Face to Face with Manatees by Brian Skerry

manateesCindy: The BP oil spill is sure to be incorporated into many curricular lessons this school year with its wide-spread environmental and economic impact. Libraries would be wise to be prepared with books to support the lessons to be learned. One of the many tough things to watch has been the growing impact on the innocent wildlife as the photos and news articles come in.

Face to Face with Manatees (National Geographic, 2010) is one resource to add to the mix. Underwater wildlife photographer Brian Skerry provides plenty of close-up opportunities of this relative of the elephant in its already dangerous marine environment. Even without oil spills, the large shallow water-swimming beast is threatened by motor boat traffic with propellers that injure and kill the manatee. Loss of warm-water habitats is their other main threat due to wetland loss from prolific building in this fragile ecosystem.

I’ve vacationed in Florida all of my life but haven’t been privileged to see a manatee in the wild. I do remember my daughters being mesmerized years ago by the tank of manatees we watched munching on heads of lettuce at an aquarium. We didn’t see much of the rest of the aquarium as none of us wanted to leave the manatee tank. It was a memorable site. Skerry’s close up photos of these interesting animals are fabulous–I’m jealous of his daughter who got to swim with them. The next best thing might be adopting my own manatee for $25. They even let you choose your manatee from an online photo gallery. I may have just found my holiday gift buying solution for 2010.

Lynn: Christopher Columbus reported sighting mermaids off the coast of Hispaniola in 1493. Scientists today think Columbus was seeing manatees using their flippers to lift their heads out of the water to breath. Seeing Skerry’s amazing pictures, it is hard to see the similarity to mermaids and much easier to understand their common name: sea cows. It is easier still to fall in love with this gentle fascinating creature and Skerry’s fascinating text is just as appealing as his photographs AND as informative. Written in a style and format that is appealing and extremely accessible for young nonfiction readers, the book is large with many full page photographs. The text is in a large easy-to-read font with lots of white space setting it off. It is easy to follow the flow of the text and the photographs are illustrative of what is being discussed. Occasional sidebars provide interesting facts but these are kept to a minimum and are not distracting to the reader. End pages provide Facts at a Glance, a scientific adventure experiment for youngsters, glossary, additional resources and information on how readers can help the endangered manatee. In short, this is an outstandingly crafted book for young readers. If you are as alarmed as I am by Nicolas Carr’s latest book on brain research, you will understand my excitement about this wonderfully designed AND engaging book that will capture readers and help them develop important reading skills as well.

Happily there are many more wonderful books in this outstanding series from National Geographic. Check out Face to Face with Sharks by Daniel Doubilet (2009), Face to Face with Lions by Beverly and Dereck Joubert (2008), or Face to Face with Wild Horses by Yva Momtiuk and John Eastcott (2009).

nonfictionmondayNonfiction Monday is hosted today by Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian. Be sure to check it out!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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