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The Magic school bus series was commissioned by scholastic books who wanted a series combining fiction with science to make science more accessible to young children. The first book "at The Waterworks" appeared in 1986, so too late for me to have read any of this series as a child. The series revolves around field trips taken by the extremely eccentric Ms. Frizzle and her class in a magic school bus. I can't say I found the idea especially exciting at first, but I kept finding one glowing reference to this series after another in various home education resources and finally decided to give it a try. I found the series does an outstanding job of taking scientific principles and breaking them up into small simple facts that even very young children can easily understand.
In this episode, the body of one student becomes the destination for the next wacky field trip for the rest of the class. After stopping for lunch, Ms. Frizzle leaves the daydreaming Arnold behind, easting his cheese snacks ( which look rather like Wotsits). She hurries the class onto the bus, before shrinking it to the size of a Wotsit and flying into Arnold's hand to be eaten. This is the beginning of a journey through human digestive system, carefully explaining how each step works. As with other books in this series, a brief fact sheet is presented in the corner of the pages, in the form of a student report explaining the basic facts behind what is taking place in the story. As Arnold swallows the bus, a report explains how muscles push food through the esophagus, with simple drawings as well.
The school bus continues through the digestive system, explaining various processes along the way, before shrinking yet again, to microscopic size and passing through the wall of one of the villi to join Arnold's blood stream. The drawing quite clearly shows the villi cell wall as well as red blood cells and the odd white cell. Inside the blood cell the children find themselves in a clear fluid, surrounded by red cells as well platelets, germs, food molecules and white blood cells. Student reports explain, what blood is made of, why it is red, and what it's purpose is. Each "report is only a 2 - 4 , sentences, but combined with the main story, and illustrations they do very clearly explain each subject.
The bloodstream takes the school bus into the heart and lungs and back through the bloodstream to the brain, using the blood stream as the motorway of the body, which I think is a pretty simple way for children to understand how it works. Children learn about the circulatory and respiratory systems, muscles, nerves, the brain and spinal cord. Finally it is time to leave and the children enter poor Arnold's nose, as Ms. Frizzle that anything in the nose makes you sneeze. A nice report to the side mentions this, showing pepper as an example of a foreign substance. Needless to say, poor Arnold, who has been walking back to school alone, sneezes and the school bus reappears. My son found this rather disgusting, but I mentioned it was better than the other way out. Of course he asked, so i just asked him how they would have gotten out if they stayed in the digestive system. Once the idea dawned, he decided the nose was the less disgusting of the possible options.
This book was purchased as a part of our curriculum for home education. As such, the book is excellent, and I would give this my highest recommendation, both for home educators and for teachers. I do think these books are worth having on the average family bookshelf as well, simply because they make science so easy to understand. My sons are ages 2 and 6. Both will listen to this, but the 2 year old has less interest, which is to be expected. My older son enjoyed the book, asked a lot of questions, and , as usual we had to turn to the Internet to learn a bit more. It is not a favourite storybook, and has not been selected by either child for story time. The story is readable, and serves to tie the facts together, but in itself is really not that exciting.
It has also inspired a few experiments at home. The first was to see how pepper makes you sneeze. My husband, who will mutter a mmmmm mmmm to any question, which I take to mean yes if I wish, while playing video games became the guinea pig. We found that pepper does indeed make you sneeze, quite a lot in fact, much to both boys amusement. I am certain this is something my son will remember at any rate.
The book also has a diagram that shows what part of the mouth can detect what type of taste. According to this, bitter and sour are detected by the back of the tongue and roof of the mouth while the tip of the tongue detects sweet. In all fairness the book says these parts work best at each type of taste, but I had read previously that each type of taste bud can only detect the one type of taste - so I reasoned, one should be unable to taste a substance like vinegar only on the tip of the tongue. Naturally my son thought I should be the one to try it out, and my reasoning was very, very wrong. Of course the boys found this amusing as well.
Finally the book suggests dying cells from inside of the mouth with iodine to observe under the microscope. We will be trying this tomorrow.
This book also includes a section at the back separating fact from fiction. Of course a bus can not really shrink so small. It also mentions that Arnold should have stayed where he was and waited for someone to find him. This is something I teach my son as well. Should he ever become lost he should stay put I will find him. But as he points out, Ms. Frizzle is too dopey to be trusted to return so Arnold was better off finding his own way back. I am afraid that my son has a very low opinion of the fictional Ms. Frizzle who sees as to irresponsible to be minding children.
I would recommend this book for ages 4 - 8. There is also a dvd of this episode, and I believe a cd-rom. This is a completely different story to "Inside Ralphie" which focuses only on germs and the immune system. More info about this series and a brief online quiz relating to this book can be found here: http:// www.scholastic.com/ magicschoolbus/ ( remove space after each / ).
Overall while the story is acceptable - it is not exciting. but the book makes science easy to understand in a simple and fun manner, has helped my son understand how our bodies work, encouraged several questions and a few experiments. As such it earns 5 full stars from me.