Thursday, April 24, 2008

Close to the wind: The Beaufort Scale by Peter Malone - review

Close to the wind: the Beaufort Scale

Lest anyone think that Pink Me opinion is one-sided, here is evidence that I make my friends read books I like, so that I can get my opinions validated. Of course, if they don't agree with me, I cut them off forever. No beer for you!

So, my friend Aimee here (and to a certain extent, Juicy Boy on her lap, who is really too young for this book), as well as a whole Friday porch-load of other readers, fully endorse Close to the Wind: The Beaufort Scale as one spectacular work of juvenile non-fiction.

I have something of a bias toward non-fiction, it's true. That's partly why I made Aimee, Molly, and Bob all read this book. But come on! Close to the Wind has it all: a gripping plot! Factual information presented in a way that is easy to grasp! Characters! Beautiful, detailed illustration! A map! A glossary! References! A biographical note! And all of it interesting!

The nominal purpose of this book is to illustrate the Beaufort Scale, a standardized way to measure the force of the wind. Developed in 1805, before the invention of instruments to measure wind speed, Beaufort's scale is based on observation, and therefore can be explained easily to almost anyone. At Beaufort 2, leaves rustle. Got it.

But Malone goes much further. He invents a 12-year-old midshipman, William, aboard a British Navy ship in 1805. Using William's letters home to his sister and gorgeous illustrations that employ unexpected points of view, (much like Brian Floca's Lightship, recently reviewed here) he gives the Beaufort Scale context and consequence. When the ship survives a hurricane (Beaufort 12) and hobbles into harbor at the end of the book, we all breathe a sigh of relief for William and the rest of the crew.

Recommended for any reader.

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