Microbiology might seem like a complex subject to broach with middle-graders, but in her new book, Claire Eamer (winner of the 2013 Lane Anderson Award for science writing in Canada) succeeds in explaining the basics in terms that kids will understand.
Eamer is a veteran writer of non-fiction for children, and it shows in her bright, conversational tone. Though she’s careful not to oversimplify things, her explanations are clear. Starting with the concept of the human body as a microbiome, the book takes an intuitive path in teaching kids about tiny organisms that are literally everywhere. This information will likely elicit some squirming and “eww-ing” from young readers, but Eamer makes it clear that not all germs are harmful, and most are in fact beneficial.
Walking kids through the various types of microbes (which Eamer calls “hitchhikers”), the author strikes the right balance between fact and fun. In describing single-celled organisms called Archaea, for example, Eamer notes that the bacteria are “experts at surviving in tough places – one kind can even live in acid strong enough to eat through metal. Others, though, hang out in comfier places, such as your belly button.”
Eamer then moves on to more complicated ground, covering topics that include how microbiomes are created, what causes them to change, why there are different types of microbes, where those different types can be found, and why some of them are good for you and some bad for you. Most interesting are the parts of the book that deal with microbes in specific areas of the body. In these sections, Eamer delves more deeply into history and scientific discovery. Will kids understand the importance of research referenced by the author? Maybe not, but the data Eamer provides based on studies backs up her more general claims and proffers some big ideas to mull over.
Rounding out the text are “Did You Know?” sidebars that include cool tidbits of information, like the fact that an American study found that doorframes all have “a thin layer of microbes normally found in animal guts – poop microbes, basically.” Involving poop in science is a winning tactic if ever there was one.
Illustrations by Marie-Ève Tremblay serve a dual purpose, adding an element of visual fun to what could have been a much more serious treatment, and helping kids understand the tiny organisms being described. The depictions of bacteria and viruses as little bugs may not be entirely accurate, but that’s hardly the point. Kids will get the idea, and if it means they wash their hands more thoroughly because they don’t want to be covered in “bad bugs?” There’s no harm in that, either.