I admit it, I’m a wimp. There were some books on this month’s list that I didn’t even attempt. I read a book about yellow fever years ago, and it kept me awake at night. There was no way I was going to try tackling American Murderer.
I’ve also learned that you can’t always predict what’s going to make you squeamish. I researched different animals for a book series a few years ago. I thought the spider book was going to be a problem – it wasn’t. Turns out peacock spiders- and jumping spiders, in general – are super cute. I didn’t anticipate having a problem with walking stick bugs. They ended up sending shivers up my spine and getting visions of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom stuck in my head. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Check out this clip: https://youtu.be/WQXqhk-8h7o?si=fjxkqXlLPKXBBc5B.)
As you work with this month’s list, don’t forget that everyone has different phobias as well as different spook thresholds. Here are the books I read.
Zombie makers: True Stories Of Nature’s Undead
by Rebecca L. Johnson
This book explores what can cause a variety of animals to behave like zombies. This was definitely the creepiest of the books I chose to read this month. In addition to interesting info about zombie-makers, it’s got lots of photographs and information about the scientist who discovered and/or studied the creatures.
Spi-ku: A Clutter of Short Verse on Eight Legs
by Leslie Bulion, illustrated by Robert Meganck
I love creative ways to convey facts. So, of course, I had to read this book. I loved learning about different types of spiders. I also enjoyed seeing all the different poetic forms used to describe them.
Yuck, You Suck!: Poems About Animals That Sip, Slurp, Suck
by Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Eugenia Nobati
Here’s another book that uses poetic form to present information. This one focuses on animals that suck, one that doesn’t (although people think they do), and another that has suckers but doesn’t suck.
Monster Science: Could Monsters Survive (and Thrive!) in the Real World?
by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Phil McAndrew
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but the title had me intrigued. Turns out, it mixes history, mythology, and science, which makes it a winner in my mind. It had some added bonuses, too, First, it has lots of variety – both in monsters and in the science covered. Second, all the science cast doubt on the existence of all the different monsters covered in the book.
As always, I can think of lots of great things to do along with reading these books. Here are a few that really struck a chord with me.
Spi-ku includes lots of different spiders. Pick one of them – or one of the many spiders not covered in the book – to research. Then create a poster or slide show to convey what you learned about it.
Print or color a life-size picture of the spider. (This might be difficult with the tiny ones.)
Find different ways to group and order the spiders.
Line them up from smallest to largest or vice versa.
Place them on a map of the world so you can see where they live.
Figure out their leg to body ratio (size of leg: size of body) and order them that way.
What other ways can you come up with?
Both Yuck, You Suck! And Spi-ku use poetry to present information. I love that Spi-ku includes back matter that explains the poetic forms used in the book. I thought it would be fun to explore some poetry as an activity.
Turns out, there are some great resources for poetry.
First, I found a collection of Halloween related poems that – according to the Academy of American Poets – are good for young readers. Here’s that list, with links to the poems: https://poets.org/text/halloween-poems-kids
I found another post that provides a list of easy poetic forms, along with examples of each. This is from Teaching With Poetry and can be found here: https://teachingwithpoetry.com/easy-poetry-forms-for-kids-grades-1-6
If that’s not enough, check out a list of 168 poetic forms, compiled by Robert Lee Brewer on Writer’s Digest: https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-poetry/list-of-50-poetic-forms-for-poets. Each of these includes a link to a more detailed post about the poetic form.
So now that you have the details on different poetic forms, here’s the challenge. Pick a spooky, scary topic – perhaps something from one of this month’s books. Do some research on that topic. Then present what you’ve learned in a poetic form.
You might want to start by writing down words and phrases that capture the most important – or interesting – things you learned about your topic. Then reword and reorder those thoughts into your chosen poetic form.
While reading Monster Science, several ethics questions were raised. In several places, there were mentions of the ethics of genetic engineering. I also remembered having heard some controversy around HeLa cells.
Before delving into a specific topic, it might be good to talk about what ethics are.
There’s an interesting worksheet from Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs that looks at norms, morals, and ethics. That can be found here: https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/explore-engage/classroom-resources/lesson-plan-ideas-film-reviews-syllabi-and-more/normsmoralsethics
There’s also some good information on New Zealand’s Science Learning Hub: https://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/resources/2150-teaching-ethics.
On to the specific topics from Monster Science.
There is a whole section of the Johns Hopkins website dedicated to Henrietta Lacks: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/henrietta-lacks. This includes a page called “Upholding the Highest Bioethical Standards”: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/henrietta-lacks/upholding-the-highest-bioethical-standards. This shows how things have changed between the 1950s – when Henrietta Lacks’ cells were taken – and today.
There are also questions about the ethics of genetic engineering. Here’s one summary of the ethical concerns of genome editing from the NIH National Human Genome Research Institute: https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/policy-issues/Genome-Editing/ethical-concerns
If you’d rather have a philosophical debate, how about discuss/debate the following.
What is a monster?
Are robots alive?
Or maybe there’s another topic in these books you’d rather sink your teeth into (pun intended).
Janet Slingerland is the author of more than 20 books for young readers. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out http://janetsbooks.com.