Mount Saint Helens Volcano Detectives: Activate!



Let me just cut straight to the bedrock: Will it Blow? Become a Volcano Detective at Mount St. Helens, is freaking awesome. There will be volcanologists in a couple decades who trace their origins to this book. You may even be the one who gives them the book that inspires their career. And even if the child you gift it to doesn’t end up doing science at splodey mountains for a living, you’ll still have created a citizen who understands the importance of volcano monitoring.

So, am I telling you to get a copy of this book for the nearest available kid between the ages of five to preteen? I absolutely am.

Elisabeth Rusch is one of those children’s writers who can gracefully write for young folk without simplifying the subject too much. She uses simple, familiar analogies like peanut M&Ms and cell phones to illustrate concepts that may be tough to grasp. She explains big words clearly, so kids can confidently use them. She lets scientists speak for themselves, and follows up with a paraphrase where the language may be a bit opaque to kids who are at least a decade away from a STEM degree. And the information is presented in tidy sections that follow a smooth progression, each piece fitting well with the others. You could start this book with literally no idea what volcanoes are, and end it knowing exactly what to look for in order to predict an eruption. It’s marvelous.

Along the way, USGS photos combine with K.E. Lewis’s dynamic, fun illustrations to show what volcanoes, their eruptive activities and products, and the monitoring equipment look like. This book is as much a visual feast as a prose one.

The chapters cover all the most important clues to whether a volcano will erupt: Earthquakes, gas emissions, ground deformation, heat, and lava. There’s a chapter for each, which gives a concise but thorough (idea?) of the concept, fun activities to get hands-on with it, and then a chance to use the knowledge gained to assess a real-life case of whether Mount St. Helens will erupt. The neatest thing? Rusch used the 2004-2008 dome building eruption as her case study, rather than the more spectacular May 1980 eruption. It’s a great choice. It shows that eruptions are more than just huge ash clouds and rivers of lava. She also doesn’t shy away from showing volcanoes can be hard to read, and that volcanologists can’t always predict what a volcano’s about to get up to. She shows that you have to take all the clues together in order to determine if there might be an eruption, what kind, and roughly when – and that the volcano might give some unclear signs or engage in some surprising behavior.

I’m astonished by how much information she and Lewis managed to pack into one short book. There is so much, and yet it never feels to crowded or rushed.

At the end, she provides solid resources for both books and websites to explore. One thing I really love is that she directs kids to grown-up web resources: the USGS, NASA, Smithsonian, and Ready.gov all make the list. Kids who like to be treated like they can figure out stuff that isn’t written for children will appreciate that.

So, yes, absolutely, this is the book to get every single kid who has even the slightest interest in volcanoes and how we can tell they’re going to erupt. And, y’know, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t sneak a read before you give it away! Anyone who wants to know more about volcano monitoring can get something out of this excellent little book.



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