Eruption! by Elizabeth Rusch
Posted by: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan
Cindy: Did you feel the earth move? It wasn’t an earthquake, but me clapping enthusiastically over another entry in the Scientists in the Field series. Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives (Houghton 2013) adds another compelling book to the series that we love. I always read these with no intention of blogging them. We’ve written about this series again and again (Rusch recently gave us The Mighty Mars Rover that we featured on Bookends last fall, and which I had great success booktalking to my middle school students last school year). Then I read another installment, and am moved to write about it. Full disclosure, Lynn has been writing teacher’s guides for this series and has read many more of them than I have, but we’ve been promoting this series long before she took on that job.
Volcanoes. Is there anything more fascinating to upper elementary and middle school students? Perhaps tornadoes, but the members of the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program give storm chasers a run for their money in terms of dangerous work. The book opens with a recounting of the 1985 eruption of Columbia’s Nevado del Ruiz that buried the town of Armero in up to 15 feet of mud and resulted in the deaths of three-quarters of the residents. Scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington were horrified by what they saw in the footage coming from Colombia. They had been studying Mount St. Helens for five years since its historic 1980 eruption and they believed that they had learned things that could help predict these dangerous blasts.
What follows is a harrowing account of the work of these volcanologists as they assist scientists around the world with active volcanoes. Working to train them in the better understanding of volcanic activity and in the prediction of eruptions so that timely evacuations can save lives. Over a billion people live in the vicinity of active volcanoes, most of them along the Ring of Fire around the edge of the Pacific Plate. As in other books in this informative series, the focus is on the work of the scientists. In this case, they are often in “front row” seats with their observation instruments and riding helicopters over the tops of steaming craters or planting seismographic equipment in the sides of the quaking mountains. The tension mounts as the data rolls in and they are faced with the life or death decisions about evacuation. To stay or to go….what would you do?
If you are reading this and have for some reason missed out on the opportunity to read a book in the Scientists in the Field series, do yourself a favor. Read one. This one or any one. It doesn’t matter. Check out Lynn’s teacher’s guides (written with Ed Spicer) and promote these with your teachers, booktalk them to your students, give them for gifts to young nonfiction and scientist enthusiasts. I would love to hear of a science teacher who did a group read of these, every student reading a different one and then reporting on what work scientists do in the field…what are the similarities, what are the differences…looking at the varied work that is available and how it helps our planet and the species that inhabit it. Okay, sermon over. I promise not to blog another of these books again. Well, at least not until I read another one and just HAVE to tell you all about it!
Lynn: As Cindy says, Ed Spicer, a fabulous teacher and great friend, and I have been hard at work this past year writing teacher guides with Common Core connected activities for books in this fabulous series. It has been a treat to revisit previous books in the series and to get very early opportunities to read the most recent ones. Often we are getting these new ones in unwieldy large loose paper galleys which are a real challenge to read but we still leap on them eagerly the minute they arrive. I have admired this series for years and am still excited to get to work with them. The authors and photographers are consistently outstanding, the subject matter fascinating and the approach always unusual and geared to challenging young readers to think in a new way.
There is so much to love in Eruption! but what I love most, I think, is the discussion of the dilemma that the scientists place front and center of the story – the balancing act between public safety, long-term credibility and simple logistics. ALL the issues facing the evacuation and placement of a huge population have to be factored into a very iffy equation when scientific prediction is involved. If you disrupt the lives of a million people at great effort and expense and nothing happens, will people heed a second warning? Rusch places that dilemma squarely in the context of young readers’ experiences and I guarantee that they will come away looking at such predictions in a completely different way.
Eruption features amazing photography of volcanoes in action, the results of their activities and of scientific instrumentation as well as interesting charts and sidebars like one that lists the things a vulcanologist carries with him in the field. Would you have guessed toilet paper and diarrhea medication?
The guides are going up gradually so we’ll post an update when this one publishes online. Check out an example and scroll to the bottom of the page to see the guides currently available.