that’s just too tough for the shark. It’s cute to have the shark say, “Little fish, little fish, let me come in,” and have each fish reply, “Not by the skin of my finny fin fin,” but that’s just about all there is to the story. And the ending, in which the shark loses all his teeth by trying to bite through the old ship and learns to eat seaweed, is funny only if kids don’t know that sharks lose teeth throughout their lives – and constantly regrow them. Very young children will enjoy this book, but don’t be surprised if they outgrow it quickly.

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