Marianne J. Dyson

Review of Pieces of Another World

Reviewed by: Marianne Dyson, August 27, 2005

Pieces of Another World is about a father getting his daughter up to go see a meteor shower. The father and daughter drive to an ice-cream store, past a popular swimming hole, and then out into the country to watch a meteor shower from the back of a pickup truck. The main character is a girl who first thinks the "other world" is the ice cream parlor at night because it is full of teenagers on dates. Then she thinks the "other world" is the town at night with deer, fox, and owls. Finally, they park the truck and she sees her first shooting star. Following the story is a set of definitions, a multiplication problem (how many would you see in 10 seconds, in one minute, etc.), tips for a meteor-watching party, a recipe for Comet Cookies, and a diagram of a Comet's Orbit.

I think most parents and grandparents would enjoy reading this book to a young child, and they should be prepared to take them outside afterwards! The best time to read this book is in the summer before the August Perseids, so that a "party" can be planned. (My sources say the Leonids in November are not worth your time because the bulk of material is gone now.) My only disappointment with the story is that the father does not share the common tradition of having the girl make a "wish upon a star." Their conversation is a rather contrived "data dump" of facts that does not fit well with the solving of the mystery of seeing another world. But it ends well, and I think most readers will forgive the short data "intrusion."

While the illustrations were lovely watercolors with a dreamy quality that suited the story perfectly, I found several inconsistencies. The party directions point out correctly that the best time to watch a shower is in the predawn hours. This is because the dawn terminator is what we call "into the velocity vector." This means Earth is plowing through the comet's tail with that side taking the brunt of the impact and producing more shooting stars. However, the "tail" is spread out, and some pieces will make glancing blows and can be seen before and after peak time as long as it is dark. On August 12 (when the Perseids are visible), at some latitudes, it will still be twilight at 10:00 PM, the time shown on the girl's bedroom clock. Most kids will not go to bed before dark in the summer. So if Jody went to bed, I doubt she'd be asleep when her father comes to get her. I realize this is a fiction book, but because the barred owl is discussed in the text, I was disappointed that the picture does not look like the one in Birds of North America. And being the nitpicker that I am, I couldn't help but notice that the girl's coat goes missing and then reappears, along with a cup losing its stripes.

The "Creative Mind" definition page had all the essentials for a parent to answer questions children are likely to ask about meteors. However, no mention is made that asteroids sometimes get bumped out of their orbit and become meteors. In fact, most meteorites (the ones that make it to the ground) are asteroids, not parts of comets, and make outstanding shooting stars.

The "Meteor Watching Party" directions made me want to schedule one! However, one thing was missing: bug spray — especially for us southern observers who must avoid disease-carrying mosquitoes. I was glad to see mention of other things that they might see while watching the sky. Airplanes do not have red blinking lights. They have white strobe lights on the ends of their wings, and a white steady light on their tails. They have a red light on the port wing, and a green one on the starboard wing, but these do not blink. They also have headlights used on approach and landing (if you see one of those, get out of the way!).

The "Comet Cookies" activity is not the best analogy to the real motions of the Earth and comets. It says to lay the cookie on a plate and make a tail out of leftover candy/chip mix. (Three tablespoons for each cookie is a lot of leftover mix!) Then it says to use a lamp for the Sun and shake this tail off while flying the comet around it. Yikes! Chocolate chips melt easily, and can burn and smoke if they fall onto the hot bulb or the lampshade. Kids will surely enthusiastically shake chips all over the lamp, table, the room, and themselves. Then we're supposed to encourage the kids to roll a ball through this mess? The directions say to make the comet's orbit an ellipse, but then they don't say that the Earth's orbit is a circle. I'm not sure that kids will know this, though it is shown in the illustration on the next page. The main technical error is that the Earth does not "roll," it "skids" with the same side always forward. The child should push the ball rather than roll it to simulate the correct orbital motion. (The Earth spins around the axis perpendicular to the plane of the table.) An opportunity was missed in the illustration to show where the comets come from: either the Kuiper Belt (for short-period comets) or the Oort Cloud (for long-period comets). Still, I am a fan of activities, and while it would be a real mess to do this one and it has marginal scientific value, I'm sure the kids will enjoy it.

I give this book 1 point for consistency with real facts, 1 point for a new way to perk interest in science, 1 point for readability, 1 point for using a scientific activity (observing) as the focus of the story, 1 point for an interesting character, and dock a half point for the illustrations (because of the clock and owl), and a half because of the problems with the cookie activity. The total is therefore 5 points. Pieces of Another World is a heart-warming story that will educate and excite children to watch the sky and encourage parents to observe with their children. Recommended.

Title: Pieces of Another World
Author: Mara Rockliff
Illustrator: Salima Alikhan
Ages: 5-9
Number of Pages: 32
Format: hardback
Publisher: Sylvan Dell
Date: 2005
Retail Price: $15.95
ISBN: 0-9764943-2-9

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