Posts filed under 'Environmental Issues'

NOTE: COHS Titans–The following review is excerpted from the Junior Library Guild. (Meaning that I didn’t write it and don’t want to take credit from something I didn’t do!) We belong to the Junior Library Guild and purchase four books from them each month, so we have access to these reviews. I’m going to start posting excerpts from the reviews in the hope that you will see what great books we get from JLG–and come check them out! If you want to read the whole review, ask your English teacher. I have made copies for him or her to post in the classroom.

Some of you enjoyed reading Hoot and FlushScat is by the same author.

Ms. W

by Carl Hiaasen

Mrs. Starch, the cruelest teacher at the Truman School, humiliates Duane Scrod Jr., an extremely volatile student. Then Mrs. Starch vanishes during a biology field trip to Black Vine Swamp. The authorities initially suspect Duane, but they can’t question him; he’s been missing since the day before the field trip. Certain that something strange is going on, Duane’s classmates Nick and Marta investigate the disappearances. What they discover is definitely strange—it involves endangered panthers, a sleazy oil prospector, and a rampant environmentalist named Twilly Spree.

JLG Review: Carl Hiaasen specializes in accessible and engaging stories with an environmental bent. As with his previous novels for young readers, the conflict in Scat plays out between those who are committed to protecting Florida’s wildlife and the corrupt businessmen trying to profit from it. . . .

Nick and Marta are average kids who just want to know why their teacher suddenly went missing. As they investigate her disappearance, they stumble upon a plot far bigger than they expected. . . .

. . . Combining humor, intrigue, and a dash of danger, Hiaasen has created a fast-paced adventure that will captivate and entertain a wide range of readers—and might even teach them a few things about biology along the way.

April 14, 2009

“The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria Perhaps I’m feeling too much like ‘Chicken Little” (“The sky is falling!”), but lately I’ve been drawn to books about the future of both the world and the United States. Thankfully, I’ve generally enjoyed reading them, as I find their assertions to be thought-provoking without being alarmist. I also think that they would be very useful for a debate or an ‘issue’ paper. So it is with “The Post-American World,” a book that provides rich detail about the future of the world and the United States’ place in that future—economic, political and cultural.

I know the author’s work from reading copies of “Newsweek” magazine where Zakaria is an editor and consistently contributes articles on international issues. The title of “The Post-American World” sounds alarming, but Zakaria’s take on the future is very positive—provided that we don’t panic and remember that America has adapted to change before and has learned to excel. Zakaria argues that the United States is not ‘racing to the bottom,’ but that other countries are coming up in the world to be on more equal footing with America—and that’s a good thing because it takes people out of poverty and desperation. Excellent topics of research and discussion in this book include the rise of both India and China. India is an ‘inefficient’ democracy—as all democracies are because people can’t be told what to do by a dictating government. China on the other hand, though embracing capitalism in the last twenty years as an economic system, is still a dictatorship, willing to use brutal tactics in the name of progress and efficiency. Zakaria shows the reader why ‘inefficient democracies’ can continue to grow and succeed in changing times.

Another topic that would make a great argument for a history class project is what the United States should do to secure its future (and how it must be unlike Britain of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries)–not as a unipolar world power but as a legitimate broker of world power, the ally that is the hub in a wheel of nations, connected to the US through spokes of diplomacy.

January 21, 2009

“In Our Own Best Interest: How Defending Human Rights Will Help Us All” by William F. Schulz

“In Our Own Best Interest” is a great choice for students concerned about global issues, students who care about what happens to other people and students who are writing or debating on any controversial issue related to these themes—public health and access to it, economic policies, environmental policies and human rights at home and abroad. The author, who was the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA when he wrote the book, obviously believes that people have a moral obligation to care about others. However, the book itself moves beyond this argument to detail the many ‘selfish’ reasons—practical reasons—that working for others’ rights benefits us. Don’t skip the introductions (yes, there are more than one!) because Schulz discusses his interaction with high school students.

In Schulz’s words, here’s what he hopes to achieve with the book:

“I propound here no grand new theory of international relations nor offer revelations about human rights that are unavailable to the avid reader of high-quality newspapers. Rather, this book is intended to reframe the debate about human rights for the intelligent layperson who wants to understand the role of human rights play in the United States and it people. It is designed to take the human rights debate out of the hands of ‘experts’ (on both sides) and make it accessible to the average American. After all, their interests are really at stake here, and it is they who will pay the highest price for American indifference. . . .

“Second, the human rights I treat herein are the traditional civil and political ones, like the right to vote, to express opinions without fear of retaliation, to demand a fair trial, to be free from torture.”

The book includes an appendix that is a directory of human rights organizations.

If you are doing research on human rights, global climate change, foreign policy, economic policy, or the changing business and economic map of the world, other good books to check out (whether you agree with their arguments or wish to refute them!) are “The World is Flat” and “Hot, Flat and Crowed” by Thomas L. Friedman; and “The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria. I’m hoping to write a little review of each very soon.

January 7, 2009

Life of Pi

Here’s another story that begins in India, but marches to a very different drummer. The main character, ‘Pi’ Patel is named after a swimming pool in Paris. His father, a zoo keeper, decides to immigrate to Canada, and sells the animals. Most of these stay in India, but a few are destined to cross the ocean and live in distant zoos. During the Pacific crossing, the ship capsizes and Pi is thrown overboard into a 26-foot-long lifeboat. Though his family all die, Pi finds himself floating with Richard Parker—a 450 pound Bengali tiger from his father’s zoo—as well as a zebra, a hyena, and an orangutan. The most rudimentary knowledge of the animal kingdom will tell you which of the animals survives. But Pi tells the reader that this is a story with a happy ending, so the reader wonders–how will Pi survive with Richard Parker onboard?


