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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Disasters, written by Brenda Guiberson. Henry Holt, H B Fenn, 2010. $22.99 ages 11 and up

"The hurricane slowed when it
hit New Orleans. The storm surge
was funneled into narrow canals
and channels, which increased the
pressure. The wind broke windows,
knocked down trees and power lines,
and shredded roofs, including that of
the Superdome, home of the city's
professional football team."

There are ten disasters here and they are presented chronologically, from the outbreak of smallpox to the horror of Katrina and its continuing aftermath. Brenda Guiberson provides a just right mix of facts, so that all readers can access the information without being overwhelmed by it. It would prove to be a hit as a readaloud in intermediate and middle years classrooms, even beyond. As an adult I found the presentation fascinating and compelling. As usual, I learned a lot!

The author is adept at making her readers feel that they are part of the disaster being details and proving that the best nonfiction writers do their research well before sharing it with their audience. She is able to help us easily understand each of the different times in history, while keeping the information clear and manageable. There is so much here to discover!

And you know how kids like disasters. This will be a popular book for borrowing and will lead its reader to a deeper understanding of the events that led up to, and that followed some of the most talked-about tragedies, past and present.

Each chapter is about twenty pages long, long enough to provide needed details but not too long to lose interest and forward motion. There are subsections, quotes and many details...often alarming. The archival photographs, clear and concise drawings are captioned to add interest and information. Along with telling what led to the disasters, the author also offers suggestions for prevention of future catastrophic events. In a Notes section she provides titles for further reading and her own sources of information. There is also an extensive bibliography and a useful index.

Looking at our history teaches us about the past, and the future:

"Nature will always shake, sizzle, gush, and wallop. It has the strength to destroy but also the systems to protect and restore. There is much to be learned from a close look at past disasters. The clues can lead to wiser choices for living in the natural world."

What an addition this book will prove to be for a history class, and for budding historians!

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