March 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Bones | New Books About the Human Body

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The human body is an amazing machine. It’s no wonder we are curious about how it develops, how it is kept functioning smoothly, and individual differences—all topics reflected in K–12 studies. Most curriculums also include an early focus on the senses and body systems that scaffold into units on human development and adaptation, nutrition, and disease prevention.

A number of recent titles offer a variety of approaches to these subjects and their interrelation in normal patterns of growth and development. Many are highly visual with exciting text features such as gatefolds, pull-tabs, or to-scale illustrations that augment concepts. Others challenge readers with engaging narratives, posing questions to foster critical thinking (particularly about genetics and disease), and may include profiles of medical sleuthing or provide valuable support for students making health-related decisions.

Body Parts
Parents will appreciate Robie H. Harris’s picture book explanations when answering their young children’s questions, including Who Has What?: All About Girls’ Bodies and Boys’ Bodies (2011; PreS–Gr 1). On a family trip to the beach, Nellie and Gus have countless questions about gender differences. Cartoon speech bubbles move the family conversation along while a separate narrative provides the factual information. Nadine Bernard Westcott’s cheerful illustrations depict dozens of multiethnic characters of all shapes and sizes enjoying family activities. Anatomical terminology is accurate, and body-part pictures often appear as a window atop clothed characters, making this facts-of-life guide an excellent (and comfortable) parent-child reading choice. The author-illustrator team addresses health and nutrition in What’s So Yummy?: All About Eating Well and Feeling Good (2014, both Candlewick; PreS–Gr 1) when Nellie and Gus’s parents go food shopping, and later in the day, take them on a picnic.

mybodypinningtonBody systems are introduced to emergent readers in Andrea Pinnington and Penny Lamprell’s My Body (Scholastic, 2012; PreS–Gr 2). The glossy-paged board book featuring primary colors boasts smiling photos of children of many backgrounds, graphics and artwork illustrating anatomy, and a clearly written text. Skeletal, circulatory, and respiratory systems are simplified to “bones,” “blood,” or “breathing,” and inset boxes prompt children to use their senses (feel their pulse, breathe onto a mirror, or examine the bumps on their tongue). Thanks to a digital code that comes with each book, more response-driven activities are available online, offering enhancement options for independent readers and eager, hands-on learners.

Ms. Frizzle hops aboard the Magic School Bus to introduce readers to The Human Body (Scholastic, 2014; Gr 1-3). Touted as a nonfiction companion to Joanna Cole’s original “Magic School Bus” series (Scholastic), Dan Green and Tom Jackson’s update focuses on body systems and senses. The slim book is chock-full of photos and clearly labeled diagrams, and the engaging narrative incorporates a rich vocabulary. Carolyn Bracken’s convivial illustrations accent the facts as well as Ms. Frizzle’s running commentary. A section on staying healthy highlights the career paths of a pediatrician, a physical therapist, and a nutritionist. The paperback version of the book offers an affordable option for a multiple classroom copies.

ehehowitworksWell-known author and illustrator David Macaulay (The Way Things Work; Cathedral), adroitly establishes the eye-brain relationship in Eye: How It Works (Roaring Brook, 2013; K–Gr 1). Enlisting the help of Sheila Keenan, Macaulay combines a fictional story, in which Emma and Roger learn how their eyes function during a soccer match, with science, such as how muscles change shape to focus in outdoor light and how tears wash away grit. Fascinating diagrams explain how our eyes work together to provide a 3-D image of our surroundings and help players avoid a fast approaching ball on the soccer field. The clever and relatable graphics allow readers to make sense of a complex concept.

bodybonesWhen a photographer and an animation artist collaborate on a picture book about bones, wonderful overlay depictions of humans and animal skeletons in motion are one of the results, as evidenced in Shelley Rotner’s Body Bones (Holiday House, Oct. 2014; Gr 1-3). David A. White’s artful illustrations complement Rotner’s color photos, comparing and contrasting skeletal characteristics, such as the shape, purpose, and number of bones found in various species. The simple text describes why scientists study fossils and how tendons hold bones together, among other topics. The book makes a fine read-aloud or independent reading selection. An index and glossary are included as well as an additional section on human and animal teeth that reminds kids that our choppers are bones, too.

bonesBy contrast, Steve Jenkins’s Bones: Skeletons and How They Work (Scholastic, 2010; Gr 3-6) is a bolder, artistic rendition of the subject, with authentically imagined ash-colored illustrations of femurs, vertebrae, ribs, etc., against vivid backgrounds of reds, greens, purples, and black. Most notable is Jenkins’s attention to scale and his placement of images. For example, on facing pages are a true-to-size human skull and a cranium of the tiny mouse lemur. The author also offers a gatefold spread of other skulls for comparison. The text is engaging and supplementary facts are appended, but both take a backseat to the stunning collage-like illustrations. More foldouts, including one depicting 206 randomly placed bones on the outside of a set of flaps that open to an image of a full human skeleton inside, allow readers the opportunity for some up-close observations.