Pi does survive with the tiger—for 227 days. And, yes, the journey is an epic one. Pi uses all his knowledge of the animal kingdom as he realizes that the tiger’s survival is necessary to his own. He expounds on faith and his understanding of Christianity and Islam as well as his native Hinduism. He makes an argument for the environmental value of zoos. Both his ill-fated meeting with another castaway and his salvation on a mystical island may be unbelievable, but who cares? The story is so weird and intriguing on so many levels, that the reader will follow Pi’s faith in the universe anywhere it takes him.

Add comment December 4, 2007

The Book of Dead Birds

We often think of authors as distant celebrities, but the truth is that more authors—even of very good books—are desperately working alone in the hope of sharing their vision with others. Here in the Inland Empire, we have many good authors doing just that. One, Gayle Brandeis, has written a lovely novel that would be a perfect choice when a teacher asks you to read about a culture you know little about.

The Book of Dead Birds is the story of Ava Sing Lo, the daughter of a Korean woman who was forced into prostitution on a U.S. Army base. The base was segregated and Helen serviced the African American men. She becomes pregnant with Ava and manages, through deceit, an escape to California.

The fact that Ava is a product of a forced sexual encounter with a stranger makes her a constant reminder of her mother’s shame. Racial prejudice makes her feel that she has no connections. In a first person narrative Ava tells the story of how she hopes to make a connection with her mother, whose pet birds she has been accidentally killing for years. (This narrative alternates with chapters on Helen’s life.) Finally, at 25, Ava, still unemployed after earning a Master’s Degree, decides that she will head out to the Salton Sea and help with rescue operations during the worst bird die-off the country has ever experienced.

At the Salton Sea Ava meets a man who takes a real interest in her and learns to heal her own heart and as well as her relationship with her mother. There is a poorly thought-out subplot in which prostitutes in the Salton Sea area are being murdered, but overall, the book offers its reader a story both bittersweet and heartwarming. Winner of the Bellwether Prize (for fiction that addresses issues of social justice).

1 comment November 9, 2007

Into the Wild

Soon to be a movie, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is the story of Chris McCandless’s adventure in the Alaskan wilderness. It includes several others of Chris’s adventures in order to show the reader that Chris was not an idealistic greenhorn when he walked into the Alaskan rough country. It is no mystery that Chris died—that is stated immediately. The circumstances that brought about his death make up the bulk of the book. The reader comes to understand how Chris ended up starving—what in his personality and background brought him to this pass. It’s a good adventure read, but COHS English teachers will probably accept it when they ask you to read a biography or memoir. It’s a connection to the American writer Thoreau. And once again, like Ordinary Wolves, it shows the reality of the harsh Alaskan wilderness. Fans of Jack London might enjoy Into the Wild as well.


After graduating from Emory College, Chris changes his name to Alexander Supertramp and goes out to live a Thoreauian self-reliant existence. Much of his journey is documented in a journal in the third person, and some of that journal is quoted in the book.


Once he’s graduated, Chris “disappears” and his family never hears from him again. (They hire a private investigator, but the PI is unsuccessful.) He ventures to Mexico, takes a canoe trip, loses 25 pounds; but through it all he is exhilarated by his adventures. Ridding himself of his worldly good, he works for a time in Las Vegas and then Bullhead City. He even convinces a religious man to give up his worldly possessions and find God on the road, through self-reliance. (This man is so taken by Alex—Chris—that when he hears of his death in Alaska, he loses his faith in God.) Finally, McCandless spends months in Carthage, South Dakota working as a mill hand for a man named Westerburg.


Krakauer details the mistakes that he believes killed Alex, including the possibility of eating the poisonous seeds of a wild potato plant. The saddest fact for the reader is that if Alex had only brought a topographical map, he would have known how close he was to a little basket of salvation—but for Alex, that would have been less than self-reliant.

1 comment October 29, 2007

Ordinary Wolves

Although my copy of Ordinary Wolves tells me it’s a best seller, unlike The Kite Runner, I don’t know anyone else who has read it. Like The Kite Runner, it’s a good choice when a teacher asks for a ‘multicultural’ novel or a book about a culture different from your own.

Ordinary Wolves is the story of a white boy who grows up in the 1970s in the Alaskan wilderness. Cutuk lives in a sod igloo with his artist father and his brother and sister. They have no modern conveniences and live like the local Inupiak (Inuit or Eskimo) people have traditionally done. The father, Abe, is an environmentalist to a degree that few people can (or are willing to) manage. Ironically, as the local Inupiaks are adopting some modern American conveniences such as flush toilets and fast food, Cutuk wants to follow tradition. Tradition not withstanding, because he is not really an Inupiak, he is taunted, beaten up, and generally rejected by other children. Loneliness and isolation are important themes of the novel.

The author, Seth Kantner, lived such a childhood, and the novel is autobiographical. Because he knows what he’s talking about, Kantner doesn’t romanticize the wilderness. Living in the icy north of Alaska is tough at all times. Even running sled dogs requires constant vigilance as ice may get between their toe pads and cause frostbite. (Summer is no easier as flies swarm and cause the dogs misery by biting their testicles.) In the struggle to make a life on the frozen tundra, Cutuk, like his father, attempts to do no harm to the people and world around him. When he moves to Anchorage as a young adult, he finds life in the city confusing and the residents disingenuous.

Ordinary Wolves is a good choice for those who enjoy Jack London’s fiction, like wilderness survival stories, have a deep concern for the environment, or just have a desire to understand what ‘roughing it’ really means.

Add comment October 24, 2007


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