Monday, September 7, 2015

Book Review: Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space (Science Picture Book)

Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space
Written by Dr. Dominic Walliman
Designed and illustrated by Ben Newman
ISBN: 9781909263079
November 2013
64 pages

Bibliographic Information
Walliman, D., & Newman, B. (2013). Professor Astro Cat's frontiers of space. London: Flying Eye Books.

Plot Description
Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space is a graphically pleasing and content dense overview of many space-related concepts, from the beginning of the universe, through the space race, and to the potential for humans living in space in the future. The fictional cartoon character Astro Cat takes the reader through a basic overview of concepts, presenting an assortment of facts in infographics-style, two-page spreads. This is not a comprehensive guide to astronomy, but, given its length, provides a decent overview, introducing readers to a number of facts about stars, our solar system's planets, space exploration, and more.

Quantitative Reading Level
Follett Reading Level: 6.6

Qualitative Reading Analysis (High for Grades 2-3)
While this book may be categorized as a picture book, the qualitative text complexity is high, as more consistent with the sixth grade equivalent quantitative reading level. The language features are complex with abundant subject-specific vocabulary, although the use of illustrations may aid readers with comprehension. The knowledge demands in terms of concepts covered are also higher level with references building upon a basic understanding of mathematical number sense (e.g., formula for calculating your age on Mars), geography (e.g., moon's surface compared with the size of Africa), and other subject content. Furthermore, the text structure with nonlinear presentation of content may be challenging for some readers. Rather than reading a straightforward narrative, readers must skip from one text blurb to the next and also switch between reading explanations in paragraph form and visual diagrams.

Content Areas
  • Science (astronomy)
  • Math (measurement, scale, and proportion)
  • History-Social Science (space race)
  • Art (graphic design)

Content Area Standards

Curriculum Suggestions
  • Astronomy - Students may identify details from the book and conduct further research to find correlating scientific evidence. For instance, they may locate primary source photographs that mirror artwork and identify facts that directly support claims from the text.
  • Visual and graphic design - Students may study the illustrations and text layout (e.g., use of diagrams) to determine how it affects the conveying of information. They may then apply these concepts to create their own infographic.

Subjects and Themes
  • Astronomy
    • Big Bang Theory
    • Stars and galaxies
    • Sun and solar system
    • Planets and moons
    • Space travel and satellites
    • Constellations and telescopes
    • Life on other planets
  • Size and scale
  • Time and space

Links to Supporting Digital Content

Personal Thoughts
The book reminds me of a DK Eyewitness guide, but instead of being illustrated with photographs, the graphics are highly stylized cartoon designs. A Kirkus Review suggests some caution since "digestible bursts of information are generally accurate," but I feel that language cited as being potentially "misleading" could be attributed to the author's attempts at making the information more accessible to a young audience. I was personally drawn into the design elements and found the facts intriguing enough to seek out more information independently. For instance, I loved nuggets such as how fire burns spherically in space. I think that students may similarly find the book to be a good springboard for further investigation and inquiry. Plus, just the design sensibility alone makes it worth checking out.

Reviewed in conjunction with San Jose State University's School of Information Fall 2015 INFO 237-10 School Library Media Materials course. Fulfills "science picture book" for Subject Area Blog Assignment.

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