Book Review: Citizen Science for Your Littlest Researcher

Forrester, Anna. Bat Count: A Citizen Science Story. Arbordale Publishing, 2017. 32 pages. Paperback (English and Spanish editions) $US9.95.

Bathala, Neeti, Keats Curtis, Jennifer, & Jones, Veronica V. (Illustrator). Moonlight Crab Count. Arbordale Publishing, 2017. 32 pages.Paperback (English and Spanish editions) $US9.95.

A very young reader! 

Looking for some not-so-spooky reads for your little ones?  Just in time for Halloween, we explore bats and crabs that appear with the moonlight. But the books we review demonstrate that these creatures are more than just spooky friends. It’s never too early to get involved with citizen science: the collection of youth science stories by Arbordale, a children’s publisher, skillfully illustrates how to get kids excited about science. The collection spotlights a wide range of scientific topics, from amphibians to woolly mammoths. In this post, we review two books from the collection: Bat Count: A Citizen Science Story by Anna Forrester and Moonlight Crab Count by Dr. Neeti Bathala and Jennifer Keats Curtis. Both are wonderful introductions to citizen science for our youngest researchers.

Bat Count follows the story of Jojo and her family as they join scientists to monitor local bat population patterns. In the course of the story, Jojo learns about a fatal fungal disease affecting hibernating bats called White-Nose Syndrome. This disease is the leading reason citizens are being recruited for the bat counts. As the story progresses, the reader learns the process of participating in the bat count, as well as the procedure for reporting the results to scientists. These processes consist of counting the number of bats coming from and going to the roosts, as well as completing a form to share roost location and information with scientists.The final pages of the book provide educational information about White-Nose Syndrome, bats more generally, and how the reader and their family can get involved with this citizen science project.

Forrester’s story not only interweaves the lives of the bats with those of Jojo and her family, but also goes further, drawing parallels between the family life of Jojo and that of the bats. This commonality between humans and our nocturnal friends creates a compelling emotional argument for young citizen scientists to get involved in science. This combination of recruitment and enjoyment is only bolstered by the soft pastel shades of Susan Detwiler’s illustrations, providing a warm familial backdrop upon which this educational journey takes place.

Moonlight Crab Count tells the story of Leena, her mother, and her dog, Bobie, as they take a citizen science journey to count horseshoe crabs. Bathala and Curtis use descriptive language to introduce horseshoe crabs, writing about “the creature that looks like half a brown basketball with bumpy eyes, sharp spines, and a pointy sword.” Such descriptions make the crab a non-threatening, fascinating subject to explore. The deep blues of the night sky and the piercing yellows of Leena’s flashlight (illustrated by Veronica V. Jones) further bring the reader into the story. The narrative and the accompanying illustrations elicit a sense of mystery and hidden treasure embedded within the search for these horseshoe crabs. This book demonstrates that knowledge, the most valuable of any treasure, can be found both by young readers and by young citizen scientists and their families.

The story explains the migration and reproduction habits of the horseshoe crab and the relevance their existence has for lives outside their own. Young readers are introduced to the impacts horseshoe crabs have human experiences (including testing medicines for germs) and those of other animals, such as the red knot (a threatened bird species). The dialogue and narration provides the reader with an enjoyable and explanatory journey through the process of a moonlight crab count. Similar to Bat Count, there is a set of educational material and information at the end of the book to facilitate citizen science.

For teachers and those looking for a more comprehensive lesson, each book in the collection features online Educational Resources, including substantial Teaching Activity Guides. Through these resources, families, teachers, and curious young readers have the opportunity to further their knowledge of the topic and foster a love for citizen science.

Inspired to pursue a moonlight mission of your own? Then we suggest checking out one of SciStarter’s bat-friendly projects or venturing out to the beach to count crabs.

This review is part of an ongoing series of book reviews written by members of Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher’s research team in partnership with SciStarter. If you have a recommendation for a book to review, please contact Scistarter Editor Caroline Nickerson at  

Categories: Book Review, Citizen Science, EarthSchool, libraries

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About the Author

Tyler Black

Tyler Black

Tyler William Black is an M.A. student in English Language & Literature, Rhetoric and Communication Design at the University of Waterloo, in Canada. Their research examines the design and implementation of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math-focused communication courses.