Chernobyl’s Wild Kingdom, by Rebecca Johnson (2014)

Age 8-12
Chernobyl's Wild KingdomOne of the best things about reading children’s nonfiction is that it re-introduces to adults the “historical” events from our own lives. When the Chernobyl nuclear plant went into meltdown in April 1986, the Cold War was still on and the Berlin Wall intact. Vancouver paused its Expo-preparation frenzy, along with the rest of the world, to witness the disaster. Back then, news from behind the Iron Curtain, as we called the border which separated Eastern and Western Europe, was carefully controlled, but when the fallout reached the West, the secret was out. We all relearned, years after Three Mile Island had faded from our memories, about meltdowns and nuclear fallout. The area was evacuated and closed. Even today, nearly 30 years on, it’s a radioactive zone with trespass forbidden. But the natural world remained, and scientists today are astonished that “Life in the Dead Zone,” as this book is subtitled, not only survived radiation but appears to be thriving despite being highly radioactive. This slim book (64 pages) presents the scientific exploration of how radiation affects the animals and plants in an easy-to-read narrative, with full-colour photos, maps and diagrams to help children understand what happened in the Ukraine so many years before they were born and its impact on the life that survives. Questions and theories help children gain an understanding that even in science there are things we don’t know. It was fascinating reading for this adult as well, though I didn’t like the use of gory red colour blocks with white text for the sidebars in the e-galley version I was reading. New words are explained in text and in the glossary. The images are informative and engrossing, and the sidebars and tables provide points of entry for browsers. There is a chapter on the Fukushima disaster of 2011, supporting the conclusion that while that we have learned from Chernobyl, history repeated itself despite our efforts. Appendices include source notes, a bibliography, and a list for further research, along with an index. While this is an outstanding introduction to the topic for middle school libraries, it’s also an excellent book for youngsters who like fact books. It’s on my Christmas list for one reader in my family. My thanks to NetGalley for the advance reading copy in exchange for my honest review.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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