I first learned about publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Scientists in the Field series from my colleague Rene Ebersole, a kids' book author herself. I was hooked after the first title I read, Quest for the Tree Kangaroo. The series brims with photographs and rich text about various researchers and their endeavors, from whale scientists who save beached leviathans to a tarantula expert. Curious kids will surely absorb the stories like little sponges, so don't be surprised if, after a few readings, your precocious yougin' starts donning a helmet and carrying a flashlight or stockpiling insects in her room in preparation for a future of discovery.
Books from this series that I've reviewed for Audubon follow; stay tuned for more!
Quest for the Tree Kangaroo: An Expedition
to the Cloud Forest of New Guinea
The forests of Papua New Guinea look like a Tolkien fantasy: fungi of every color abound, orchids sprout like daisies, and unusual animals roam. But to some people familiar with Papua New Guinea’s exotic species, the most mysterious—
and adorable—island dweller is the Matschie’s tree kangaroo, an auburn-furred, pink-nosed marsupial that looks like a teddy bear, or “something Dr. Seuss might have dreamed up.” Wandering high among the branches of moss-cloaked trees, the Matschie’s ’roo is both elusive and rare, making its study difficult—and its conservation imperative. In Quest for the Tree Kangaroo, one of a series of real-life nature adventures, Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop follow scientist Lisa Dabek and her international research team on their journey to locate and radio-collar the animal so it can be tracked for future study. Colorful photographs depict various steps along the quest, from the treacherous hike up steep mountains, to setting up camp, to tagging captured kangaroos before they’re released back into the wild. Readers won’t just fall in love with the fuzzy ’roo; they’ll also enjoy meeting some of the humans on the adventure.
The Whale Scientists: Solving the Mystery of Whale Strandings
Pinocchio’s journey into the belly of a whale is a chilling portrait of aquatic leviathans—but in truth, whales face their own harrowing dangers. In The Whale Scientists, Fran Hodgkins investigates strandings by examining these marine mammals’ evolution, biology, and controversial relationship with humans. In past centuries “many people saw whales as nothing other than murderous monsters,” she writes, noting that stricter limits on hunting and protection as endangered species have helped bolster some plummeting populations. Stranding is still a problem, however, and underwater sonar tests, collisions with watercraft, and natural phenomena are possible culprits. Kids will be impressed by rescue attempts made by volunteers and groups like the Cape Cod Stranding Network, which patrols the Massachusetts coast for beached marine animals. In one case, the team loaded two stranded young whales into a van for rehabilitation at an aquarium; the duo revived and was released three months later. Fortunately, as Hodgkins attests, “becoming stranded is not an automatic death sentence for [whales],”—but to save them, you’ve got to get your feet wet.
Ask kids to imagine a scientist, and they might think of a lab-coat-shrouded, begoggled “classic nerd,” surrounded by microscopes and beakers. Extreme Scientists upends that notion by introducing three researchers who defy stereotypes. First there’s the hurricane hunter, who tracks dangerous storms by flying into their center. Using radar and GPS, he collects meteorological information, such as air pressure changes, to send to the National Hurricane Center so that forecasters can predict weather trends and issue warnings. Next is a microbiologist “cave woman.” Armed with lamps and other gear, she maneuvers through caverns of all kinds—limestone, ice, even underwater—in search of microbes that could be used for making medicine. Finally kids meet a “skywalker”—that is, a botanist who scales redwoods and other arboreal titans hundreds of feet high to study their ecology and learn how to protect them from pollution and global warming. Donna Jackson’s text is thick with facts, but the researchers’ anecdotes, which include harrowing recounts of near-death experiences, and graphic images depicting each scientist in action, will keep kids tuned in, perhaps concocting their own adventurous careers.