Body Capabilities
The soft-toned ink-and-watercolor illustrations of Annie Patterson will draw readers into Too Hot? Too Cold?: Keeping Body Temperature Just Right (Charlesbridge, 2013; Gr 1-3), an inviting picture book filled with children, and animals, in their natural habitats. Author Caroline Arnold offers educators a perfect vehicle for teaching the concepts of temperature regulation, migration, hibernation, and more. There are explanations of why we shiver and get goose bumps when we are cold and why we perspire when we exercise. Comparisons between human and animal bodies relate how animals expel body heat in their own way—for example, through their paws, throats, or ears. Pages of warm- and cold-blooded species are grouped with descriptions of how body heat varies with surroundings and how species adapt to these variations. While not indexed, the narrative flows well for reading aloud, and  as an introduction to the topic or as an approach to scaffolding information about the human body with the concepts of habitat and adaptation.

youjustcanthelpitTo be characterized as human often means displays of instinctive behaviors such as laughing, weeping, and blushing. Jeff Szpirglas offers a browsable guide to understanding what makes us tick in You Just Can’t Help It: Your Guide to the Wild and Wacky World of Human Behavior (Maple Tree, 2011; Gr 3-7). The lighthearted writing and generous mix of text, photos, comics, and infographics will appeal to browsers. Beyond visual interest, solid information supports a variety of topics, such as how human behavior compares to that of animals. For example; while humans experience a physical comfort zone referred to as “personal space,” animals exhibit a similar concept known as “flight distance.” An interesting discussion about overuse of conversational disfluencies, such as “um” and “uh,” and unacceptable public manners reminds readers of the negative effect certain actions may have on others. The mention of intriguing research studies, including one on how “human waves” start in a football stadium, may inspire science fair ideas.

super human“The brain is a million times more efficient than a computer of a similar size” is just one claim explored in Steve Parker’s Super Human Encyclopedia (Dorling Kindersley, 2014; Gr 6 Up), a super-size volume that apprises readers about the extraordinary performance and mental capabilities of the human body. Sections titled “Mission Control” (the brain), “Power Systems” (circulation, respiration, etc.), and “Totally Sensational” (the senses), among others, feature fascinating double-page and inset photographs, captioned text, colorful “stats and facts” charts, pull-quotes, and a variety of fonts and font sizes. A focus on “Teen Time” (puberty), in the chapter on “Human Development,” addresses hormones, body changes, and the “rewiring” that the brain undergoes during adolescence. The stunning visual format is a browser’s delight, and the well-indexed content makes accessing information a snap. The final chapter, “Future Humans,” covers recent studies and developments in longevity research, biotechnology, and genetics, among other areas.

Body Repairs
Nancy Winslow Parker’s Organs!: How They Work, Fall Apart, and Can Be Replaced (Gasp!) (Greenwillow, 2009; Gr 2-5) takes a conversational, cheery look at body systems including the nervous, respiratory, circulatory, digestive, urinary, skeletal, and integumentary (skin!). Pen, watercolor, and color pencil drawings are a simple and humorous accompaniment to the chapter narratives, which generally begin with an anecdote about a health experience, such as Aunt Muriel’s allergy to baking flour, or Cousin Willie’s ruptured spleen after a hard hit on the football field. Parker’s own medical emergency led her to write these stories and the accompanying fact boxes. Child-friendly, often amusing illustrations make the otherwise potentially unpleasant aspects of human insides less intimidating.

ouchrhatiganChildren may worry less after an injury or an illness if they understand what is happening to their body and how they are likely to be treated. In Ouch!: The Weird & Wild Ways Your Body Deals with Agonizing Aches, Ferocious Fevers, Lousy Lumps, Crummy Colds, Bothersome Bites, Breaks, Bruises & Burns & Makes Them Feel Better! (Imagine, 2013; Gr 3-6), Joe Rhatigan combines a frank and friendly narrative with colorful cartoon illustrations and close-up (but-not-gory) photos of actual common ailments such as pinkeye, blisters, or a cut after stitches have been removed. Each entry describes the body’s reaction to the illness or injury as well as a reader or parental first response and medical treatment. There is also a discussion on prevention and an emoticon rating of the injury on the “Ouch! Pain Scale.” Introductory material describes body systems and defense mechanisms.

adventuresMichael Evans and David Wichman team up with science illustrator Gareth Williams for a graphic novel approach to some common illnesses in The Adventures of Medical Man: Kids’ Illnesses and Injuries Explained (Annick, 2010; Gr 5-8). Six episodes titled “They Came from Mars” detail Billy and Sally’s experience with a nut allergy while fighting alien invaders. The page-turner of a story alternates with superhero narratives starring characters with various conditions, including a concussion, strep throat, an ear infection, asthma, and broken bones. The illustrations are reminiscent of detailed 3-D paintings, and the characters are parodies of Indiana Jones, Batman, and Dick Tracy, to name a few. The humor is attuned to the basic, but the solid content and images will have high appeal to visual learners.

traumaticRecent concerns about the uptick in concussions among athletes make Connie Goldsmith’s Traumatic Brain Injury (Twenty-First Century, 2014; Gr 7 Up) particularly timely. More than coverage of sports-related risks, chapters discuss the intricacies of head injuries due to motor vehicle accidents, explosives, and physical violence. Stories from straight from the headlines, including National Hockey player Derek Boogaard’s death in 2011, long after suffering a game-related concussion, and U.S. Representative Gabby Gifford’s gunshot wound to the head, are just two of many real-life examples that describe levels of injury, treatment, and rehabilitation. Graphics, photos, informational boxes, and a glossary will help students understand the medical aspects and serious risks associated with this common injury.

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