Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nonfiction: Bodies from the Ice

Bibliographic Data
Deem, James M. Bodies From the Ice : Melting Glaciers and the Rediscovery of the Past . Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. ISBN 9780618800452.

Plot Summary
James W. Deem takes his readers all around the world in this photo essay of mummies and other frozen bodies throughout the world. We are introduced to the Italian Iceman, Ötzi. He takes us to Mount Everest, where we learn what finally happened to some famous missing explorers, and some other not-so-famous lost individuals. We are also taken to the other side of the planet, to the Andes Mountains of South America and to North America. He explains how these ice mummies were preserved, and why there are so few of them. We also learn about icebergs and glaciers, with a special emphasis on how the greenhouse effect is slowly causing them to disappear.

Critical Analysis
James W. Deem is a retired college professor. According to the inside back cover, he didn’t know anything about glaciers until he started writing this book. However, he did know something about mummies. Some of his prior nonfiction works include Bodies from the Ash and Bodies from the Bog.

The inside back cover also states that Deem wanted to write this book, not only as “a memorial to the people recovered from melting glaciers, but also to the glaciers themselves.” The final chapter, “Saving the Past,” is filled with statistics that give evidence of how fast our glaciers are melting, the problems this might create if they disappear totally, and an inset list of “Personal Ways to Help the Environment” (page 53).

Deem starts his book off with the oldest and perhaps most famous ice mummy, Italy’s Ötzi. Photos of Ötzi’s excavation from his ice tomb are included, with informative captions of what each photo shows. The next chapter transitions from Ötzi to basic concepts of glacier science, or glaciology. Deem builds on these concepts to explain scientific theories of how Ötzi and a few other ice mummies survived the glaciers and their movement. Further chapters discuss the history of the science of glaciology, ice mummies from other continents, the discovery of Sir George Mallory’s frozen body on Mount Everest (Mallory disappeared on an attempt to reach the summit in 1924. With the discovery of his body, scientists and historians hoped to determine if Mallory was the first to reach the top of Mt. Everest and not Edmund Hillary in 1953. With the discovery of his body, there is both evidence for and against this assertion, and the question remains unanswered.).

Deem makes sure his readers understand the terminology in the discipline of glaciology. He does this by providing pronunciation guides within the text, for example, “Ötzi (rhymes with tootsie)” (page 6). He also italicizes and defines new words and immediately uses using the words in their correct context within the text, for example,

          “Once formed, the glacier becomes a giant conveyor belt—
          essentially a moving river of ice—with two main parts; a
          higher accumulation area and a lower ablation (or melting)
          area. Although snow accumulates and melts in both parts,
          the accumulation area (where more snow falls than melts)
           pressures the glacier ice to advance to the ablation area
          (where more snow melts)” (page 11).

Deem’s style of writing is informal but knowledgeable. Even when he’s warning about the potential dangers associated both with mountain climbing and the glaciers’ melting, his tone remains informative and never ‘preachy.'

Photographs, both of landscapes and mummies, clarify and expand on the text by offering further information. The photographs are especially fascinating in the chapter dedicated to the discovery of Ötzi. They show the excavation of his body, the artifacts that were found with him, and close-ups of interesting features of his body. The book also contains maps, sketches, magazines, postcards, and paintings from both today and as far back as 1790. Deem’s painstaking research becomes apparent when he even includes a photograph of a Tlingit family from 1895. In the photograph, the father is wearing the same type of hat as was worn by an ice mummy found in North America. This particular ice mummy was believed to be related to Indians of the area and was subsequently returned to the First Nations Tribe for burial. Out of respect for their ancestor, the First Nations declined to photograph the body and cremated it according to their customs. (page 43-47). The mummy’s ashes were later sprinkled over the glacier where he was discovered.

The book contains many useful resources for readers who want to learn more. There are lists of ways readers can personally help the environment, suggested glaciers to visit all around the world, helpful websites, a bibliography and acknowledgements, and an index.

Awards and Honors
  • Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal, 2009; Honor Book United States.
  • Best Children's Books, 2008; Kirkus; United States.
  • Capitol Choices, 2009; The Capitol Choices Committee; United States.
  • Children's Catalog Supplement to Nineteenth Edition, 2009; H. W. Wilson Company; United States.
  • Choices, 2009; Cooperative Children's Book Center; United States.
  • Kirkus Book Review Stars, October 15, 2008; United States.
  • Notable Children's Books, 2009; ALSC American Library Association; United States.
  • Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12, 2009; National Science Teachers Association; United States.
  • School Library Journal Book Review Stars, December 2008; Cahners; United States.
Review Excerpts
Horn Book (The Horn Book Guide, Spring 2009)
"Deem continues his interest in mummified bodies... in this book that sits at the intersection of several disciplines. After introducing the oldest ice mummy (5,300-year-old Otzi), Deem gives readers a tour of mummified bodies found in ice the world over. The design, with its variety of photographs, captions, and sidebars, seals the appeal."

John E. Dockall (Science Books and Films (Vol. 45, No. 2))
"In Bodies from the Ice, author James Deem has compiled a highly useful and readable volume on a unique aspect of human history and prehistory.... In addition, the author provides a clear discussion of the science of glaciology (the study of glaciers) and how events in prehistory can be preserved. He concludes with a chapter on the scientific importance of the human past in relation to glaciers, and the ever-present threat of losing more of the world’s glaciers as climates continue to change. The book is small, but accurately portrays the process of science from discovery to investigation. A general audience would benefit from reading it, and it is appropriate as well for junior high and high school audiences. The book could also be used for classroom discussions pertaining to global environmental change, history, prehistory, and scientific inquiry."

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2008 (Vol. 76, No. 20))
"With global warming, the glaciers that crown our highest mountains have retreated, revealing humans who died there long ago. This respectful photo-essay opens with the story of Ötzi, found in the Alps in 1991 more than 5,000 years after his death. Deem goes on to explain how glaciers work to preserve and destroy human remains and to provide some historical background. Looking beyond Europe, he describes Inca children sacrificed on high Andean peaks, the discovery of the body of George Mallory, who died on Mt. Everest in 1924, and a man who died between 1670 and 1850 in what is now northern British Columbia whose DNA revealed connections to present-day First Nations Canadians. Clearly identified lithographs, paintings and archival photos help readers see how much has changed in these high altitudes, while maps make clear the locations of particular discoveries. Photos of skulls, mummified bodies and artifacts will fascinate readers. An intriguing read..."

Book Hook
Combine this book with Deem's other books in this series: Bodies From the Bog (1998) and Bodies From the Ash (2005). Both books are also published by Houghton Mifflin.

Online Connections
For more information on Ötzi, click here.
For the National Snow and Ice Data Center's webpage on glaciers, click here.

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