September 27, 2007


The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming. By Laurie David and Cambria Gordon. Scholastic. $15.99.

The Bilingual Edge: Why, When, and How to Teach Your Child a Second Language. By Kendall King, Ph.D., and Alison Mackey, Ph.D. Collins. $15.95.

      Every generation hands down its problems to its children in the hope that they will find solutions. Along with the problems come suggestions on how to tackle them – even if those suggestions have not, so far, gathered enough critical mass to eliminate the difficulties. These two books take on huge subjects – global warming and the increasing interrelatedness of the world – and suggest ways that the upcoming generation of world leaders may be able to handle these situations more effectively than the current one has.

      The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming talks directly to children about a problem that the vast majority of scientists see as a major element – perhaps the major element – of life in decades to come. Laurie David and Cambria Gordon, California moms without any particular scientific expertise in global warming, have designed their book to explain big issues in terms simple enough for even young children to understand. The basic scientific explanations are actually better done than some of the folksy attempts to make the science accessible: “If carbon dioxide were a pizza, then we are expecting the Earth to eat a whole pie rather than just one slice.” (Huh?) Still, the four-part structure of the book is good, dealing first with the science of global warming, then with its effects on weather, then with its impact on plant and animal life, and finally with things kids and their parents can do to help. The book is a rather odd mixture of scientific accuracy (a graph showing the Keeling Curve, one measure of carbon-dioxide concentration) with overly cute presentation (a section called “You Say You Want a Revolution?” and a photo of the Wicked Witch of the West to illustrate a page called “I’m Melting”). David and Gordon are, to be sure, undertaking a difficult task in explaining global warming and then trying to motivate kids to do something about it. Still, their choices of motivators may be off-putting for some families – quotations from surfer Laird Hamilton, actress Jennifer Garner and actor Leonardo DiCaprio? The final section of the book, “What You Can Do to Stop Global Warming,” unfortunately shows how little kids and average families can do: write to mayors urging them to agree to lower carbon-dioxide emissions; use compact fluorescent bulbs; take canvas bags to stores instead of using paper or plastic; suggest that your school use recycled paper; etc. These are good, solid ideas, but scarcely enough to make a dent in a global problem. Still, David and Gordon offer kids a place to start. Others will have to come up with bigger plans.

      The increasing interconnectedness of the world is a trend as pronounced and, to some people, as worrisome as global warming. It can even be argued that the upsurge in religiously inspired terrorist activity is in large part a reaction to the perceived homogenization of humanity. The way to handle the interconnection, according to Georgetown University linguistics professors Kendall King and Alison Mackey, is to accept it – and help your child participate more fully in the world of the future by learning at least one additional language. King, an expert in bilingualism, and Mackey, an expert in second-language acquisition, are themselves parents who are teaching their children multiple languages. In The Bilingual Edge, they offer assessment tools to help parents decide on their family language profiles and figure out what languages would be best for their children to learn. They suggest starting second languages as early as possible, and explain the difficulties parents will likely face as children get older, enter school, must do assignments and classroom work in English, and so on. They make suggestions about finding good teachers and learning programs, having a bilingual home, and more. The common thread in everything King and Mackey recommend is time – lots of time to work one-on-one with children; lots of time to speak a second language at home; lots of time to find ways to show kids that second languages are cool, so they will want to speak them even if their friends don’t. Stay-at-home parents who can devote long hours to second languages – especially parents from cultures in which English was not the primary language, and who therefore have relatives who can support efforts to keep children in touch with their linguistic heritage – will find many helpful ideas here. Time-pressed two-income families in which only one language is spoken will, unfortunately, get much less benefit from a book that adds yet another layer of expectation to children and parents who may understandably feel they have quite enough elements of life to juggle already.

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