Two intrepid librarians

Two intrepid librarians review the best nonfiction books for children

Monday, December 18, 2017

Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island by Loree Griffin Burns

Life on Surtsey: Iceland’s Upstart Island
Scientists in the Field series
Loree Griffin Burns
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2017
ISBN: 9780544687233

Note: While Cathy is on Sabbatical, Louise will be writing all the reviews. Cathy will return in March, 2018.

In this new title in the Scientists in the Field series readers visit the island of Surtsey, off the coast of Iceland to follow scientist Erling Ólafsson, an entomologist, as he records the arrival and survival of insects on this volcanic island. Erling has been visiting the island, on and off, since 1970. 

Iceland is home to more volcanoes than any other country in the world, and major eruptions happen every five years or so. That’s because it sits on top of an undersea mountain range, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Glaciers, summer days that last twenty hours, winter nights that last just as long. But, to the average Icelander it’s all pretty humdrum.

Our story begins on November 14, 1963, when a volcano, located fifteen miles off the southern coast of Iceland, under the sea, erupted. As plums of smoke, caused by rock and cinders were spewed violently up from the sea eight times taller than the Empire State Building, the materials settled back down into the sea so that by the next morning, November 15, pilots flying over the area could see land where none had existed before. During the next  50+ years, Erling and other scientists have recorded the plants, animals, and insect that found their way to Surtsey and documented how well they have survived. 

After three years, in 1967, scientist and the Icelandic government worked to declare Surtsey a nature preserve, meaning only scientists may explore it. The island is off limits to tourists.

As we’ve come to expect with this series, the photos, generously placed on every page, are gorgeous. They are well captioned and mirror what is discussed in the text.  

Back matter includes an appendices, glossary, source notes, bibliography, and more information. There are a few side bars with more information, but Burns does an excellent job of incorporating into the narrative 

For years in story time, I used the picture books, An Island Grows by Lola Schaefer and Rotten Island by Bill Steig. Both books, though Schaefer was more in line with facts, told the story of how an island is formed. If you can get your hands on them, read them aloud to classes of all ages, then share with them Life on Surtsey. 

To watch a video on Surtsey, click here. 

To write this review, I borrowed a copy of the book from my local public library.

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