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Nick Arnold is back with another helping of "Science with the squishy bits left in", this time turning his attention to how the human body works. With a characteristic focus on the squelching, gurgling and gruesome aspects of bodily functions, Arnold helps children to discover what a truly amazing machine the human body is.
The conversational, chatty tone of the book makes it a pleasure to read and it presents its information in unique ways, holding the reader's attention and stimulating scientific interest through elements of role play and imagination. My daughter loved this book and she appreciated the way that, although it was a science book, a lot of the information can be tied in with other subjects, such as history and even literature. For example, the book starts with a reference to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein story to pose the question of whether it would ever be possible to create a complete human being from old body parts. Readers are made to imagine that they are building their own 'Frankenstein's monster' and are encouraged to think about all the different parts they would need, how they would assemble them, how they would make sure the parts were in the right places, how they would check everything was working correctly, etc. It is an inventive way of teaching children about all the different bits that make up a human body, their individual functions and how they work together. "Make sure you get the bones in the right order. It's tricky," warns the author and "Make sure you put the heart in its correct place - nearer the left side of the chest." There is a reference to doing 'quality control' on your monster, which is an opportunity to introduce and explain how tools such as X-rays, gastroscopes and ophthalmoscopes can be used to find out how the different bits of the body are working. There is also a body diagram of a 'Frankenstein's monster' (clad only in a pair of Y-fronts, a typical bit of Horrible Science humour) and readers are asked to locate some of the not-so-well-known body parts. (Would you know where to find the innominate canal of Arnold, for instance, or Lane's kinks?) This task is made trickier by the fact that some totally made-up names are provided alongside genuine names of body parts, so children have to use their judgment.
If children want to learn about the functions of the skin, they can read a spoof promotional ad for 'The Amazing Birthday Suit' which presents the skin as a high-tech suit, a must-have item that 'comes in a variety of colours' and 'has an automatic cooling mechanism.' A section on the Blood Highway Code teaches the 'rules of the road' for a red blood cell. For example, it explains the one-way system - arteries go away from the heart; veins go towards it -- and how to identify other road users, the white blood cells and platelets. By presenting the information in such creative ways, Arnold makes it more accessible and memorable to young readers. My daughter's favourite section was probably the Horrible Holiday Gruesome Guts Getaway, where the reader is taken on a journey through the human gut and the description is written in the style of travel itinerary. There is reference to a "Five hour stopover" in the stomach with "plenty of time to admire the slimy stomach walls", followed by a cruise down the scenic small intestine. No prizes for guessing where the tour ends. Let's just say it involves a life jacket, parachute and a splash landing.
What's great about this book is that it encourages children to think for themselves, rather than just feeding them with facts. It presents scenarios and asks children to predict what might happen. For instance, the true story is told of a body that was found in Long Beach California 1976, believed to be that of a cowboy and outlaw, Elmer McCurdy. There is a wanted poster bearing McCurdy's description and children are asked to consider how an examination of bones could confirm his identity. (Children may not realise, for instance, that bones can reveal whether someone is male or female, their age, their height and build, or whether they are left or right handed.) Science becomes much more exciting when it is turned into detective work, and that is something that this Horrible Science book does very well. There are also references to famous experiments carried out in the past and the reader is asked what they think the results were, such as a story about an early blood transfusion in 1667. The book provides plenty of opportunity for children to make their own observations, such as finding out what happens to their skin in a warm bath and testing their own reflexes. They can also perform simple experiments. The experiments are easy to set up and require no special equipment. For example, there is a series of experiments to show how the eyeballs work. Some of the experiments can be performed alone but others, such as 'Dare you discover how your friend's brain works' involve other people. Along with the Test your Teacher sections, this book stimulates discussion and the sharing of information, which is a great way to learn.
What I like about this book is that Nick Arnold explains quite tricky concepts by using comparisons that are meaningful to children. For example, we are told that our salivary glands produce 2 litres of saliva every day - 50,000 litres in a lifetime, which is apparently "enough to fill 100 baths." In explaining about ligaments (cords that hold the bones together over the joint) Arnold begins by saying, "Imagine if your arm fell off every time you threw a ball." Kidney function is explained with the help of a comparison to coffee filters. Ear function is explained by reference to satellite dishes, linked up to drums, triangles (the musical kind that you hit with a stick) and microphones. It makes a lot more sense than just bombarding young children with too much medical language and technical terminology.
Fascinating facts abound, as always. Did you know that plastic surgery began in India 2,000 years ago when criminals, who were punished by having their noses cut off, had skin taken from their foreheads or cheeks to improve the appearance of their wounds? Did you know that we have tiny creatures living in our eyelashes? Or than an adult's skin, if removed, would cover approximately 2 square metres? My daughter and I were particularly intrigued by the sections on digestion and enjoyed reading about some of the unhealthy things people eat. Here you can find out about the Frenchman known as Monsieur Mangetout (Mr Eat-it-all) who was famous for eating indigestible objects including bicycles, TV sets and even a coffin (empty, at least).
This is an excellent book and I cannot recommend it highly enough for children of junior school age and above. It uses humour and cartoons to keep the mood light, but it never ventures into distracting silliness. Although it makes children laugh at the more 'yucky' features of the human body, it makes the serious point that your body, no matter how imperfect you think it is, is a pretty impressive structure, with its ability to do so many things at the same time and its capacity to heal itself. Even the most reluctant young scientist would find this fascinating, I'm sure. The Blood, Bones and Body Bits 7-page quiz at the end of the book is the perfect way to test what you have learned, and it can be enjoyed by the whole family. New copies are available from £0.01 from sellers at Amazon.