Friday, August 31, 2018

Fact Friday and Review: Eavesdropping on Elephants by Patricia Newman

Eavesdropping on Elephants: how listening helps conservation by Patricia Newman. 56 p. Millbrook Press/ Lerner Publishing Group, August 1, 2018. 9781541515710. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Science writer supreme, Patricia Newman's latest book brings to life the work of Katy Payne, who started Cornell University Elephant Listening Project back in 1984. After working for fifteen years studying whale sounds, she turned her attention to deciphering elephant sounds. "Katy wondered if African elephants also used infrasound. Biologists who study them had always marveled that elephant families separated by miles seem to stay in touch with one another." (p. 11) After studying Asian elephants in the Washington Park Zoo, Katy and her team spent five years recording savanna elephants in Zimbabwe. Eventually, she teamed up with an elephant researcher named Andrea Turkalo to explore these questions; "Could acoustic eavesdropping uncover more about forest elephants' habits? Could it help protect them? And could the combination of sound and behavior help scientists decode what elephants are saying to one another?" (P. 14)

With her usual narrative flair, Newman's accessible prose sifts years of complicated research into manageable bites of information accompanied by at least one full-color, well-captioned photos on every page. As usual, the publisher's design team found cool colors and design elements to tie the pages together. In this case, backgrounds in green tones and sound waves pulsing from one page to the next. There are maps to orient the reader and text boxes with charts to explain concepts. There are also elephant-shaped QR codes that readers can scan to watch videos and listen to sound clips! For those without a QR code app, there is a url for access. This extra content adds punch.

Newman always encourages young readers to be proactive in her books by providing tips for environmental stewardship. Backmatter includes a spotlight on Taegen Yardley, who as a middle school student, was inspired by the documentary, Battle for the Elephants, to advocate for elephant conservation and protection against poachers. There are two pages of source notes; a glossary and two pages of books and websites recommended for further reading, making this a great source for student research. 

Eavesdropping on Elephants is a spectacular STEM addition to any school, classroom or public library. It does double duty, as most of Newman's books do, to not only advocate for conservation efforts but highlights real scientists and their work in the field. 


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