Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who Knew Gross Could Be This Much Fun?

Thanks to the generosity that is BusyDad, as well as his good friend, Jeff Day (M.D. and cartoonist extraordinaire*) -- and also thanks in no small part to the wonder that is the Random Number Generator -- the Time household was the lucky recipient of one of the coolest books EV-AH. I have to rave about this book because Son adored it instantly, preferred it over all other bedtime stories, and wanted to have the entire thing read to him in one sitting. Yes, all 112 densely packed pages.

Don't Touch That! The Book of Gross, Poisonous, and Downright Icky Plants and Critters
is a fantastic read -- funny, incredibly informative, and endlessly interesting in both pictures and text.**

If you have kids, there's a high likelihood that they are fascinated with the natural world. Darwin might have called them "budding naturalists." I would call them "inveterate ant pokers." Some people might simply call them "boys." I will admit that Daughter is much more inclined to crouch down very very close to the ground, put her face about 4 inches above the ant, and wave gently while repeating over and over, "Hi Ant. Hi Ant. Hi Ant." And Son is more likely to ask hopefully (as he did a few nights ago about a moth that flew out of our pantry and landed on the kitchen floor), "Can I squish it?" Nonetheless, they are both pretty much equally fascinated by bugs, plants, and all manner of critters. I would imagine that Son might embrace a snake more readily than Daughter, but I think it's an age thing and not a gender thing. For the record, both of them were equally enamored of the illustrations in this book. But, the Time family's efforts to thwart gender stereotyping aside, I'll get to the point:

Kids of either sex, unless terrified generally by spiders and plant life, will LOVE this book.

It's got fantastic cartoon illustrations that give you a sense of what these plants and critters look like, as well as light-hearted visions of their most salient traits. The text is much more thorough than I ever would have expected. It gives clear descriptions of habits and habitats, things to worry about and things not to fret over. (How often are spider bites deadly? Can a Venus Flytrap snag your finger? What should you really do if a snake bites you? What are the effects of a snake's venom? Of rubbing up against Poison Ivy? What are the biological mechanisms that create those reactions?) It will give you information about how to deal with the things you shouldn't touch, as well information that will satisfy your intellectual curiosity with all kinds of details you'd never imagine knowing.

And let's face it, if you have kids anything like my kids, you need some kind of reference for what to do when they invariably touch precisely what they aren't supposed to touch. Buy this book, and I swear, you will never go back to staid old reference tomes again.

Son insisted on taking Don't Touch That! with him to preschool a few days after we got it. And then he proceeded to flip to the page about tarantulas and explain to the teacher about how some of them can shoot spiky hairs out of their behinds, which was shortly followed by details of the relationship between the tarantula and the Italian dance, the tarantella. I have to admit, I was impressed at how much he'd retained after just a single reading the night before. I'm sure the great illustrations help in this regard. And so do all the crazy fun facts tucked in and around the useful information. (No, a tarantula bite won't kill you, or even be very harmful. And yes, the tarantella really is a dance named after the tarantula. Read the book to find out why.)

While I personally would have loved to have a little diagram of footprints with arrows to teach me the tarantella (kidding. sort of.) this book far exceeds any reasonable expectations you might have for a book about bugs and plants. And probably many unreasonable ones too.

So here's what I'd do, if I were looking for a present for a child ages 4-8 (and especially feel free to take this as a tip if you're a mother of girls seeking a present for a boy birthday party): I'd buy a copy of this book and then (because it's a bargain at $9.95), I'd pair it with an insect and butterfly net and this super cool bug magnifying jar for endless good times for any budding backyard scientist. In fact, I think I just might be taking my own advice come holiday time for at least one nephew of mine...

So, do yourself and your kids a favor and go check out this book. It's the most fun you'll ever having grossing yourself out.

* Yes, this is the same Jeff Day who is responsible for BusyDad's fantastic new header, as well as his collaborator on the cartoon-straveganza that is BusyDad Tales -- the series of stories written by BusyDad and illustrated by Jeff Day in comics faintly reminiscent of the cartooning style of Bill Watterson's magnificent Calvin and Hobbes.

**Nope, no one has coerced me to write this post, or made writing it a condition of getting the free book, or anything of the sort. I just had to pass on this great recommendation, since the book is such a hit at our house, and I'm so grateful to have won a book that will clearly lead to many good times of exploration in the future.

Originally posted at Mommy's Martini.