I’ve never been into animals. I’ve never owned a pet, except for the gerbils I got in 5th grade, who kept me awake night after night spinning on that wheel. After that I decided I didn’t need a dog or a cat. It’s kind of funny that I ended up working at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center since I can’t really get too excited about our main attractions. When I saw this new book from Mr. Brough’s spring order, Fifty Animals That Changed the Course of History, I decided that maybe I could impress some of my co-workers. I have to say, though, that the descriptions in the book actually ended up impressing me. Author Eric Chaline profiles all kinds of animals, from horses to bald eagles to earthworms to bats. Each entry describes what that animal has contributed to the world. Even though it seems pretty easy to see what makes some of these guys important Chaline includes really interesting facts for each one. For example, in the chapter on the louse I found out that one of the reasons 16th century aristocrats wore wigs is that they were easier to “delouse.” I especially like the chapters on the silkworm and the pigeon. The silkworm was important because it led to the formation of the “Silk Road,” the trade route going from China to Europe. I like to think of that as the start of the fashion trade. As for the pigeons, I have always wondered how carrier pigeons know how to get where they’re going and how to get home again. It turns out naturalists don’t know for sure, either. It might be because pigeons are somehow tuned into the Earth’s magnetic field, they are hyper-aware of the landscape around them, they use their sense of smell. I love the variety of this book. Every chapter explores the significance of a particular animal, from practical things such as food and transportation to folklore that has inspired art and literature. The more I read the more fascinated I became and the more impressed I became with each of the animals profiled. I’m finally beginning to understand why my friends at the Science Center care so much about teaching kids about how amazing animals really are.
With my new interest in the natural world I decided to read Girls Don’t Fly next. Author Kristen Chandler wrote one of my favorite books of last year, Wolves, Boys, and Other Things That Might Kill Me, which was refreshing because it’s about actual wolves and not werewolves. That book is about KJ, the outdoorsy daughter of a hunting and fishing guide who befriends the new guy in town, who is helping his mother with her project studying the wolves that have been reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park. In the course of the novel KJ ends up writing a column about the controversy surrounding the wolf reunification project. I was drawn into the characters and the two sides of this issue. The natural world is also the backdrop for Girls Don’t Fly. Myra, a high school senior, constantly puts the needs of her parents, her pregnant sister, her four younger brothers, and her boyfriend before her own. When her boyfriend breaks up with her she decides that it’s time for her to start thinking about herself. She decides to compete for a chance to join a research team studying plant and animal life on the Galapagos Islands. Of course, Myra’s Mr. Perfect ex-boyfriend is in competition with her for a place on the team. Just when she’s about to give up because she can’t possibly win against him, she discovers a fascination with cormorants, which are water birds, and develops a topic for her research proposal. By the way, the only reason I knew what a cormorant was because it’s the name Cof one of the Science Center’s pontoon boats. Just like in Wolves, I adored the characters in this book and I was really rooting for Myra the whole way through. I’ve decided that Kristen Chandler is one of my favorite authors and I’m going to read everything she writes. These are animal books I can’t wait to read!