100 Most Disgusting Things on the Planet. By Anna Claybourne. Scholastic. $7.99.
Fly Guy #8: Fly Guy Meets Fly Girl! By Tedd Arnold. Cartwheel Books/Scholastic. $5.99.
Admit it – there’s something inherently fascinating about really gross stuff. Maybe not to adults (although that’s arguable), but certainly to a lot of kids. And it’s that fascination with the weird and truly unpleasant things in life to which Anna Claybourne plays in 100 Most Disgusting Things on the Planet. Now, it’s important to realize that the “disgusting” stuff here seems that way from a perceptual standpoint, not an analytical one. That is, there is nothing here about heart disease, advanced cancer, mistreatment of children or animals, or anything along those lines. These “disgusting” things (rated from one to five “yuck faces,” which are green emoticons with tongues sticking out) come in two sections: “Disgusting Nature” and “Disgusting Humans.” The first includes, for example, the tarantula – which gets a yuck factor of only two, because “they look hairy and scary, but only some people find them revolting – others keep them as pets!” Want something with a yuck factor of five? That would be the snakelike hagfish, scavengers whose bodies are completely covered with large quantities of extremely slippery slime. The vampire bat gets a yuck factor of four, which seems a trifle unfair – but the botfly, which lives inside living animals and feeds on them, rates a five, which seems about right. Each page of 100 Most Disgusting Things on the Planet shows a photo of whatever is described, gives information about it, and provides an occasional warning or “top tip.” Some of these are pretty obvious: “If you see one of these giant [tarantula hawk] wasps, keep away.” Others are useful: “If your dog or cat bites a cane toad [a poison-skinned amphibian that gets a yuck factor of two], rinse the pet’s mouth out with water and take it to a vet as soon as you can.” So where do “Disgusting Humans” fit into all this? There are the predictable pages about pee, poo, sneezing, spit and vomit, but there are also some genuinely interesting items in this section: ants that are used to stitch up wounds (yuck factor of three, which seems high); tripe as food (yuck factor of two); chocolate-covered ants (three); household dust (three); black mold (four); and germs in cheese (three, with a note that the holes in Swiss cheese “are made by gas bubbles that are released by bacteria”). Not everything here is truly disgusting – many things are a matter of taste or culture – but the chances are that kids fascinated by gross stuff will find a lot of items to like (if that’s the right word) in 100 Most Disgusting Things on the Planet.
Take houseflies, for example (yuck factor: four). In Tedd Arnold’s Fly Guy series, they are endearing rather than filthy; or maybe that’s endearing and filthy. The latest book in the series doubles the fun – or disgusting-ness, if you prefer – by having Buzz and his pet fly (that would be Fly Guy) meet a girl named Liz and her pet fly, Fly Girl. Each fly can say its owner’s name (“buzz” and “lizzz,” that is), and both flies have delightfully similar habits: “‘Fly Guy eats gross stuff,’ said Buzz. ‘Fly Girl eats grosser stuff,’ said the girl.” Arnold gets away with all the grossness not only because fans of this series expect it, but also because his drawings are silly/funny as well as…well…gross. So what happens here? Disaster, almost, because while Buzz and Liz play together, Fly Guy and Fly Girl discover that they really, really like each other, and they start imagining a future together – which Arnold shows in terms of the two of them living in a thrown-away food can with lots of little flies flitting about (no maggots here!). But then what would happen to Buzz and Liz? (And what would happen to the Fly Guy series, for that matter?) Anyway, everything turns out just fine, because the two flies decide to be “just friends,” since they can’t bear the thought of leaving their humans. Whew! Close call! So don’t worry – there are sure to be more Fly Guy books to come, because Arnold may not himself be a fly guy, but he’s certainly a sly guy.