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Bookmonger: Science adventure books for summer travels

Published on July 13, 2017 12:01AM



If you have middle-grade kids and you’re heading out for a road trip around the Pacific Northwest this summer, may I recommend the books of Portland science writer Elizabeth Rusch as a way of enriching your youngsters’ journey?

Maybe you’ll be sleeping out under the stars some evening, or perhaps you’re planning to take in the total solar eclipse next month. If these spark conversations with your children about what’s out there in the great beyond, Rusch’s book “The Mighty Mars Rovers” might be a good pick.

Rusch has authored several books for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s lively Scientists in the Field series. This one focuses on Spirit and Opportunity, the “little rovers that could” — remarkable machines that were expected to work for three months, but actually ended up exploring the Red Planet for years. The book also traces the story of astronomy professor Steven Squyres, who served as the mission’s lead scientist.

Early next year, Rusch will have a new book coming out titled “Impact!: Asteroids and the Science of Saving the World.” Those prone to worry might be alarmed to know that an estimated 150 million asteroids currently hurtling through our solar system are considered large enough to wipe out an entire city. Rusch will help to allay your fears by introducing the scientists who are working on ways to identify the most dangerous asteroids and determine what can be done to avert catastrophic contact.

The author has produced other engaging children’s science books on everything from harnessing the energy of ocean waves to infant development. But her best book, in my opinion, is “Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives.”

We who live in the Pacific Northwest tend to affect nonchalance about living within spewing range of the volcanoes on our horizon. In ever-increasing numbers, people live and work in potential volcanic blast zones, yet there seems to be little concern about examples such as Mt. St. Helens’ 1980 eruption that blew out the side of the mountain and set off catastrophic lahars. Heck, St. Helens, Rainier, Crater Lake, and other volcanic peaks in the Cascades are tourist destinations now.

Fortunately, while folks like us are snapping selfies and watching videos in the visitor center, there’s a cadre of scientists that is doing plenty of worrying on our behalf. At the Cascade Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington, the U.S. Geological Survey recognized that St. Helens’ eruption was hardly an anomaly. More than 50 volcanoes erupt every year across the globe, many of them near densely populated areas. So the USGS has set up the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program to provide training and support for colleagues around the world. Their goal is to decipher volcanic activity and predict eruptions far enough in advance that at-risk populations can be safely evacuated.

Aside from doing a great job of detailing the hair-raising adventures of these scientists, this book is terrific because it spotlights their gender and ethnic diversity. What great role models for a fascinating and important profession.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com.


By Elizabeth Rusch

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

80 pp

$18.99 hardcover, $9.99 paperback or eBook


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