December 27, 2018


Go! Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals. Scholastic. $12.99.

Fly Guy Presents: Garbage & Recycling. By Tedd Arnold. Scholastic. $3.99.

     One thing that books can do especially well, even in our video-saturated age, is to help us connect with the world around us. A TV show, video or podcast may make it seem as if we are somewhere that we are not, doing things that we are not really doing, and the growing field of virtual reality lets us fool ourselves even more efficiently and effectively. But books can go beyond this by actually explaining about the world and helping readers get involved in it. This can be particularly important for screen-obsessed young readers – and a book such as Go! Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals does a very good job of separating kids from their electronic devices. This is really a kind of “box book,” box-shaped and containing a bound-in box that has four plastic-covered storage compartments containing actual rock samples – an excellent way to intrigue young readers about the topic and get them started on the subject matter and on making rock collections of their own. The small samples are of fluorite, amethyst, lapis lazuli and dolomite, and they are interesting enough to look at so they will encourage young readers to find out more about them in the book’s pages. The book is quite well-organized and does a good job of balancing basic facts about rocks with encouragement of discovery. Laid out with a strongly visual orientation – we do, after all, live in a highly visual age – the book explains everything from the rocks used to build cities to the three different classifications of rocks (igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary) to the step-by-step basics of identifying minerals. Pictures and tables abound: the 10 levels of hardness appear in a table, for example, with a picture beneath of a penny being used to scratch a mineral, which means “the mineral’s hardness is less than 3.5.” There is information here on why graphite is used in pencils (it is “super-slippy,” which means “flaky masses fall off and leave black marks”); how to be sure, if you happen to find silver, that you have not also discovered dangerous arsenic, which can sometimes be found nearby (“hit [arsenic] with a hammer and it smells like garlic”); and why jewelers and geologists mean different things when they talk about sapphire: to the jeweler it “is a gem made blue by the mineral almenite,” while to a geologist “any corundum gem that’s not a ruby is a sapphire – whatever its color!” Page after page of Go! Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals gives rock-related information that is fascinating in itself and also very useful for anyone interested in rock hunting and collecting. “A U.S. penny is 97.5% zinc and 2.5% copper” and costs more than one cent to make; power plants using coal “produce about 41 percent of the world’s electricity”; thanks to amber, more than 1,000 types of extinct insects – which became caught in it in the distant past – have been identified; and much more. Little boxes marked “look” and “dig it” enliven the book’s layout while pointing to specific visual or factual information of particular note, although the “dig it” symbol – a stick figure using a shovel – is not always apt: it appears with the phrase “don’t dig it” above a box explaining that many coral reefs are dying and that coral should be looked at but not taken away, but the figure does not have the line through it that is the international symbol for something not to do. Still, little misfires in Go! Field Guide: Rocks and Minerals do not prevent it from being a first-rate introduction to its topic, clearly explaining what rocks and minerals are, why they are important, and what can be learned by studying, collecting and simply enjoying them. The science here is well-presented and often surprising, as in a comment about the periodic table, which takes up two pages of the book: “99.4 percent of all rocks and minerals are made from only nine elements.” It is the sense that the wonders of rocks, and the unusual facts about them, are all around us, that makes the book such a solid introduction to its topic, and that should result in it tempting young readers away from screen time and indoor activities for at least a while, to explore the real world in which they live.

     Readers will not, on the other hand, be likely to head for landfills on the basis of Tedd Arnold’s latest factual foray featuring Fly Guy and his boy, Buzz. This is Fly Guy Presents: Garbage & Recycling, which does have an amusing underlying theme for readers who already enjoy the title character: Fly Guy really is a fly, and spends some time in most of his books searching for and, when possible, eating garbage. So this real-life topic is right up the fictional fly’s alley. The book itself is serious, as are all the Fly Guy Presents books, but the cartoon illustrations of Fly Guy and Buzz help keep the topic from dragging too much and sometimes become really amusing: on one page, Fly Guy is saying “Yumzee!” as he flies happily over a smelly landfill, while Buzz is seen at the bottom of the page wearing a gas mask because of the odor and commenting, “A fly can smell garbage from almost five miles away!” The book has its share of statistics – people in the U.S. throw away 250 million tons of trash a year, including $1,300 worth of food – but it is mostly explanatory, with an ample selection of pictures to illustrate the narrative. For example, there are contrasting photos of garbage trucks that use diesel fuel and ones that “run on a natural gas created from landfill gases [that] is less expensive and better for the environment.” There is information on how a landfill is created, how it is used, and what happens when it is full: it “is covered and closed” and may be “turned into a park, a golf course, or even a ski resort.” There is an unusually detailed explanation, considering its brevity, of just how recycling works, from a truck’s arrival at a recycling center through a series of photos showing how a plastic recycling center handles a huge cube of bottles known as a bale. There is information on composting, too – it is, after all, a form of recycling – and on the environmental impact of trash that “doesn’t get disposed of properly” and “ends up in our lakes, rivers, and oceans.” Arnold does a good job of making this information relevant to a young audience by pointing out that because birds and marine animals eat bits of plastic that accumulate in the ocean, “if you like to eat fish, you might find yourself eating our oceans’ plastic trash one day, too!” Of course, that is as likely to make young readers decide to avoid fish as it is to make them determined to do their part to clean up the environment, but Arnold quickly moves on to “the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle,” and has Buzz and Fly Guy directly urge readers to follow 10 tips to help “make our planet a better, healthier place.” Like all the short Fly Guy Presents books – a mere 32 pages in length – Fly Guy Presents: Garbage & Recycling does not have room to handle its topic in any depth; but that is not its reason for being. The idea is to use enjoyable characters to give young readers a once-over-lightly look at a significant element of their lives about which they may not have thought very much, so they can get additional information elsewhere through parents, teachers, or other adults. As a basic look at a topic of considerable importance, this little book, like most of its predecessors in the series, does an admirable job.

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