Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Caution-Do Not Read Before Eating

Students continually gravitate toward nonfiction.  Once they get hooked on a topic, soaking up information like sponges, they can't get enough.  The way they crave trivia would lead one to believe we are growing a generation (and have been for quite awhile) of future participants on Jeopardy.

Wandering through the public library children's section a couple of days ago, a title caught my eye, mainly because of the slobbering dog on the cover.  When I read the title and saw the author's name, I knew I had found another book to help me fill my book gap challenge.  To say I was riveted to each and every page of  Animal Grossapedia (Scholastic, October 2012) by Melissa Stewart would be an understatement. Once I started, there were no pauses.

SNOT. POOP. PEE. We humans think these gross, gooey, stinky substances are totally disgusting!
But here's a surprise: Some animals have a very different view of this yucky stuff.

With those first two sentences in the introductory paragraph I was about ready to jump in with both feet, figuratively of course.  But when I read the last two sentences, I was good to go until all 112 pages were consumed...er....read.

Want to know more?  Well, UR-INE luck.

Dedicating a single page, usually two, to fifty-eight different creatures, those living on and under the earth, swimming in the water, fresh and salt, flying, creeping, crawling, walking or climbing, hunters and the hunted, from all corners of the world, we read, learn and, yes, it's usually gross.  The first twenty plus pages discuss the ins and outs of  poop.  There are those who design balls weighing fifty times more than they do so their young can feed, many who eat it for digestion and protection.  Want more food?  Line your homes with feces to lure in bugs.  Drop bombs on your enemies, spray it everywhere because you can, and use it to fertilize your own food crops.

Shifting the focus, Stewart reveals how the animal kingdom utilizes urine to perfection.  It's a shield against foes, a cologne for courting, and a communication tool; I'm bigger than you are or this is my space, keep out.  It's a trail for finding your way home, drop by drop.

Mucus and slime are beneficial tools in the animal trade.  Secreting it as a coat of armor, using it to secure one's position, or as a numbing agent against hungry predators, it works wonders.  Without the slim on it's body an earthworm would be unable to breath in oxygen; five hearts but no lungs.

Spit and spitting builds strong bodies, houses and is deadly when dealing with certain critters.  Or in the case of pigs, it's the best perfume on the market to attract a mate.  It's an air conditioner on those hot summer days and the best kind of soap for cleaning.

Big ears, blood suckers and squirters are given their due.  Breath-holders and regurgitators are included too.  What a frog does after a bad-tasting meal is disgusting but amazing at the same time; as are all the facts contained in the pages of this volume.

Melissa Stewart has devoted her life to writing nonfiction science books for children.  With more than 150 titles to her credit, her delivery is informative and highly engaging through her humor and easy conversational style of presentation.  It's easy to imagine her reading the segments in this book aloud to an audience.  Here are a couple of examples.

When a boy is trying to get a girl's attention, he might give her flowers or candy.  But that's not what a male goat does.  Not by a long shot.

The instant that super sticky mucus nabs an unsuspecting insect, the tongue's suction power hurls the prey into the chameleon's mouth.  The victim doesn't stand a chance!

Large chunky letters announce each animal in different colors.  That same color provides the background for the text.  Bright, colorful photographs document the narrative.  For most of the two page spreads, a large one dominates with several smaller visuals on the other page.  Sometimes a cutout of the animal will be placed within the text.

Any word which is included in the Words To Know section in the back is given a larger and different font within the discussion.  Each explanation is started with a specialized font in the shape of an animal.  "W" is the body of a weasel, "J" is the body of a jaguar, or "R" has a raccoon peeking through the hole with its tale curled around.  You can see "N" is for newt on the cover.

In addition to the Words To Know pages, readers can view the Contents in the beginning and Find Out More resources and an Index in the back.

Make no mistake about it, Animal Grossapedia by Melissa Stewart will cause you to at least think if not say "ewww" but readers will be glued to the writing style and the details it contains.  For individual readers or even as a read aloud, this is nonfiction meant to be shared.  Animal Grossapedia is the recipient of the National Science Teachers Association--Children's Book Council Outstanding Science Trade Book recognition for 2013.  By following the link embedded in the book title you are taken to its page within Melissa Stewart's website.  The link embedded in her name takes you to a page where she speaks about why she writes her books.  You can read the NSTA review by following the link attached to their name.


  1. Thank you so much for the wonderful, thoughtful, and thorough review.

    Melissa Stewart

  2. You're most welcome. Thank you for your dedication to readers and science. These are the books making a difference.