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Friday, August 1, 2014

Secrets of the Seasons, by Kathleen Weidner Zoehfeld and illustrated by Priscilla Lamont. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2014. $18.99 ages 7 and up

"It's easy to think that every day should be exactly half dark and half light. But Zack's right. Our daylight time is getting shorter. I love the long, warm days of summer. Shorter days mean it'll soon be getting cooler. Autumn is on its way."

You have met Alice previously, if you read The Secrets of the Garden (2012). Then, she was learning about he garden and its many wonders. In this new book, Alice and her companions (Zack, Pete and two very knowledgeable chickens) return to try to make sense of the events in nature that result in four separate seasons.

Zach is first to notice that something wonderful is happening. Well, perhaps not if you, like me, are not really looking forward to the arrival of autumn followed inevitably by winter. All the same, the sunsets are happening earlier in the day. As the seasons come and go, the human characters share their observances. Many will be familiar to those who read this story. As in the first book, the avian characters (two chickens named Maisy and Daisy) give us the scoop on the science behind the changes, in tandem with the children sharing what they have learned in school.

Zack offers his explanation from science class:

"My teacher said the earth spins at about 1,000 miles per hour, and it revolves around the sun at about 67,000 miles per hour. It's a good thing we don't feel it. We'd all be dizzy."

Maisy and Daisy have something to share as well:

"The earth travels in a huge oval-shaped
orbit around the sun. It takes the earth one
year - 365 days - to make a full orbit.

As the earth takes its yearlong trip, our number
of daylight hours changes and the seasons turn
from summer to autumn, winter, and spring. This
happens because the earth's axis is tilted."

There is a lot to learn here; it is explained clearly and without overwhelming its intended audience. With the help of Priscilla Lamont's pen and watercolor artwork, and the many details and captions she includes, we get a lesson in science that is both informative and memorable.

I call books like this 'faction' because of the way the author combines a story, which helps children retain what they are learning, and the real science research done, which helps to boost their understanding of the ways of the natural world. It's a winning combination, and a great lesson to boot!

If you are one of those who has never really understood these scientific phenomena, you won't mind that your listeners will urge you to read again, until they finally get the hang of it all, too.          

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