4/28/08

Environmental Disasters

Environmental Disasters, by Michael Woods and Mary B. Woods (Lerner 2008, 64pp). Part of the Disasters Up Close series, writen for Grade 5 and up.

This isn't cheerful reading, but it is darned interesting. Chemical leaks, killer smog, a vanishing sea, and the explosion of a nuclear reactor (among other disasters) are presented here in an utterly engrossing, horrifying, riveting way. The subject matter in itself is fascinating, but the authors have given the material a human touch that makes it unputdownable by bringing real people into it. Here's seven year old Barry Linton, for instance, talking about the Killer Smog that killed over 4,000 people in London in December, 1953- "Even in our...living room, it was misty and choky," Linton remembered. "And every time I blew my nose, it looked like soot in my hanky" (page 23). Aziza Sultan recalled the 1984 gas leak in Bhopal thus - "The room was filled with a white cloud....Each breath [seemed] as if I was breathing in fire" (page 29).

These oral testimonies of hellish situations are coupled with very clear descriptive prose, explaining with copious examples what environmental disasters are, what causes them, where they happen, and how their effects are measured. And it ends with a vague hope that we are, perhaps, learning enough from our mistakes that we will not all be doomed...

There are copious (and fascinating) illustrations, a list of safety tips, a timeline (I didn't know that Edward I made the first air pollution law in 1272 to reduce smog in London), a glossary, a list of Disaster Sites to visit (fun for the whole family?), source notes, and further resources.

This wasn't a book I felt I wanted to read to my children--they are still too young to know the horror that people can unleash, through carelessness, greed, and stupidity. But as a curious reader, I found this book a true page turner (and I bet a lot of kids will too). I think the Woods should write a book on the same subject for grownups, who need the lessons contained in these stories spelled out to them much more than today's children do, brought up as they are with Earth Day and Recycling.

This book was reviewed a few weeks ago by Diane Chen over at the School Library Journal, who was also taken with the Edward I trivia tidbit. It's already been featured at the Nonfiction Monday roundup, but certainly deserves another go!

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