November 20, 2017

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Inside and Outside the Human Body: A Closer Look

From graphic novel to descriptive account to Q & A format, these books successfully employ a variety of narrative approaches and illustrative styles to impart basic information about human biology. Whatever the chosen method, these resources will reel in readers with their lively presentations and clearly conveyed content. Use these titles to enhance units on the human body, facilitate classroom and individual research projects, initiate general interest, and satisfy curiosity. Students can also compare and contrast the different ways that information is presented in these books in both text and visuals, and choose one of the modeled styles as a format for their own research projects.

Expeditions through the Human Body

Human-Body-Theater-Cover-743x1028Maris Wicks’s Human Body Theater (First Second/Roaring Brook, 2015; Gr 4-8) grabs readers with its dynamic visual presentation, handily presented concepts, and loads of gut-busting humor. This graphic-novel-style overview is hosted by a “BONE-afied human skeleton” who bounds through the vibrantly illustrated comic-book panels communicating information, cracking jokes, and oozing personality and charm.

Divided into 11 “Acts,” each chapter focuses on a major body system, beginning with an overview of its purpose and function (and a clear diagram) before digging more deeply into the particulars. “Looking Inside” sections zoom in closer and take the action to the organ, tissue, or cellular level. The narrative is often handed over to supporting cast members: a peanut butter and banana sandwich describes its journey through the digestive system (from mouth to colon and final plummet to toilet bowl); the members of a “chorus line of infectious organisms” (bacteria, virus, protozoa, and fungi, each wearing fishnet stockings) speak about their particular roles in the body; and dialogue balloons allow various cells, hormones, organs, and other body components to interject commentary (and puns) about their various purposes. Tips about self-care, nutrition, safety, and puberty are included throughout.

The neatly labeled diagrams and detailed close-up drawings retain the lighthearted flavor of the overall illustrations, while also remaining clear and instructive. Wicks’s concise writing and clever use of the sectioned, sequential graphic-novel format allow her to cover an impressive amount of territory while counting on maximum absorption of content.

Ken Jennings The Human BodyPart of Jeopardy-champion Ken Jennings’s “Junior Genius Guides” series, The Human Body (Little Simon, 2015; Gr 3-6) wows youngsters with its easy-going narration, clearly presented information, and mind-boggling trivia. Addressing his audience directly, Professor Jennings enthusiastically introduces the “most complicated and extraordinary object in the known universe” in delightfully meandering chapters that delve into cells and DNA; the brain; skin, hair, nails, and eyes; skeletal and muscular systems; digestion (“Gross Anatomy”); the circulatory system (“Pump It Up”); and the immune system.

The breezy text, divided by snappy subtitles and accompanied by Mike Lowery’s black-lined cartoon drawings and diagrams, never misses a chance to engage readers and make elucidating points. Throughout, the clearly presented info is expanded upon with intriguing tidbits that captivate imaginations while encouraging deeper comprehension: “If your brain were a television DVR, that would be enough space to hold three hundred years’ worth of TV shows,” or “There’s a 98.2 % chance that you have an air molecule in your lungs right now that Julius Caesar exhaled in his very last breath when he died in 44 BC!”

Also included are quizzes and activities, such as a “Lung Hockey” game (using straws and Ping-Pong balls), directions for making an atomically correct torso from easily found objects, and a recipe for a “Finger Food” snack (“This is one time you won’t get in trouble for biting your nails”). In addition to independent perusal, this engaging resource could also be read aloud as a classroom introduction.

50 Body Questions A Book That Spills Its GutsIn 50 Body Questions: A Book That Spills Its Guts (Annick, 2014; Gr 4-8), Tanya Lloyd Kyi employs an array of humorously oddball inquiries and equally amusing though always informative answers to shed light on human biology. From digestion to the nervous system, the queries are organized into seven themed chapters. “Are there ducks in your mouth?” allows for an explanation of how saliva flows from glands to mouth via small ducts during the first steps of digestion. “Is blood thicker than water?” ushers in a look at this substance—not a liquid but “a “suspension of tiny pieces (blood cells) within a fluid (plasma)”—and its makeup. “Are you touchy-feely?” leads to a discussion of how “our ability to sense pressure develops [in utero] before our sight, our hearing, and even before our ability to swallow.”

Some questions lead to bits of medical history (the use of iron lungs for polio victims or Edward Jenner’s discovery of the smallpox vaccination) and quick glimpses at medical specialties (the evolution of physiotherapy). Simple activities include a recipe for “Synthetic Snot” (and a consideration of mucus in the stomach) and an activity to test balance. Ross Kinnaird’s quirky and colorful cartoon artwork adds visual interest and laughs. Engaging and fact-filled, this entertaining miscellany makes a solid starting point for research projects (an index is appended), and might also inspire further exploration of body systems.

Outside and Inside: A Closer Look

Ultimate BodypediaAppealing photos of youngsters in action mix with colorful x-ray images, crisp microscopic views, gorgeous anatomical illustrations, and computer-generated artwork of the body’s interior to populate the eye-dazzling pages of the Ultimate Bodypedia (National Geographic Kids, 2014; Gr 4-8). Christina Wilsdon, Patricia Daniels, and Jen Agresta’s lively text is logically organized into chapters that focus on the components and functions of the body’s exterior, skeleton and muscles, digestion, respiratory and circulatory systems, brain, senses, life cycle and reproduction, and immune system.

