The author provides excellent descriptions of the adaptations of plants to the harsh environment found in the desert. The giant saguaro cactus uses a network of shallow, dense roots that extend up to 33 feet in all directions to absorb water and add stability to the plant. In contrast, the desert oaks of Australia send long taproots deep into the soil to find as much moisture as possible. Animals have adapted to their surroundings in a variety of ways, such as the squirrel's use of its tail as an umbrella, the jackrabbit's large ears that help to cool the animal, and the viper's watertight skin that helps retain the snake's moisture. The adaptations made by both plants and animals are varied, but critical to the survival of each species.
The pictures and illustrations are excellent, with two notable exceptions. In the first one, the map of the deserts on pages 6-7 contains a key with some of the deserts indicated by dots of differing shades of gray. For several deserts listed, there is no entry next to their names. The map contains white dots and white dots with gray centers; with this scheme, it is impossible todetermine which deserts correspond to the ones that are indicated on the key. The map also suffers from being printed in the center of the book: The binding must be pressed flat to see the map in its entirety. In the second problematic illustration, on page 3, there is a picture of the Atacama Desert of South America as viewed from space. After looking at the picture carefully, one may be able to find the small spot that must be the desert. (But then again, one may not.) The picture should have been enlarged and cropped to provide a better illustration of how the mountain chain functions as a barrier to rain and how it thus created the desert.
This series of books presents excellent information, but falls short of its potential. The pictures are exciting and quite appealing to children. The information is presented in short, factual paragraphs that provide a broad understanding of the specific topic. The effective broad-brush approach introduces children and young adults to the wonders of the desert. Some of the books in the series, such as this one, exhibit cohesiveness, and the ideas flow into a logical sequence. A general problem, however, appears to reside in the layout of the books: Most children given this book would quickly bend and crack the binding to get a better look at the pictures. They also would find the problems with the key. Possibly, children should be the first line of review for children's books. (from The Natural World Series.) Acceptable, Grades 3-8. REVIEWER: Dr. Linda Hummel Fitzharris (College of Charleston)