March 15, 2007


Scholastic Question & Answer Series: Do Stars Have Points?; Do Tornadoes Really Twist?; How Do Bats See in the Dark?; How Do Flies Walk Upside Down?; Why Don’t Haircuts Hurt? By Melvin & Gilda Berger. Illustrated by Vincent Di Fate (Stars); Higgins Bond (Tornadoes); Jim Effler (Bats; Flies); Karen Barnes (Haircuts). Scholastic. $6.99 each.

      This is a series that continues to hew closely to the roots of the name Scholastic. Every 48-page book is chock-full of solid information, clearly presented in Q&A format, with illustrations that enhance the words without taking the focus away from them.

      Do Stars Have Points? is about stars, planets and other objects in space, and has been updated to include, among other things, the latest information on Pluto: “Is Pluto really a planet? No. In 2006, astronomers redefined Pluto as a dwarf planet, which is different from a planet.” There are intriguing facts about every planet: on Mercury, you would roast in daytime and freeze at night; Jupiter’s diameter is more than 10 times the diameter of Earth; Uranus rotates like other planets but is tilted so far that it “looks like a top spinning on its side.” There is similar brief and interesting information on stars, Earth’s moon, asteroids, comets and more.

      Do Tornadoes Really Twist? comes back to Earth for a look at Nature’s strongest storms: tornadoes and hurricanes. In addition to basic information, there are interesting questions such as: “What happens when a tornado passes over water? You get a waterspout. …The funnel winds spin more slowly over water than over land.” There is also information on where the word “hurricane” comes from, what direction hurricane winds spin in, and how much rain the storms bring: “A big hurricane can dump as much as 20 inches (51 cm) over a given area. That’s about half as much rain and snow as New York City gets in a whole year!”

      How Do Bats See in the Dark? and How Do Flies Walk Upside Down? focus respectively on night creatures and insects. The first book explains that bats “see” with their ears, by making super-high-pitched squeaks that bats hear echoing off objects. It also tells about one type of moth that can hear a bat’s squeaks and fly confusingly to avoid capture. And there is information on owls, whippoorwills, fireflies, flying squirrels, opossums, and many other night creatures – including cats. The Flies book explains that some insects have 4,000 separate muscles – compared with 600 in human beings. There is information on how insects hear (crickets hear through their legs!), how they smell (with antennae), and how they defend themselves against enemies (“usually by escaping”). There is also information on larvae and pupae, the differences between moths and butterflies, and the hunger of dragonflies (which can eat their own weight in one hour). And you will learn that, unfortunately, the most widely scattered insect in the world is the mosquito.

      Why Don’t Haircuts Hurt? turns to the subject of people and explains about the human body. Where skin color comes from, what freckles and goose bumps are, and what is the hardest thing in the human body (not bones but tooth enamel) – all are explained here. The body’s most useless bone is the coccyx, which may be the remains of a tail. A human eats about half a ton of food per year. Burps are gas bubbles. Sneezes propel air at more than 100 miles per hour. In this book as in all the others, Melvin and Gilda Berger prove themselves excellent guides to the world and all that is in, around or outside it. They talk to young readers, not down to them – a crucial distinction. The various illustrators have different styles, but all do a fine job of making the Bergers’ clear written explanations visually interesting. Parents as well as children will likely learn a great deal from each of these short, fact-packed Scholastic titles.

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