Monday, November 23, 2009

Man vs. Weather by Dennis DiClaudio

So here's the deal with me and weather.

I grew up in Hawaii distrusting the weatherpeople on the news because it seemed like they were wrong more often than they were right. All their talk about low pressure systems and fronts and other things I knew nothing about didn't seem to improve the accuracy of their predictions. I went to college in Ohio, where I was initially impressed by the weather forecasts (it rained when it was supposed to! And stopped when they said it would!), before deciding the weatherpeople on television news, at least, really were idiots, it didn't matter where you were, because they'd say things along the lines of "Stay indoors if you can because of the windchill" while reporting from...outdoors. Watching other weatherpeople broadcasting live on location from the outdoors in the midst of some hurricanes a few years later did not improve my opinion of them. (Meteorologists who didn't forecast weather on the news, though, they were okay.)

In other words, my meteorological literacy was next to nil and I was therefore the perfect audience for Dennis DiClaudio's Man vs. Weather: How to Be Your Own Weatherman.

DiClaudio is a comedian, not a meteorologist. He's the kind of guy who writes things like "Do you know how many different gases make up our atmosphere? Do you have any idea? I personally do not. But I have a feeling it's a whole, whole lot. Anyway, we're going to focus mainly on the important ones that people care about. The other ones can suck it." (p. 14-15) Acting as a sort of tour guide, and anthropomorphizing things like water molecules, he begins by leading readers through the water cycle and atmosphere, knowledge you need to understand, well, weather. Or, Weather, as DiClaudio writes it. Because you need to know about the water cycle and how wind impacts it, and how the atmosphere affects the wind, and therefore the water cycle, before you can move on to things like fronts and hurricanes and so on. And although DiClaudio's chart of the Fujita Scale for measuring tornadoes claims that, in addition to "devastating damage," during an F4 tornado, you can expect "cows turned into deadly projectiles; portal to Oz beginning to open," there is a lot of actual scientific knowledge to be found in the pages of Man vs. Weather.

Weather turns out to be just as complicated as it seemed before I read Man vs. Weather, and, yes, it only makes sense that weather forecasts sometimes are not accurate. It operates on different scales (in an air circulation kind of way, though I suppose the phrase does apply to things like the metric system), does weird things, and there are still weather events scientists don't fully understand. The humor occasionally wore thin, especially in the latter chapters, but DiClaudio does a good job explaining things, and doing so in a logical order. He acknowledges that Weather is complicated and confusing, so certain sections may require multiple readings before things really start to make sense.

The one disappointing thing about the book is that it lacks both a glossary and an index. Seriously, for a book that comes across as a slightly demented version of the Magic School Bus for older readers, with a sarcastic Mr. Frizzle teaching the class without a bus—and I mean this as a compliment because the Magic School Bus rocks—a glossary and index would come in handy.

Book source: public library.

Cross-posted at The YA YA YAs.


david elzey said...

this looks like a good call, a lot of fun blended with information. i'm goong to have to check this out as part of my growing theory that non-fiction is the new fiction (aka "how entertaining non-fiction can teach writers what's wrong with fiction for boys").

Trisha said...

part of my growing theory that non-fiction is the new fiction

Oh? Do explain more about your theory, because it sounds interesting.

david elzey said...

i'm working on it, trisha.

basically, i think that there are elements of non-fiction that boys are drawn to that can be applied to fiction. it would take a week's worth of blog posts (long ones) to break this out, but i think that if authors are willing to change the way they construct and tell stories then there's a lot they can learn from non-fiction.