________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 21 . . . . June 23, 2006


Crime Scene: How Investigators Use Science to Track Down the Bad Guys.

Vivien Bowers. Illustrated by Martha Newbigging.
Toronto, ON: Maple Tree Press, 2006.
64 pp., pbk. & cl., $12.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (cl.).
ISBN 1-897066-56-2 (pbk.), ISBN 1-897066-55-4.

Subject Headings:
Forensic sciences-Juvenile literature.
Criminal investigation-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Marilynne V. Black.

***½ /4


The Right Stuff

Two things might look like they match, but it is hard to tell for sure.

Are things the same color and texture really made up of the same stuff? Is the chip of glass on the sole of Mr. Suspect's shoe from the window broken during the kidnapping? Is the flake of metal on Mr. Suspect's clothes from the safe drilled open during a robbery? Call in the forensic scientists!

High -Tech Matching

What do you think a microspectrophotometer is?

It's a machine that can tell if two bits of fabric were colored in the same batch of dye, and it's just one of the high-tech machines that help police match-make. Scanning electron microscopes magnify objects thousands of times, and also create 3-D images of them for police to compare.

Chromographs break down substances into tiny molecular parts, so spectrometers can identify them. When lasers and ultraviolet lights are shone on fibers and inks, some glow and some don't. You need more than a magnifying glass to be a good detective these days. Sorry, Sherlock.

For all young CSIers, Vivien Bowers has updated her book, Crime Science (1997), into this marvelous "how it's done" manual that is more than an introduction to forensics. As with her other books, such as Wow, Canada! (1999); That's Very Canadian (2004); and Only in Canada (2002), award-winning Bowers imparts much in a light, fast-paced, information packed format that will fill many recreational reading needs.

     In just 64 pages, Bowers is able to give middle and late elementary children some in-depth information without the book's bogging down with information and technical terms. Younger readers will not be deterred but will be engaged by the cartoonish illustrations while more sophisticated readers will appreciate the photographs of actual evidence. Many aspects of forensic science are dealt with in a manner appropriate to children, and yet, it retains necessary scientific words such as microspectrophotometer.

     Each double page spread focuses an aspect of forensics such as counterfeiting, forgeries, fingerprinting, dental records, and DNA. Quirky diagrams, a variety of fonts, and illustrative photos on each page augment the concise and informative text. Sidebars detail actual cases or give added information. For instance, "Profile of an Arsonist" tells how the police used computers to create a geographic profile that they were able to cross-reference to vehicle registrations and subsequently make an arrest. In the section on counterfeiting, the reader is told about a former counterfeiter. "Now he's a counterfeit expert - he helps banks and companies foil other counterfeiting crooks." Such details, as well as offbeat titles and headings, keep the tone light. For instance, in the illustration for the segment "The Right Stuff," the samples being tested the by the comical "machine" are Green Slime, Slug Juice, Swamp Water, and Frog Spit!

     The strengths of this book are that it is very kid-friendly and interesting. The downside, from a kid's point of view at least, is that there are no gory pictures! In addition, the cartoonish illustrations may deter older readers. However, the photos provide a nice balance. In addition, computer crimes and "cybercops" keep the information current. Furthermore, interest is promoted by activities in which the readers are invited to try their hand at detecting and solving crimes. For example, in the chapter "Wrong From Write," short sections on "Tracing a Forgery," "The DNA Pen," and "Art Fakes" are included. The reader is then asked to compare three brief notes and spot the forgery. In this case, two notes are obviously from a parent asking that the child be excused from gym while the third can be construed as a note from the child!

     Answers at the back of the book are given for all the "cases" the reader is asked to solve. In addition, various crime scientists, including dentrologists, voice identification specialists, and entomologists, are explained. A detailed index and the author's acknowledgements of almost two dozen police and forensic experts make the book highly useable and authentic.

Highly Recommended.

Marilynne V. Black is a former BC elementary librarian who completed her Master of Arts in Children's Literature (UBC) in the spring of 2005.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364
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