Energy Bookshelf: Why are the ice caps melting?

There are books that you just want to love, truly, but can’t no matter how hard you try.  Anne Rockwell’s Why are the ice caps melting? The Dangers of Global Warming is such a book. 

This is “Level 2” book, aimed a K-4 audience (ages 5-9).  As one who regular gives Climate Project presentations to elementary school audiences, this book was of great interest to me.    A “professional” at communicating with youth would provide me thoughts and paths for addressing the issue with young children.  Great.  Something to take with me to schools.

It is a beautiful book. The illustrator Paul Meisel did a great job.  Just glancing through it, looking at the pictures, it is easy to imagine reading through this to young (3-6 year old) children, interacting between the words and the illustrations to explore the issues more deeply.

It is, however, when we turn to the words where the problems begin.  Illustrated in the style of books that I use with my 3-year old (a little) and my 6-year old, consider these words from the text:

  • Reradiated
  • Accumulate
  • Water vapor
  • Carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, fluorocarbons

These are just some of the “hard” words, from just one page (6).  There is no way that a parent could read this book as a bedtime story and not confuse their young (5-7 year old) child. (Okay, their non-genius child …) Even at the upper end of the age spread (8-9 years old), there is some pretty serious vocabulary.   Elsewhere, however, the voice is one that young children can quite easily understand.  And, at some point the illustrations move from engaging to embarassing: an older child is unlikely to want to ‘be seen’ with a children’s illustrated book.

Okay, so the level of discourse is off against the illustrations. Is that the only problem?  Sadly, no, as the book is also misleading.   For example, on page 13, the text reads, relative to ice melting, “there is no place for this extra water to go, so sea levels are rising.”  The balloon text for the children swimming off a pier:

  • “Look how high the water is!”
  • “Was it that high last summer?”

Okay, is anyone seriously going to argue that children, with a naked eye, will have the ability to judge sea level rise, year-to-year? 

To be honest, this is a book that I wanted to love.  Really.  But, despite my efforts, this was a romance that simply is not to be …

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