You simply can't live in it without viewing it as a miracle every single moment. Your body automatically ensures you breathe in and breathe out. It pumps blood throughout an intricate system of veins and arteries to and from your heart. Consumed food and liquid is turned into fuel. Bones and muscles allow us to perform any number of tasks like walking, holding hands, or winning an Olympic gold medal. Our nervous system receives data and determines the best possible response.
In command of the nervous system (and our bodies) is our brain. Brains! Not Just a Zombie Snack (GodwinBooks, Henry Holt and Company, August 31, 2021) written by Stacy McAnulty with illustrations by Matthew Rivera, through the voice of a zombie chef, takes us on a tour of our brain and provides other intriguing information about the human body. Learning and humor are appetizing items on this menu.
I'm not going to eat your brain. I
gave it up hours ago.
Knowing our brains are about 75 percent water makes them (and water) even more remarkable. They are not one of six hundred plus muscles we have in our bodies. They are essential.
Did you know we have no nerves in our brains? They are nerve message receivers. Our five senses send communications to them.
When you compare our brain weight to the weight of a sperm whale's brain, our brains are comparatively large. Our brains are absolutely loaded with neurons and glial cells which keep our neurons functioning. The more you learn the stronger your neurons are.
Our brains have special parts: the stem, the cerebellum, and the four sections found in the cerebrum. They are wrinkled indicating a certain level of intelligence. Our zombie chef pleads one final time for a little taste or a tiny whiff of our brains; insisting she would be helping us conserve energy. She leaves us with one more illuminating, mind-boggling fact.
Readers will gobble up the words in this book faster than a zombie can smell the presence of your brain due to the inviting blend of hilarity and knowledge author Stacy McAnulty supplies us. Using a zombie chef is highly ingenious. The contrast between the chef providing us with facts and making a meal of our command center engages readers from the first page to the final page. Here is a passage.
So what makes human brains
yummier than whale brains?
Let's take a closer lick---I mean LOOK . . .
a closer look at the human brain.
Has a zombie ever looked as friendly (or as eager to meet you) as the zombie chef on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case? Her clothes may be a bit worse for wear, but she looks professional. The bold, bright color palette is engaging and welcoming.
To the left of the spine a sunny yellow canvas highlights these words:
To read this book about brains,
you will need to use your
brain, while keeping your delicious
brain away from---you guessed it---
a brain-loving zombie!
There is also a chalk board menu on the wall over a breakfast of fried eggs and mushrooms along with a cup of tea with honey. The items on the menu board are altered to read bran and breakfast for the word brain. On the opening and closing endpapers thirteen animal brains, including human, are showcased. A vibrant two-page picture of the chef's kitchen is shown for the verso and title pages. The dedications are there, too.
Double-page visuals and single-page illustrations alternate throughout the book enhancing the pacing of the narrative. Additionally, six panels are created to elevate the contrast between the information and commentary given to readers by the zombie. Backgrounds shift in color depending on where the zombie chef is inside her cafe. Sometimes, we are close to the zombie chef for emphasis and other times, we are given a wider view.
These illustrations by Matthew Rivera are filled with details like the steam from the toaster being a placeholder for the dedications. Readers will see fairly normal ingredients lining the zombie chef's shelves but some other food looks a bit questionable. There are several crows and mice frequently seen in the images.
One of my many favorite illustrations is a double-page picture. Chef Zombie is close to readers. Her upper body and face fill most of the left side. She is holding a specials menu in her left hand, as well as a scoop. (Hmmmm. . .) On the specials page it advertises CEREBELLUM with the words FRESH & SEASONAL underneath. Matthew Rivera has drawn an outline of a human head with the cerebellum colored differently than the stem and cerebrum.
The presentation of information in the witty text and lively visuals in Brains! Not Just a Zombie Snack written by Stacy McAnulty with illustrations by Matthew Rivera makes this an outstanding work of nonfiction. There is no doubt this chef knows of what she speaks. At the close of the book is an author's note, Brain Facts, and a list of sources. Make sure you have this title on your personal and professional bookshelves.
To discover more about Stacy McAnulty and Matthew Rivera and their other work, please access their websites by following the link attached to their names. Stacy McAnulty has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Matthew Rivera has accounts on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter. Stacy McAnulty, Matthew Rivera, and Lori Kilkelly are guests of Kirsti Call and Kim Chaffee on Picture Book Look. At Macmillan Publishers you can view interior images.
