A Zombie’s Guide to the Human Body: Tasty Tidbits from Head to Toe. By Paul Beck. Designed by Rosanna Brockley. Scholastic. $9.99.
The Body Book for Boys: Everything You Need to Know about Growing Up. By Jonathan Mar & Grace Norwich. Scholastic. $8.99.
Sid the Science Kid: Why Did My Ice Pop Melt?; Why Are My Shoes Shrinking?; Why Can’t I Have Cake for Dinner? Adapted by Susan Korman (Ice Pop); N.T. Raymond (Shoes); Jodi Huelin (Cake). HarperFestival, $3.99 each (Ice Pop; Shoes); Collins, $5.99 (Cake).
The question about putting twists in books about the real world is how twisted you want to get – and how twisted an approach parents want for their kids. A Zombie’s Guide to the Human Body goes for the gross from start to finish, even including a final picture of “Professor Zombie” and his “zombified” niece, “Unggh,” to whom the book is dedicated. Laid out in splatter style, with fake blood everywhere and pictures of people made up as zombies throughout (plus some pictures of grinning skeletons and the like), the book buries its accurate information beneath as big a heap of nastiness as it can. “Your skeleton has different types of joints that move in different ways,” the narrative explains in ordinary type, but sometimes joints wear out and “can be replaced with artificial ones.” Unfortunately, this information is far less prominent than the huge, pseudo-hand-written comment next to an X-ray of an artificial joint, “Shiny metal bones not good to gnaw on, BUT MAKE GOOD WEAPONS!” Similarly, straightforward text says, “The brain stem connects the rest of the brain to the spinal cord.” But the picture of the brain shows a drawing of a salt shaker dropping crystals onto the organ (right next to a picture of a cockroach), and the large words say, “SERVING SUGGESTION: LIGHTLY SALT BRAIN.” The whole book is like this. A discussion of bone marrow gets the large-type comment, “Good on Toast.” The heart is accurately labeled, except for the large-type note, “DARK MEAT,” with an arrow showing the right atrium. The book is too silly and too overdone to be scary, but it certainly tries to be ugly – and frequently succeeds. Whether it also works as an educational tool will depend entirely on whether a child is really into zombies.
Boys who are not will do much better with The Body Book for Boys, whose gimmicks are much milder: periodic “test yourself” pages; a layout that includes lots of large type, arrows, boxes and other attention-getting devices; and headlines such as, “Body Odor: It’s the Pits!” The book’s five sections move steadily down the body: head and neck, upper body, “your private parts,” lower body, and finally “the stuff that happens on the inside during puberty.” The book covers ages 10-17, making it clear that typical body development happens at different times for different boys, and gets into everything from shaving (including how to go about it) to braces to possible breast growth in boys because of hormonal changes. The book offers specific suggestions on better eating and on convincing yourself to exercise if it is not something you really want to do; information on wet dreams and penile size; an explanation of the difference between strains and sprains; and how to cope with common worries, such as, “All the other kids are going through puberty faster than I am.” Plainspoken and filled with good sense, The Body Book for Boys does go a little overboard in text sometimes as it tries to be cool: “Most ’rents want this for their sons.” “The average dude shoots up nine to eleven inches during puberty.” But its solid information and generally engaging (but not overdone) design make it a good choice for parents to give their preteens.
Much younger children, ages 3-7, can also get some information on how the world works from books – including ones based on the TV show, Sid the Science Kid. Each of three new, short books about Sid and his friends offers one simple-to-understand lesson. Why Did My Ice Pop Melt? is about reversible change (always italicized in the text) – that is, something frozen can melt, and the melted liquid can then be frozen again. The story includes Sid’s melted ice pop (he leaves it out overnight by mistake) and some fresh fruit frozen in ice at Sid’s school (the class figures out how to melt the ice and get the fruit as a snack). Why Are My Shoes Shrinking? is about growth – Sid’s shoes are not really shrinking, but he is getting bigger. Here the lesson at school involves lining up four little plants from youngest to oldest, and the concept taught is transformation (again, always italicized) – something turning into something else, such as a seed into a plant. Why Can’t I Have Cake for Dinner? is in a different format from the other books: it is a Stage 1 book in the “Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science” series, designed to teach basic concepts to preschoolers and kindergartners. It is longer than the other books (32 pages vs. 24) and somewhat more complex. Its subject is nutrition, and it starts with Sid preparing for his birthday by telling his parents that he wants cake, not after dinner but for dinner. This book is a little more preachy than the others, with lots of “too much sugar” comments and with Sid’s school friends themselves coming up with anti-cake arguments. “Nutritious foods have all the things in them you’ll need to grow strong and healthy,” says Teacher Susie, and the book goes into food groups and balanced meals and ends with three pages showing what foods are in which groups, what foods are “A-OK,” and which ones are “OK Sometimes.” The message here is solid and valuable, but a trifle heavy-handed. Still, it should go down fairly easily for preschoolers who enjoy watching Sid on PBS.