Quill and Quire

REVIEWS

« Back to
Book Reviews

Acting Wild: How We Behave Like Birds, Bugs, and Beasts

by Maria Birmingham and Dave Whamond (ill.)

Why Don’t Cars Run on Apple Juice? Real Science Questions from Real Kids

by Kira Vermond and Suharu Ogawa (ill.)

Curious kids intuitively understand that science begins with questions. Two new non-fiction books both encourage and support insatiable inquisitiveness and the voracious need to know. 

Fifty questions posed by young visitors to the Ontario Science Centre are considered in Why Don’t Cars Run on Apple Juice?  The book is divided into sections: the Earth and outer space (“Why can’t we feel the Earth moving?”; “If I were to sneeze in outer space, would my head blow up?”), how our bodies work (“Why is poo brown?”), animal oddities (“Can rats burp?”), and “Big Ideas” (“What would the world be like if dinosaurs were still alive?”).   

These mind-expanding queries are accompanied by Toronto illustrator Suharu Ogawa’s zippy cartoons, which include images of astronauts floating in space, with the word “Achoo!” spelled out in the stars; rodents passing gas; and a bicycle-riding green dinosaur.   

Guelph journalist and accomplished children’s non-fiction author Kira Vermond (The Secret Life of Money: A Kid’s Guide to Cash) consulted expert educators and researchers from the Ontario Science Centre to craft succinct, interesting answers to the kids’ queries. With a cool, conversational panache, the browsable responses are neither overwhelmingly dense nor too simplistic. Relatable comparisons help kids wrap their heads around new concepts: the experience of blowing soap bubbles is evoked when explaining why planets are round (“the attractive force of their own gravity pulls these objects into spheres”).     

With some tough questions – “Why do people need to sleep?”; “Why are dinosaurs so BIG?” – Vermond acknowledges, “We don’t know” before offering a few theories. The final pages turn the question-asking tables around and invite readers to think up their own responses to the question “What hasn’t been invented yet?”    

Acting Wild: How We Behave Like Birds, Bugs, and Beasts – by OWL and chickaDEE magazine contributor and 2018 Lane Anderson Award–winning science writer Maria Birmingham – digs deep into the fascinating and ever-popular topic of animal behaviour. A smart and sassy ant is our tour guide on an exploratory journey through the wild kingdom that humans are a part of (even though we like to think we are a special bunch).  This “lowly ol‘ bug” calls readers out on our superiority complex: “Hey, human! How goes it? What’s wrong? Never talked to an ant before? Oh, I get it. You think you’re better than me.” The ant then ebulliently elaborates on just how much we homosapiens have in common with the animal world. 

Detailed, double-page spreads profile creatures who know a thing or two about farming (like damselfish that weed and harvest their coral reefs), building shelters (termite mounds reach great heights), and communicating (prairie dogs have a vocabulary of 100 calls). Humans aren’t alone in knowing how to creatively use tools, either – bottlenose dolphins wrap their beaks with sponge while digging for food and otters use rocks to crack open mussel shells. Even traits once considered uniquely human, like empathy, can be seen in herds of mourning elephants.    

Full of visual jokes, Dave Whamond’s wacky cartoons are fittingly boisterous: chimps rowdily queue in front of a food cart selling “bugs on a stick”; cleaner shrimp set up a dental office and investigate the flossing habits of a wide-mouthed fish; and ravens wearing toques toboggan down a snowy rooftop.    

Birmingham presents a large amount of zoological information in a focused, well-organized, and highly entertaining manner. The ant, equal parts stand-up comedian and science educator, rigorously and convincingly defends the thesis that we’re “all part of one amazing family.”