Having a son who loves illustrated reference books (almost) to the exclusion of all other types of reading material has made me very, very familiar with DK, or Dorling Kindersley, the publisher of spectacular books (and documentaries) for children and adults. However, after reading Pamela S Turner's reference books, I see that there is a whole other side to science. What Turner brings to her books is the human face of exploration, investigation and especially conservation and preservation of disappearing species. Turner's books are filled with spectacular color photos and, always, an index at the back. For readers who aren't so enthralled with non-fiction and science related topics, Turner's books will make any school report a breeze and are likely to inspire interest where there might have been none before. For young readers who are already nurturing a fascination with science, these books will be an exciting discovery!
Published in 2009, The Frog Scientist by Turner with photographs by Andy Comins is part of publisher Houghton Mifflin's Scientsist in the Field series and focuses on Dr Tyrone Hayes. Growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, Hayes loved being out in nature, collecting frogs, turtles and snakes where his first lab was his front porch. By the time Dr Hayes had graduated from Harvard with honors in 1989 and was headed to UC Berkely for graduate school, scientists were discovering that frogs all over the world were dying. Dr Hayes now researches the effects of pesticides on frog development as one of the possible causes of the rapid decline in frog populations around the world. Turner's fascinating book takes you through a brief look at Dr Hayes's childhood and then through the process of collecting and studying specimen in his lab at UC Berkeley along with the help of his graduate students. Kids will delight in the many colorful photos of different frogs, along with a few that have a certain "ick" factor (a frog with an extra leg, a frog eating a baby mouse and a frog dissection...) There are plenty of photos, captions and occasional charts on every page of this book making it an enjoyable and easy read. Learning of Dr Hayes's personal connection to and passion for (he named his daughter Kassina after the scientific name for a group of African frogs) frogs made The Frog Scientist all the more readable.
In an interesting note, I learned from reading Pamela's blog that the NY Times recently ran an article stating that the EPA would run new studies on the risks of Atrazine, the widely used weed killer that is banned in Europe. Dr Hayes has been studying the effects of Atrazine (75 millions pound of which is introduced into our environment every year) on frogs for many years.
Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great Apes by Pamela S Turner was first published in 2005 and came out in paperback last year. The focus of her book if the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, based in Rwanda. Turner donates half of all royalties from this book directly to MGVP, an organization of veterinarians who provide life saving care to the highly endangered mountain gorillas, who's numbers are critically low due to threats from war, poaching and human destruction and disease. It was more immediate and difficult for me to read about the destruction humans are bringing to the world of gorillas rather than frogs. But, story of the mountain gorillas and the work that the MGVP is doing is so important and needs to be told. Turner does a wonderful job making it readable for all ages, and, there are many wonderful photos of the gorillas being magnificent, playful, curious gorillas as well as a hopeful look at steps to educate the children of Rwanda with the hope that future care and attention to these animals will lead to a growth in their population.
A Life in the Wild: George Schaller's Struggle to Save the Last Great Beast, published in 2008, is the winner of the Golden Kite Award for non-fiction, presented by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Turner first learned of George Schaller while researching Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great Apes. Schaller, a naturalist and conservationist, was the first scientist to study wild gorillas. He spent 20 months studying the gorillas in the Virunga Mountains in Africa in 1959-60. Seven years later, Dian Fossey, familiar with Schaller's research, would arrive to learn more about this endangered species. In her biography of Schaller, Turner features six different periods of study in Schaller's life in addition to a chapter on Schaller's childhood and a final chapter titled, "The Fate of the Wild" in which she provides an update on endangered animals and how they are faring as well as a great section on how readers can get involved in animal and habitat conservation. Schaller studies gorillas in Africa, tigers in India, lions in Tanzania, snow leopards in the Himalayas, pandas in China and asses and antelopes in Tibet. As someone who has grown up, and who's kids have grown up, as members of the San Diego Zoo and sister site The Wild Animal Park, A Life in the Wild was utterly fascinating. Also concerned with conservation of endangered species and their habitats, I have seen many of the animals Schaller has studied at the Zoo or Wild Animal Park over the years. In her book, Turner highlights Schaller's research and shares his field notes and illustrations. I was especially fascinated by Schaller's sketches of the gorillas' "nose prints" that helped him to identify all 169 of the animals he was observing in 1959-60. I am definitely going to take a closer look at the gorillas the next time I am at the Wild Animal Park! But, it is Turner herself who describes A Life in the Wild best when she says, "I am always writing for my twelve-year-old self, and this is just the sort of book I would have loved: stories of memorable beasts, insights into nature and inspiration from a life of dedication and purpose." As with Gorilla Doctors, Turner dedicates a portion of her royalties, this time to the Wildlife Conservation Society, as well as other organizations of George Schaller's choosing.
Life on Earth-and Beyond: An Astrobiologist's Quest, Turner focuses her on astrobiologist Chris McKay of NASA. But first, Turner explains that biology is the study of life on Earth and astrobiology is the study of life in the universe. Astrobiologists want to answer the question, "Does life exist beyond Earth?" Since life has not been discovered beyond Earth yet, astrobiologists travel to places on extreme environments on Earth to understand how life might survive on other worlds. McKay (and Turner's) explorations take him from the Dry Valleys of Antarctica to Siberia, the Sahara, the Atacama Desert in Chile and Death Valley, CA. While the studies that McKay and his team of scientists make at each location are fascinating, Turner does an brilliant job of showing the reader exactly what is involved in setting up a laboratory, not to mention living environment for the scientist, in each locale. These scientists are more like adventurers as they survive and work in extremely hot and cold environments in order to complete their investigations and experiments. I felt a bit as though I was watching a reality show on Discovery Channel, maybe Dirty Jobs, as I read this book. They should really look into making a show about astrobiologists. Life on Earth - and Beyond has some great pictures of space, including one taken by the Hubble Telescope as well as a very helpful breakdown of the top spots in the search for life beyond Earth. My favorite part of the book was when McKay and his team went to Lake Hoare, Antarctica to see if life could survive beneath a thick, permanent cover of ice. The description of McKay preparing to dive under into the lake and under the ice is chilling - no pun intended - as are the pictures. Is there life at the bottom of this lake? You will have to read to find out!
Turner's latest book, Prowling the Seas: Exploring the Hidden World of Ocean Predators was released in October of 2009. Again, Turner focuses her book on an endangered species, this time the dwindling numbers of ocean predators and a group of scientists who study loggerhead turtles, great white sharks, bluefin tuna and sooty shearwater seabirds with the hope of saving them.
And lastly, just had to share Turner's author picture from The Frog Scientist !