Thursday, February 12, 2009

Low-Brow Topics That Make For High-Brow Reading

On Tuesday I finally threw up my hands in frustration over the proliferation of "boys don't read" articles in the last few months. Here's an excerpt from the post entitled More Boy Bashing - Here We Go Again.
Can we please give boys and young men just a bit of credit for their reading habits? If we constantly push potty and other forms of low humor on them as something they'll read, aren't we just setting the bar a tad bit low?
I was thinking about this last night as my son and I were reading a portion of Jurassic Poop: What Dinosaurs (And Others) Left Behind, written by Jacob Berkowitz and illustrated by Steve Mack. Yes, this is a book ostensibly about poop (see that word in the title?), but it is SO MUCH MORE. The book discusses fossils, fossilization, carbon dating, history, archaeology, and the work of several different scientists. My son was drawn in more by the dinosaur connection than anything else, but since reading it he has been endlessly fascinated with the notion that you can learn about the past from things (artifacts) that are left behind, poop being one of them.

There are a number of books on low-brow topics that we hand to reluctant readers in an attempt to encourage them to read. However, the base nature of these topics and the quality of the work don't need to be mutually exclusive. (Oh, a book about poop? Must be crap!) So, in an effort to elevate some topics and/or titles perceived to be low-brow, here are some books (nonfiction all!) that will interest boys AND girls by the very nature of their FABULOUSLY INTERESTING content.

The Truth About Poop, written by Susan Goodman and illustrated by Elwood Smith - Divided into three main sections: (1) Birds Do It, Bees Do It; (2) The ABCs of Elimination; and (3) Useful Poop; Goodman provides readers with an amazingly informative look at everything from the history of toilet paper to the pooping habits of a range of animals. The author info lets readers know that Goodman "used a toilet in an underwater hotel, flushed into the Amazon River, and shared an outhouse with a tarantula."

Gee Whiz! It's All About Pee, written by Susan Goodman and illustrated by Elwood Smith - Divided into three main sections: (1) Pee Basics; (2) The Call of Nature; and (3) Nature's Gold Mine; this sequel is a terrific companion to The Truth About Poop. The book is packed with facts and anecdotes that describe not only how urine is produced, but also the incredibly ingenious ways that humans and animals use it. If you have ever wondered how knights or astronauts "took care of business", pick up this title and wonder no more.

Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable, written by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Neal Layton - I think Nicola Davies is a genius. She has the knack for writing about science in a clever, highly engaging manner. In this very smart book, Davies explains what poop is, why it's brown, where it goes, how different animals use poop, and much more. Lest you think me crazy, this one was a 2004 BCCB blue ribbon winner.

Dino Poop, written by Jane Hammerslough - There's a whole lot more than fossilized poo gracing these pages. Hammerslough introduces readers to all kinds of remains from the past, including dino dung, woolly mammoths and more. The book is chock full of information on paleontology, geology, and history. Fun facts and quizzes are found throughout. Readers will learn how fossils are created, how they are found, and what we can learn by studying them. Near the end of the book they will find directions for some science experiments about fossils. (Did I mention this one comes with a piece of dino dung attached to the spine?)

Poop-Eaters: Dung Beetles in the Food Chain, written by Deirdre A Prischmann - The Extreme Life series from Capstone Press looks at the amazing and varied ways animals adapt to the environments in which they not only live, but thrive. This particular book examines dung beetles and describes their development, place in the food chain, and importance in the environment.

What You Never Knew About Tubs, Toilets, & Showers, written by Patricia Lauber and illustrated by John Manders - This picture book presents the history of bathing, washing, and the disposal of human waste. The text is engaging and the cartoon illustrations while humorous, offer a real glimpse of the difficulties of keeping clean and sanitary in the past. While there is a heavy emphasis on European history here, readers will still come away with an understanding of how standards of cleanliness can vary among cultures.

Underwear: What We Wear Under There, written by Ruth Freeman Swain and illustrated by John O'Brien - This skillfully written, engaging text describes the evolution of underwear from early days to the present. The clever, cartoon-style illustrations are downright funny. In addition to the history of underwear, there is a bit of an introduction to the history of diapers, as well as information about what happens to old underwear. The book ends with a timeline on the history of underwear, and includes a list of books and web sites where readers can get additional information. (You can read my review for more information.)

There you have it. From the scatological to the unmentionable, these well-written works of nonfiction are sure to delight many young readers. However, don't thank me for the oohs and aahs, guffaws, and giggles that will follow. That honor goes entirely to the terrific authors and illustrators who brought these titles to life.


  1. Tricia,

    Great post!

    I read JURASSIC POOP last summer when I was doing research for a manuscript I was working on. It's really an interesting book--and a good introduction to the subject for kids and adults alike.

    I know there's a book by Marilyn Singer entitled BOTTOMS UP! It's about animals' rear ends. I haven't read it--but Singer is a fine author of poetry, nonfiction, and other literary I would assume it's a good book.

  2. Tricia,
    Thanks for the poop scoop!
    the dino poop books in particular are such a clever way to get science delivered to the many kids who think "poop" and "Underwear" are the two funniest words in the English language! Great resources to know about.

  3. How timely! We are in the midst of a poop dilemma in our house (I think its the DNA of a 7-year-old!) and these will be wonderful ways to clear the air.

  4. Sometimes I think writers are sitting around and come up with irrestible titles and decide to write books based on it. "Gee Whiz!!! GEE WHIZ!!!!!"

    Good stuff here. Thanks for doing the heavy slogging for us :-)

  5. My fave is Bottoms Up! Jokes from Bikini Bottom (Spongebob Squarepants)
    Great post!
    Patron Saint

  6. Thanks! My little dino-fan (5 year old son) and I are armed with a new reading list to take to the library. :-)

  7. Can't wait to read Jurassic Poop and some of your other picks! Have you read Alan Katz's new picture book, The Flim-Flam Fairies? It's funny fictional bathroom humor!

  8. Author James Patterson has a ten year-old son who doesn’t like to read. So Patterson has established to help other reluctant readers.

    I, too, grew up as a reluctant reader. And my father was the author of over 70 books. Now I write action-adventure and mystery books especially for tween boys. My blog, Books for boys, is # 4 on Google today.

    Max Elliot Anderson

  9. This is great ammunition for the next person who wants a HOW DO DINOSAURS GO TO THE POTTY book. They will see first hand the size of what dinos left behind and not ask me any longer for such a book!


  10. I think the Underwear book is adorable.

    People are SO WEIRD, though. There's the school of thought that opines, "Well, boys read nothing else," and then there's the walls-collapsing-while-I-gasp school, who feels it is "So Inappropriate."

    You can't win some days.

  11. LOvree this post. No doubt about it these are among the fave books inour library.

  12. All three of my kids, two boys and one girl, love The Truth About Poop. We've had it for several years and I am amazed how frequently trivia from it finds its way into our conversations!

  13. This is awesome. I love Neal Layton's illustrations, too. Thanks for the smelly round-up.