The clearly presented descriptions and concepts are greatly enhanced by stunning visuals: a full-page artist’s cut-away rendition of a bone depicts the structures hidden within; one image from a scanning electron microscope reveals the undigested food and bacteria that make up feces, while another zooms in on the blood vessels that supply the small intestines and how they branch into arteries, arterioles, and capillaries; a dramatic illustration seems to sizzle with electrical pulses to show “how neural transmitters behave in a synapse between neurons.” A final chapter muses about “Our Future Bodies” by highlighting advances in genetic research, regenerative medicine, computer-aided prosthetics, limb transplants, brain-computer interface (BCI), and long-distance medical care utilizing remote devices—all topics that might inspire students to delve into cutting-edge medical trends and research. Appended is an illustrated “Body Atlas” showcasing the body’s systems, with parts labeled and functions explained. A useful resource for researchers, this handsome volume will also captivate browsers.

It’s All About Me

Robert Winston  what makes me sickPairing vibrant visuals with informal and accessible text, two books encourage readers to learn about human biology by turning the focus inward, a method that truly brings the information home. In a revised edition his 2004 book, Robert Winston tackles the question, What Makes Me Me? (DK, 2015; Gr 4-8). The first chapter treats the basics with a brief overview of human body from cells on up to systems. The following sections explore elements that make individuals unique (one-of-a-kind biological characteristics, genes, and human development), the brain (how it works, learning and memory, types of intelligence), and personality (traits, dreams, and emotions). The lively second-person text is presented in an inviting layout and augmented by attractive full-color photos of busy kids, microscopic images of the wonders hidden within, and clearly labeled diagrams of body parts and systems. Easy-to-do activities make the reading experience interactive by inviting youngsters to see what types of genes they may carry (tongue-rolling, dimples, or bent pinky for example), test their memory skills, or determine their dominate eye. Longer quizzes challenge readers to test their spatial, verbal, numerical, or lateral intelligence, or test for personality traits.

The ultimate book about meRichard Platt’s The Ultimate Book About Me (Barron’s, 2004; Gr 4-8) covers similar territory with more specifically targeted topics and a question-and-answer format. Chapters focus on subjects such as genes (“Why do I look like my grandma but not my mom?”), the brain (“Is my brain just a wet computer?”), the face (“How do others recognize me?”), memory (“Why do smells trigger vivid memories?”), the senses (“How do sensations get to my brain?”), language (“How do words reach my lips?”), emotions (“How does fear affect the body?”), gender (“What does it mean to be a boy or a girl?”), and the life cycle (“How will I change as I grow?”). Addressed directly to readers, the text provides clear and concise answers. Though non-technical, the cartoon-style illustrations aid in comprehension (one image utilizes decks of red- and black-suited cards to show how select chromosomes are conveyed from father’s body cells, to sperm, to baby). Quick activities, brief quizzes, and easy-to-do experiments are integrated throughout the book. Photos of a group of expressively featured children appear throughout, outlined with thick black lines and often embellished with cartoon bodies, adding visual interest and giving this accessible volume an even more welcoming veneer. Enjoyable to thumb through, this book also has a glossary/index that can aid young researchers.

By the Numbers

superstats-human-body-9781499800838_hrFeaturing a clean layout, eye-catching visuals, and heaps of spellbinding (and fun-to-share) statistics, Superstats: Amazing Body (Little Bee, 2015; Gr 2-6) satisfies the urge to browse while building a solid base of knowledge. Each colorfully designed spread focuses on a particular topic with a clearly drawn and briefly introduced diagram or image, a fact file section, and boxed photos and graphics that present additional info and by-the-numbers tidbits. For example, “Enemy Attackers” introduces microscopic pathogens that cause illness with an illustration of a virus, a microscopic image of bacteria, a “Fact File” about vaccines, and an assortment of attention-grabbing stats (there are 1,400 “different types of bacteria living in one human belly button,” or “bacteria cells outnumber our human cells by 10 to 1” but make up only “1-2% of our body weight”). A large diagram of the human eye and explanation of its workings is supported with a bar graph showing the average distances various animals can see, the average number of times people blink per minute (17), and the length of the microscopic mites that live on eyelashes (0.015 inches). Not only is it fun to flip through the pages, but his volume might also capture the interest of reluctant researchers and help to launch further investigations.

The Common Core State Standards below are a sampling of those referenced in the above books and classroom activities:
RI 5.5 Compare and contrast the overall structure…of events, ideas, concepts, or information in two or more texts.

RI 6.1. Cite textual evidence to support an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferenced drawn from the text.

RI 7.5. Analyze the stricter an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to the development of the ideas.

W 5.7-7.7. Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.

W 7.2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

Eds. note: There is no lack of apps on the human body. For a look at a few, see “On Tour Through My Incredible Body.”

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.

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