Mass Extinction, by Tricia Andryszewski

Mass Extinction: Examining the Current Crisis, by Tricia Andryszewski (2008, Lerner, 111 pp, Grades 6-12).

Mass Extinction begins on an ominous note, describing the lost dogwoods of the Appalachians, and the sad plight of the hemlocks. A bit of a respite is provided in an overview of past great extinction crises--the Big Five. I enjoyed this part; it's safely in the past. But then Andryszewski begins to address her main subject--the extent to which humans are precipitating Big Six. And it looks grim. Chapters on altered and fragmented habitats, purposeful killing, invasive species, climate change, and toxins paint a deeply disturbing picture. The narrative is accompanied by side bars that include historical pictures and writing as well as photographs of living animals, adding depth and context.

This is not a cheerful book. It is beautiful written-- I read parts of it out loud, which I think is one of the best ways of finding flaws in prose, and found none to speak of. The vocabulary is simple, yet effectively used to convey complex information in a non-didactic way. It's well illustrated, and informative as all get out. But despite all this, it is not a pleasant reading experience, and I stopped reading it out loud to my older boy by the third chapter--much too depressing. And there's no comforting conclusion, no "if you turn off the lights when you aren't using them all will be well."

However, because this book is so matter of fact about the harm that has been done to the earth's ecosystems, and the consequences to us, its warning might be much more persuasive than some of the more evangelical environmental books out there.

This isn't one for young readers. Leafing through it with my children, I had to close it quickly when we got to the picture of the seven legged frog. There are things they are still to young to know, but the older readers, for whom this book is intended, should read and learn...and hopefully help.

One sidebar quotes Henry David Thoreau writing on extinction: "I should not like to think that some demigod had come before me and picked out some of the best of the stars. I wish to know an entire heaven and an entire earth." I, likewise, do not want my children to grow up in a rhinoceros-less, or even, heaven forbid, a frogless world.

On a positive note, I read today that the black footed ferrets had a successful breeding year in 2007--397 babies, and very cute they are.

(Disclaimer: I got my copy from the publisher)

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