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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

A World Without Fish?

Some of my sixth graders read nonfiction books exclusively, soaking up facts in their brain sponges, but for the majority, I have to do a little force feeding. And yet...





Like what?

We talked about super typhoon Haiyan, one of the greatest storms ever recorded on Earth, which devastated central Philippines last week. I told them about the Indonesian tsunami of 2004. I tried to get them to imagine how, when the oceans rise up and roar, especially the mighty Pacific, their power is so immense that humans are utterly helpless. To fragile marine ecosystems, the billions of humans using and fishing and dumping in the oceans are like those storms, creating paths of death and destruction. (Here's an important NPR story on underwater noise pollution.)

Humans are innately curious creatures and so we fly into hurricanes, soar into space, and dive to the depths of the oceans. Kids are among the most curious of us all. As the coordinator of our school’s Green Team, I see first hand how my students want to make a difference in their world. They want to feel that they have some power or control over their situation, that they have control over their future.

It’s not about “what kind of planet are we leaving our grandkids?” Tweens are saying, “What can I do now to ensure a healthy planet when I grow up?”

Making a difference begins with becoming informed. In my FREADom classroom library and in our school library, we are building a collection of up-to-date books about environmental topics. Can these titles turn curiosity into a lifelong drive to care about and take care of our planet? What authors can pull that off?

A key book in our collection is A World Without Fish, by Mark Kurlansky with attractive and helpful llustrations by Frank Stockton that really enhance the text. The book is a matter-of-fact account of the precarious state of the world’s oceans, but it is told with a storyteller’s voice. At the end of each factual chapter, kids are rewarded with a fictional comics page about Kram, a concerned environmentalist, and his daughter Ailat. Ailat gets older at each chapter until, by the end of the book, she has a daughter of her own and wants to pass down a love of the oceans to her.

As a teacher, I was particularly thrilled with two strengths of this book: First, the author weaves Darwin’s On the Origin of Species throughout the book in a practical way. Quotes and information about Darwin and his theories on evolution act like anchors for chapters about the oceans, keeping the entire work focused. I’m not a science teacher, but I came away with a much better understanding of Darwin seeing it in the context of a modern ecological problem.

The second strength is that Kulansky, a former commercial fisherman, presents information from all viewpoints; governmental, the fishing industry, scientists, and environmentalists and how they all get some things right and some things wrong. This is a complicated issue and Kurlansky breaks it down in easy-to-digest terms without oversimplifying the problem.

Tween brains are able to grasp bigger and more abstract ideas, and yet they can become easily overwhelmed when thinking about the problems of the world. The title A World Without Fishsounds ominous, but Kurlansky speaks directly to tweens when he includes information to answer the question:





Kurlansky provides practical activities and resources so that riled up tweens can take action immediately and make a real difference. By reading this book, they've already taken the first step—getting informed.

When buying fish at the market, Kurlansky says, “We need more information [like the the Seafood Watch list and UK Fish Ratings] and we should demand it.”

I yearn to see hungry students demanding information! What nonfiction books have spurred you to action?

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