by Joyce Sidman. Illustrations by Beckie Prange. 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Why have some creatures survived so spectacularly when 99 percent of the earth’s inhabitantshave become extinct? Certain creatures—among them bacteria, sharks, beetles, ants, geckos, crows, dandelions, and more recently, humans—seem to have a knack for adapting, and for turning up everywhere, from oceans to ice floes to farms to houses. Hence the title of this fascinating and well-researched book.
Sidman’s scientific journey through time begins a stunning 4.6 billion years ago with the formation of Earth, and continues 3.8 billion years ago with the emergence of bacteria. Over a cosmic span of time, Sidman introduces 14 species of life, Earth’s hardiest survivors: mollusks (500 million years old), ants (140 million years old), coyotes (2.3 million years old) . . . and so on, right up to the newcomers: us (a mere 100,000 years old). What’s most fascinating about this book is Sidman’s seamless blend of genres, combining poetry (in many forms) with informational essays, one of each for every creature profiled. This presentation allows for a fascinating comparison of language, sentence style, and voice. Through its unique format, the book also challenges traditional beliefs that genres are distinct and exclusive, offering a whole new blended form all its own. The word choice is fresh, distinctive, and precise. The details are fascinating.
Add to this delightful package the remarkable illustrations of the gifted Beckie Prange and you have the makings of a book not to be missed. Each illustration has its own style, but particularly striking is Prange’s ingenious timeline, crafted from an intricately curved string, shaped to fit within the confines of the book. Students—and all readers—will find it mesmerizing. The book also includes an excellent glossary.
In the Classroom
- Identify moments of strong word choice and talk about how Sidman’s language contributes to voice.
- Compare the poetic language, detail, and voice with that of the informational passages. How do they complement each other? Use Sidman’s highly individual format as the model for combined poetry/informational pieces of your own.
- Discuss Prange’s method for creating her timeline. Consider the problem she faced—and the solution she invented to solve it. Does it work? Did she in fact create a piece of art through her efforts?
- Make some predictions about the next hundred, thousand, or million years. What forms of life will remain on Earth? What new forms might evolve?
- Create a new timeline that begins in the present and extends to any point in the future. Which creatures might appear?
- Consider the 14 creatures described in this book. What do they have in common? What characteristics make them all survivors? Write a short essay summary.
- Write a book jacket profile that would entice readers of various ages to purchase or read this book.