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Four moon gifTwenty-First Century Books (Hardcover), ISBN 0761314148
Non-fiction textbooks geared toward juvenile readers, age 10 to 14, sound ho-hum. Textbooks touting geology and erosion of the earth's crust -- real snorers. But Sandra Downs' Shaping the Earth: Erosion breaks out of that boring straight-jacket and piques readers' curiosity.

Book: Sandra Downs, Shaping the EarthFrom the first sentence of the preface, Downs grabs readers' attention and holds onto it through chapters with unlikely titles such as "The Ditch-Digger" or "A Giant Scouring Pad." Her tight writing, genuine enthusiasm and chummy attitude toward the curmudgeonly natural process keeps pages turning.

Within the book's 64 pages, Downs offers 52 text pages adorned with beautifully clear and professional four-color photographs. Twenty-first Century Books deserve a pat on the back for the quality photography as well as the glossy, colorful cover and the spacious layouts. Each photo depicts spectacular evidence of erosion. Seeing Marble Canyon in Arizona reinforces the lesson on the power of a mighty raindrop. A photo of scarlet macaws licking mineral-rich clay in Manu National Park, Peru, demonstrates how erosion of the red clay cliff provides essential minerals for "a dose of rain forest vitamins."

Book: Sandra Downs, Earth's Fiery FurySidebars offer tidbits of trivia with delightful captions such as "Grasshoppers on Ice." Did you know that "dark black ribbons of frozen grasshoppers decorate Grasshopper Glacier in Montana?" Have you heard that gooey stalactites of microscopic gypsum crystals covered in bacteria answer to the rather graphic name of "snotites?" Downs goes on to explain many more phenomena in these sidebars.

Downs' vocabulary includes terms like "zeugens," "giant's stairway" or "riegels" and "hoodoos." She presents statistics in an easy-to-grasp format. Beneath a picture of Mount Mitchell, she explains that it isn't very tall as mountains go, "but it's old enough to have eroded to one-fifth its former height." Concerning the ice cap on Greenland, Downs writes, if it "melted tomorrow, the world's oceans would rise by 25 feet (7.6 m)."

To draw the body of information together, the book's final section features a glossary of words and definitions, a bibliography and an index. Shaping the Earth: Erosion joins three other titles (Earth's Hidden Treasures, Earth's Fiery Fury and When the Earth Moves) in Twenty-First Century Book's earth series. These books, particularly Shaping the Earth: Erosion, avoid the boring science text stereotype and make delightful gifts. They provide opportunities for adults to explore with children from the comfort of their armchairs. And while leading these children into new terrain, us mature types might learn a few new things, too.

Dawn Goldsmith

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