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Friday, September 21, 2012

Citizen Scientists, written by Loree Griffin Burns with photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. Henry Holt, Macmillan. Raincoast Books. 2012.$14.99 ages 8 and up

"It all started with the lady at the end of the driveway on the first warm night of spring. She wasn't doing anything, just standing there outside her car with a clipboard in her hand and a flashlight on her head."

Why, you ask? Well, that's the weird thing. She said she was counting frogs. Did you hear that right? Yep, that's what she was doing. She said 'the easiest way to count frogs is to listen to the mating calls they make after the sun goes down.'  Did you know that? That is only one of the many wonderful and eye-opening things you will learn when you read this book about  'regular' people who help scientists with their work.

I was totally engrossed in it last night, when I was supposed to be watching the ball game. I guess that says something about the nature of this very informative new book by noted nonfiction author Loree Burns. Her books read like a personal conversation. In this one, she makes a case for each of us to find a way we can help build information for scientists. We can do that right where we live. With encouragement from this gifted writer, I can't imagine anyone not seeing the value in taking part in some the scientific observations that help inform research.

She says that citizen science is "the study of our world by the people who live in it." People with an interest in being citizen scientists become involved in four for each season of the year. It begins in fall and concerns the monarch butterfly. She gives clear instructions for capturing and studying a monarch, determining its sex and then preparing to tag it. She explains the process for tagging, the reasons for doing it and introduces her audience to the first scientist who invited citizen scientists to help him tag monarchs so that other scientists like him could determine their migration path. If each person who saw that tagged butterfly let him know where they saw it, their track might become clear. So much has been learned since Dr. Urquhart put out this invitation in 1952. Her advice for helping is succinct:

"Get yourself a net. Find a good butterfly habitat. Come fall, start scanning the horizon for that telltale flurry of orange and black. Do you see one? Great. Go get it!"
Each chapter tells about successful citizen scientists, offers a checklist of things to do to prepare for you foray into scientific discovery and provides a quick quiz concerning different types of the observed species.

In the second chapter, we move to winter and a chance to be a birdwatcher who takes part in annual bird counts. Moving through the cold, clear days of winter, we leap forward to spring and the frog count. With each new season, we learn much about the need for the help of citizens in our world to make unusual and sometimes alarming discoveries that might otherwise go undetected. Finally, we welcome summer and a chance to get up close and personal with the dainty, helpful, aphid-eating  ladybug.

This book is will interest and inspire its readers to get outside and see how to help, perhaps in their own backyard. The back matter is as exciting as the rest of the book. It includes a full page of information about books, field guides, and Internet sources for each of the four chapters. Additional resources, answers to the 'quick quiz' from each chapter are given, a bibliography, a glossary, and index will take readers back to the exact pages they would like to revisit.
The photographs add substance and beauty at every turn of the page. They are clear and give readers information about every aspect of the information shared. It's good to see the scientists who work tirelessly so that they might teach us about what they are learning, the citizen scientists (people just like you and me), and the wondrous critters whose stories are told. This book is a winner!

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