Friday, April 22, 2011

How the Weather Works

A Hands-On Guide to
Our Changing Climate
Written by Christiane Dorion
Illustrated by Beverley Young
Templar, 2011
$17.99, ages 7-11, 20 pages

Everyone's talking about climate change, but ask them to tell you what it is and chances are they'll get tongue-tied.

The subject is so complex and hotly debated that it's hard for children, let alone many adults, to digest what it means.

And unless you know what climate change is all about, how do you start to care about it?

In this wonderful movable guide to weather, the team behind last year's acclaimed How the World Works demystifies climate change by sorting through terms kids need to know to understand it, like what is the water cycle and ozone.

Almost the entire book is about weather, and it's only after readers work through the fundamentals, from how the sun causes weather to where rain comes from and why the wind blows, do the book's creators address climate change.

The book is laid out like a scrapbook with nine general questions addressed on two-page spreads. Like the very air the book discusses, reader's eyes are in constant motion, watching pop-ups, interacting with pull-outs, flaps and rotating wheels, and following arrows around graphics.

With so much to look at, examine and move, readers never get bogged down by complexity and are able to visualize weather as a dynamic force.

On a spread about weather fronts, readers pull a tab to make a hot-air balloon rise as they learn that air is warmed by the sun heating the ground below it. As the air gets warmer, it expands and becomes lighter, much like air in a hot air balloon.

"It floats upward through the surrounding cool air, a bit like the blobs of wax in a lava lamp," Dorion explains, in another analogy.

It isn't until the last three spreads that Dorion and Young shift from the concept of weather to climate, first examining how climates work, then how they change over time and what the climate was like in the past and finally, how it's changing today.

On the spread about past climates, readers wind around a timeline set up like a game board to read about changes from 4,600 million years ago, and discover that the climate has been both much colder and much warmer than it is now.

They also see that the climate has continually gone back and forth between warm and cool as a result of natural occurrences, including continental drift, melting ice, volcanic eruptions, a meteorite and surges in plant life.

Then the book's creators shift to the loaded question, "Are we changing the climate?" With great care, they answer, yes, Earth is warming up, and the cause is "very likely to be the way we do things on our planet," but some believe it's warming naturally, as it did in the past.

This spread takes readers through the evidence of warming, melting ice caps, rising sea levels and the science that proves increased carbon dioxide in the air (from natural and man-made causes) warms the climate. It also features a colorful pop-up diagram of the greenhouse effect.

As you open that spread, a compressed landscape of farms, roads, landfills, cities, power plants and clear-cut forests rises up above the book, along with arrows from each impacted area to show the greenhouse gas that's released.

Nitrous oxide rises from crops sprayed with fertilizer, and methane from fields packed with cows and rice patties, and from landfills, and carbon dioxide comes up from roadways, power plants and factories, and a forest being clear cut and burned.

Then on the far right, Dorion and Young leave readers to ponder all they've read and seen. Readers are told what the future could hold and ask whether they think humans should wait and see what happens, or do something to change it now.

This is the kind of book that makes open discussions possible. It isn't hammering one position or another, but trying to inform children, so that they can become part of the bigger discussion on global warming and make up their own minds about what needs to be done.

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