Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

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Older Than Dirt: A Wild but True History of Earth

From "a Big Bang" to the existence of humans, Sibert Honor medalist Don Brown (Drowned City; America Is Under Attack) and geologist Mike Perfit boil down more than 14 billion years of planetary evolution in Older Than Dirt, a delightful, informative and engrossing work of graphic nonfiction. Using a brainy groundhog to narrate, Brown and Perfit educate their readers--and the groundhog's worm friend--about the incredible stages of Earth's history.

In an effort to make billion- and million-year time spans accessible to young readers, the work uses a metaphorical 24-hour day, plotting the course of Earth's explosive beginning, through numerous transformations, to the age when humans came into existence. That the arrival of humans occurred at the very final minute of this "day" highlights our relatively new presence on Earth more forcefully than the concept of thousands of years. With a combination of humor and analogies ("Earth's crust cracked like the shell of a hard-boiled egg") that middle graders can relate to, the pair turn highly complex scientific evidence into fun, engaging and memorable content.

Brown's powerful illustrations emphasize the extraordinary interactions of nature and the results of those interactions: an image of thriving ocean life next to a sea of fish skeletons, a lush landscape juxtaposed with a scorched earth, a plate collision resulting in extensive mountain ranges. He conveys elaborate movement, temperature and energy through basic color, stroke and texture. The small details added to his storytellers, like earmuffs, sunglasses and swimming flippers, inject ticklish humor that adds to their small, witty side comments.

Older Than Dirt is aimed at middle-grade readers, but the entertaining illustrations and fascinating information will enthrall audiences of any age. --Jen Forbus, freelancer