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September 12, 2008 Edition

Real Samurai, by Stephen Turnbull, illustrated by James Field

Kids who want facts and anecdotes about Japan’s warrior class can start here. For a samurai the greatest honor in battle came in defeating an opponent in one-on-one combat, in which the winner got to behead the loser. So, samurai had to learn lots of ways to fight: with bow and arrow, sword, dagger, or bare-handed, and on foot and horseback. But samurai had to also learn military tactics, since they also led armies into battle against armed peasants, warrior monks, Mongols, and other samurai. Read about how the samurai rose to prominence in Japanese culture, the armor they wore, the weapons they carried, and their codes of honor in this short but full book for older elementary and middle school readers.

Outside and Inside Wooly Mammoths, by Sandra Markle

Wooly mammoths are extinct, but, thanks to their fossilized remains, there are lots of things we are able to learn about them and the world they lived in. Markle, an expert at winnowing out the really thought-provoking and “hey, listen to this!” details in any topic, talks about the three different kinds of hair mammoths had, what made them similar to and different from African and Asian elephants of today, and what happened when their teeth wore out. She also theorizes about their extinction. Were their herds decimated by human hunters? Did their climate change too much for them to survive? Or were they wiped out by a deadly disease? All this and much more, written for older elementary and middle school readers.

Cave Detectives, by David L, Harrison, illustrated by Ashley Mims, cave photos by Edward Biamonte

In 2001, blasters preparing a road site open up a cave that’s been sealed shut for thousands of years. Inside are shallow pools of pristine water, rock formations that look like ice, and lots of fossils. Several sets of fossils seem related, and cave scientists piece together the story they tell, of a short-faced bear, a herd of peccaries, and dinner. This is a fascinating look at a day in the Ice Age as well as the serendipitous ways we continue to discover new things about our world.

My Football Book, by Gail Gibbons

This small book is meant to introduce youngsters to the fun they can have both playing and watching American football. Gibbons gives a quick overview of equipment that players wear and a sketch of the field, and then launches into a game played by two teams, defining new terms as they go. Amiable cartoon figures help new football enthusiasts follow along with the action as the Rockets and the Dragons take to the field, passing, running, kicking, blocking, and scoring. Perfect for those who want to help kindergarteners and younger elementary school kids make sense of what they’re seeing on TV or playing in the back yard.

The Leaping, Sliding, Sprinting, Riding Science Book, by Bobby Mercer, illustrated by Tom LaBaff

Combining science theory with sports movements gets addictive fast as the author instructs kids to do things they’re already inclined to do, but take notice of what happens if they change things. For instance, diving versus bellyflopping illustrates the principle of aerodynamics, and hockey sticks that are made out of different materials show the difference potential energy can give your game. Freeze sneakers to examine traction, or a tennis ball to see how it bounces. Clear instructions and common-sense safety precautions preface each experiment, and the results are explained in a “what’s going on?” section. Good for active middle-schoolers interested in the science fair, or for parents and teachers looking for ways to tie sports interests in to science (or the reverse!).

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