Sometimes you read a nonfiction picture book and think----Where was this book when I was in school? The author and illustrator, using their combined talents, have made something difficult easier to understand. The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA (Little Bee Books, September 14, 2021) written by Rajani LaRocca, MD with illustrations by Steven Salerno approaches cells, genetics and DNA definitively and distinctively.
Why aren't you fuzzy like a dog,
or buzzy like a bee?
Why can't you eat ants with your nose,
or breathe beneath the sea?
We readers read several more questions making references to fish, sharks, lizards, and nocturnal animals with night vision. Our characteristics are compared to those of frogs, spiders, egg-laying creatures, and those that use their wings to soar. A page turn begins an explanation. We start with cells.
Cells are much too small to see with our naked eyes. Inside each cell are directions for how each thing is to grow. These directions,
a secret code,
are called DNA.
They look like twisted ladders. They determine what we will be. They decide which characteristics will combine to make us unique.
Parts of the secret code are named genes. We get genes from our parents and both of their parents. As we continue to read, we are remined of exactly what the secret code does. DNA gives us our physical characteristics, but what we decide to do with those is entirely up to us. Readers are offered four possible scenarios with choices.
YOU choose . . .
The rhyming couplets penned by Rajani LaRocca, MD are a welcoming cadence. Inside some of those couplets are additional rhyming words. Explanations of cells, DNA, physical characteristics we inherit, genes, proteins, and chromosomes are skillfully explained and woven into the sentences. You'll be amazed at how much you will learn! Here is the second passage of two initially addressing DNA.
It looks like twisted ladders,
or tiny, twirling noodles.
It makes us into people,
instead of into poodles.
Opening the matching dust jacket and book case is like opening a gift. It is the gift of YOU. The canvas and designs on the front, right, and on the back, left, extend into the jacket flaps. Elements from several illustrations frame the text on the front. Each one is highly animated. You want to jump into this book!
To the left, on the back, in shades of teal for the background, enlarged cells and DNA provide a pattern behind the main item. It is a girl looking straight at the reader. Her hands are on her hips. A quiet smile lights up her face. Her shirt in pale purple is covered in DNA. Her pigtails stand out on either side of her head. Inside the braid of those pigtails are DNA.
The opening and closing endpapers in bright teal are covered in rows of DNA. The enlarged DNA continues on the verso, dedication and title pages along the bottom. Within the DNA we see a child progressively growing.
Each illustration by Steven Salerno whether it is a partial page, a full page, or a dramatic double-page picture asks readers to participate. We kneel with an anteater, swim with sharks, and ponder why a chicken lays eggs. The colorful landscapes and backgrounds are layered with intricate details, diagrams, and labeled enlargements. You'll gasp at some of the page turns. In a word, every page turn depicts energy.
One of my many favorite illustrations is for the explanation of chromosomes. It is a double-page image. The girl shown on the back of the jacket and case is the main element. We see her upper body and face enlarged. The gutter divides her. On the left in yellow and gold we see two sets of great-grandparents, her mother's parents, and her mother. This side of her face is yellow and the chromosomes on her shirt are blue. On her right side, in blue and purple, we trace the genes of her father, his parents, and their respective parents. Her face is blue and the chromosomes on her shirt are yellow. Within the braids on her pigtails the DNA in varied colors is shown.
Once you've read The Secret Code Inside You: All About Your DNA written by Rajani LaRocca, MD with illustrations by Steven Salerno, you will understand why this book is valuable at numerous reading and age levels. At the close of the book are two pages of DNA Facts and a list of three websites to consult. This is followed by a two-page Banana DNA Experiment. In the lower, left-hand corner of the closing endpapers is a Selected Bibliography. I highly recommend this title for all your collections.
To learn more about Rajani LaRocca, MD and Steven Salerno and their other work, please follow the link attached to their names to access their websites. Steven Salerno has many images from this book on his site. Rajani LaRocca, MD has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Steven Salerno has accounts on Facebook and Tumblr. The book trailer was premiered at librarian, lecturer at Rutgers, and writer John Schumacher's Watch. Connect. Read. Rajani LaRocca, MD was recently featured at author Anitra Rowe Schulte's site and at Publishers Weekly. At Simon & Schuster you can view interior images.