Science Books & Films - Erika Iyengar, Muhlenberg College, Allentown, PA
"The Web of Life series is very well done, covering a nice range of topics in a clear manner using a conversational tone of text with interesting and effective graphics. I examined three of the six-part series: Life Processes, Food Chains and Webs, and The Future of Life on Earth. I recommend covering the books in this order if students read more than one. The remaining three titles are: Adaptation and Survival, Behavior in Living Things, and Variation in Living Things. This series comes in two versions, regular and “express style.” Express style is aimed at younger readers. However, the content covered is the same, the graphics are exactly the same, and most of the text is the same. The only major difference is fewer words on each page; some information and a few terms have been omitted. However, the remaining concepts are not easier than those deleted, so the express edition is more a large print edition than anything inherently different. Sometimes words are defined within the sentence in the express version, while only in the glossary in the regular version. The regular version seems appropriate for readers in 5th to 9th grade. While the express edition will be a bit more accessible to the 5th graders, there won’t be any substantial benefit and a fair amount of explanatory information and specific examples of concepts will be sacrificed for the larger-sized font. Life Processes approaches the overall question “What is life” and refers to the seven life processes (movements, respiration, sensitivity, nutrition, excretion, reproduction). After covering all seven terms in a brief form, the succeeding pages step through each individually. As is true of all of the books in this series, there is a nice diversity of life forms covered in the pictures: with humans (including a fetus), a dragonfly emerging from a molted skin, lizards, squid, hydrothermal vent worms, a whale shark, plant stomata, amoeba, fungi and bacteria. While most of the images are camera pictures, light microscope or scanning electron microscope images are used when appropriate (although unfortunately scale bars are omitted). Towards the end of the book there is a case study and multi-page table comparing the blue whale and a common puffball (a fungus) on each of the seven life processes to emphasize their differences and similarities. The schematics are clear, simple, effective, and likely to interest the students, such as a nice one diagram tracing various sites of respiration in a shark. The tone of the text is conversational without being silly or condescending to this age group, and information is drawn back to the students through off-hand comments (p. 40: “at this moment, bacteria are growing on your teeth. . .”), and pull out boxes with Common Confusions/Misconceptions (which are indeed apt), Questions to Think About (sometimes answered in the preceding information and sometimes the answers have been just hinted at or are too complex to be easily answered), and What it Means for Us. Important scientific terms are bolded, and there is a glossary that defines these terms. Topics covered in Food Chains and Webs are: producers, consumers (herbivores/carnivores and endotherms/ectotherms), detritivores and decomposers, food webs, the food pyramid, and changes in food webs occurring through natural and human-induced impacts.
This volume is a bit more complex than either the previous or the next one I will discuss, with more scientific terminology and fewer “wow!” factoids than in The Future of Life on Earth. Each section has a more in-depth coverage than in The Future of Life on Earth, perhaps because each topic is smaller and more discrete than those in the other volume. However, the tone of this volume is still accessible and conversational, with some attempts at puns and jokes to make the learning easier for the students. There are pull-out boxes with specific examples highlighting the concepts at hand and current issues are mentioned (such as bees and" - Science Books & Films
July 1, 2012