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Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean


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About the Author

SIGRID SCHMALZER, a professor of history at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst, MA), has lived in China, holds a doctorate in modern Chinese history and science studies, and is the author of Red Revolution, Green Revolution: Scientific Farming in Socialist China (2016) and the award-winning The People's Peking Man: Popular Science and Human Identity in Twentieth-Century China (2008). New mom MELANIE LINDEN CHAN, of Rhode Island, works in a variety of media-including watercolor, acrylic, and pen and ink-to create books for children that open their minds to other cultures and ways of life. Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean is among her first book-length projects.


"A picture book about the scientist who pioneered integrated pest management sounds boring, but this title is anything but. Schmalzer presents the life of Pu Zhelong through flashbacks and connects it to a child's-eye-view of a changing world, all set against the backdrop of Communist-era China. The representative illustrations create a fascinating, multi-layered visual feast that frames the flashbacks as journal pages and which incorporate historically and scientifically accurate illustrations of tools and insects set within beautifully designed Chinese paper cuts. This title would be a great STEAM pick for classrooms or home use. Both the illustrations and the science are fantastic. " -- School Library Connection

The young narrator, a fictional composite, recalls how insect invasions seriously threatened essential rice and lychee harvests in rural 1960s-70s Guangdong, China. The narrator explains that farmers were relying on expensive pesticides, which made people sick and gradually became ineffective, to battle pests. The arrival of Pu Zhelong, a pioneering environmentalist trained in Minnesota, changed the locals' approach. Working with farmers and students, barefoot, Zhelong advocated for natural-predator balance, and health and harvests improved. Clear, detailed text and drawings explain the use of parasitic wasps and silk-moth eggs for biological control; a lucid afterword connects readers to history (and acknowledges that pesticides are still widely used); and a brief bibliography provides additional value. Author and illustrator gracefully convey their expertise. Lyrical yet realistic line-and-color wash illustrations, dominated by rich greens, assure visual appeal. The clever scrapbook conceit might produce some confusion about the narrator's age but allows for the introduction of a dozen decorative and instructive paper-cut Chinese characters. An endpage explains each.

VERDICT Readers interested in environmental science and Chinese history, language, and culture will find an engaging and informative story here.

" -- School Library Journal

We spent last summer battling paper wasps. They were making nests in every nook and cranny they could find. My daughter got stung multiple times while playing at her grandparents. The insects were a menace. Never in a million years did I think wasps could be useful. Then I read Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean. I was entertained and educated by the book.

Author Sigrid Schmalzer - winner of the Joseph Levenson Post-1900 Book Prize for 2018 for her book Red Revolution, Green Revolution - knows her subject well and that's apparent. Her strength, however, is her ability to make this topic accessible for young readers. While Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean is not overly technical, Schmalzer doesn't shy away from solid information.

Illustrator Melanie Chan builds on Schmalzer's text, providing context and making scientific process easier to understand. Chan's watercolor illustrations transport readers to China, exposing them to a culture that is utterly foreign to many. Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean is a lovely look at how humans both help and harm the environment.

Moth and Wasp, Soil and Ocean is a fascinating picture book that will appeal to adults as well as children.

" -- Jessica - Cracking the Cover blog

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