Black Hole and Moonbird
Quick! Name all the science-themed nonfiction books in the Newbery canon. VOLCANO by Patricia Lauber. One? Yes, you read that right: there is only one science book in the entire canon. Perhaps that will change as there are several excellent science books this year.
We could spend quite a bit of time with THE MIGHTY MARS ROVERS by Elizabeth Rusch and INVINCIBLE MICROBE by Jim Murphy and Alison Blank. Or we might explore the relative merits of THEIR SKELETONS SPEAK by Sally Walker and Doug Owsley or THE SKULL IN THE ROCK by Lee Berger and Marc Aronson. Even BOMB by Steve Sheinkin and TEMPLE GRANDIN by Sy Montgomery have scientific subplots.
But for now I’d like to focus on the two science books that I find not only the most distinguished, but also ones that are on opposite ends of the warm and fuzzy spectrum: A BLACK HOLE IS *NOT* A HOLE by Carolyn DeCristofano and MOONBIRD by Phillip Hoose.
This is not to slight the aforementioned books which are all good–distinguished, even. All of these science books are important because, taken together, they present the Newbery committee–and, by extension, ourselves–with a crash course in what distinguished science literature for children looks like.
A BLACK HOLE IS *NOT* A HOLE
A black hole is NOT a hole–at least not the kind you can dig into the ground or poke your finger through. You can’t just walk along and fall into one. A black hole isn’t a hole like that.
If a black hole is not a hole, then what in the universe is it?
This may be the most distinguished nonfiction title of the year, but it will also be the hardest to build consensus around because an expository text about physics does not make us quite as warm and fuzzy as a narrative text about a tenacious, but adorable little bird. It doesn’t tug at the heartstrings, does it? And yet the writing is uncategorically distinguished, but don’t take my word for it . . .
Booklist: Writing with rare verve (A black hole is nothing to look at. Literally.), DeCristofano condenses recent astronomical discoveries into a high-energy account of what we know or guess about one of the universe’s deepest and most unobservable secrets.
Horn Book: Complicated abstract ideas, such as gravity, electromagnetism, and relativity, are logically ordered and clarified in an inviting conversational style and with inspired uses of reasoning and analogies that are perfectly attuned to the comprehension levels of the target audience.
Kirkus Reviews: DeCristofano handles the material with wit, style and singularly admirable clarity, frequently employing easy-to-understand and, yes, down-to-earth ideas and scenarios to help make complex principles comprehensible to readers of all ages.
School Library Journal: This introduction to black holes takes readers from simple to complex by dropping definitions and information slowly and clearly into the lively narrative.
B95 can feel it: a stirring in his bones and feathers. It’s time. Today is the day he will once again cast himself into the air, spiral upwards into the clouds, and bank into the wind, working his newly molted flight feathers for real.
Like DeCristofano, Hoose writes with clarity and verve. His text meanders freely across the expository and persuasive domains of writing, but it’s his narrative powers, especially as the story pivots around the titular character, that make this not only distinguished writing, but consensus-friendly.
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books: Putting an actual beaked face to the problem of animal endangerment makes the story of the species’ peril all the more compelling, and only the truly hard of heart could resist cheering for B95 to make it through one more trip.
Kirkus Reviews: In a compelling, vividly detailed narrative, Hoose takes readers around the hemisphere, showing them the obstacles rufa red knots face, introducing a global team of scientists and conservationists, and offering insights about what can be done to save them before it’s too late. Meticulously researched and told with inspiring prose and stirring images, this is a gripping, triumphant story of science and survival.
Both of these books are worthy of Newbery recognition, but I don’t have much faith that the Newbery committee will see their way to recognizing A BLACK HOLE IS *NOT* A HOLE; I hope I’m wrong. Prove me wrong, Newbery committee; I dare you! On the other hand, MOONBIRD likewise has all the hallmarks of distinguished nonfiction and seems much easier to build consensus around. Is there room for two science books on the proverbial podium? Theoretically, there is, but practically speaking . . .
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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