Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Science Poetry Pairings - The Human Body

I enjoyed teaching about the human body when I was teaching middle school science. It's not always the easiest subject to share with kids, but it sure is interesting. Wherever possible I tried to make ideas concrete. For example, when I taught about blood I brought in three 2-liter bottles, two filled to the brim and one half-filled with red colored water. Then I handed them to a student to carry around. This represents about how much blood the average adult has in his/her body (~5 liters)!

Unfortunately, the human body is not part of the science curriculum in Virginia. It is taught as part of the health and physical education curriculum. While my teacher friends in Virginia might not appreciate today's pairing, there are plenty of teachers in other states who teach about body systems.

Today's book pair covers a wide range of ideas regarding the human body.

Poetry Book
The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems About Our Parts, written by Allan Wolf and illustrated by Greg Clarke, is a book of 35 poems that celebrates our gross, disgusting, fascinating, and amazing body parts and functions. It begins with a poem entitled "Our Amazing Body Language" and is followed by anatomically devoted sections with one or more poems. Sections (with number of poems in parentheses) include:
  • That's You All Over (1)
  • On the Face of It (7)
  • Parts that Bend (4)
  • A Bone (or Two) to Pick with You (2)
  • Belly Buttons and Bottoms (2)
  • The Circulation Department (3)
  • A Breath of Fresh Air (1)
  • Muscle Matters (2)
  • The Control Center (3)
  • The Ins and Outs of Eating (5)
  • Body Chemistry (1)
  • The Production Department (3)
If you're a fan of Wallace Stevens, you'll be thrilled with the poem "Thirteen Ways of Looking at Your Knees and Elbows." No, seriously. Here's an excerpt.
The knee wears a cap
all year long,
even in church.

If elbows did not bend
you could not scratch
your nose.

If knees did not bend
there would be no
marriage proposals.

Elbows and hair bows
do not look alike

When two knees meet
they say, "I love you.
I want you. I kneed you."
The poems are funny and sometimes silly, but still ultimately impart some real knowledge about the part under consideration. Here's an excerpt from one of the bone poems.
Bone Chart 
Your bones hold you up like the frame of a house.
Be you boy. Be you girl. Be you lion or mouse. 
Your skull is a bone that encloses your brain.
It holds up your hat, and it keeps out the rain. 
Just under your skull is the trusty jawbone.
It helps you to chew and to talk on the phone. 
Your neck bones and back bones are called vertebrae.
They help keep your spinal cord out of harm's way.
Poems © Allan Wolf. All rights reserved.

The illustrations are whimsical (many of the organs depicted have faces and arms and legs) and not necessarily anatomically correct, but they do convey the messages shared in the poems. For example, the illustration that accompanies the poem "Your Muscles Keep You Moving" depicts a sleeping girl with inset pictures of her heart and stomach sweating while running on treadmills.

There is no back matter here, but it isn't really needed. Once Wolf has piqued his readers' interest, they'll be sure to look for more information on their own, especially after they've read a poem entitled "Spit" or "Consider the Anus."

Nonfiction Picture Book
50 Body Questions: A Book That Spills Its Guts, written by Tanya Lloyd Kyi and illustrated by Ross Kinnaird, is a question and answer book that tackles all kinds of topics related to the human body. Organized into 7 chapters, the book opens with an informative introduction ("Welcome to the Body Shop") and closes with a thoughtful conclusion ("High-Tech Humans").  In between the chapters are organized around related organs and systems.

Here's an excerpt from the introduction.
Blink. Your body just created thousands of cells. Snap. Thousands more! 
Every single day, you make billions of new cells and get rid of just as many old ones. You couldn't possible flutter your eyelashes or snap your fingers as fast as those cells are produced. 
Inside each microscopic building block is the exact same genetic information—a specific code that makes you unique. There are seven billion people in the world, but no one else has your code. Your cells create a body that's different from any other. Different . . . and yet similar.
Every chapter begins with and ends with additional information about the topic. Chapters include: That Takes Guts, Blood Ties, Form and Function, Armed Invaders, Sense and Feeling, Gray Matters, and How Shocking!. Some of the questions readers will find answers to include:
  • Are there aliens inside you?
  • Is blood thicker than water?
  • Is your brain on a sugar high?
  • How is your spine like a racetrack?
Text © Tanya Lloyd Kyi. All rights reserved.

The illustrations are entertaining and the text is throughly engrossing (no pun intended). Readers of all ages will learn something new and find much to appreciate here. Back matter includes a helpful glossary, further reading, selected sources, and an extensive index.

Perfect Together
I can't imagine a more perfect match for Wolf's poems than the thoroughly asked and answered questions in Lloyd Kyi's book. Start with a poem and see what questions it leads you to explore!

For additional resources, consider these sites.

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