4 pandemic-perfect children’s nonfiction that will educate and entertain

There’s a pandemic going on. In my county, all schools are remote right now. So what do parents do when they need to work and the kids need something to do when their zoom meetings end? Give them a great book to read. Add bonus points if the book is educational.

Here are two nonfiction books for middle grade children that will entertain, educate, shock, and make them laugh. It’s inevitable. After all, the titles of two of the books have the words “poop” and “butt” in them. The other two books are excellent for parents to use, with gross science experiments and exciting sensory bins that will keep children engaged and busy. Take your pick – there’s a book here for any parent.

“Who Gives a Poop? Surprising Science from One End to the Other” by Heather L. Montgomery shares the often-disgusting story of poop. You will learn about an FMT, a fecal microbiota transplant. It’s basically a poop transplant. Reading about it will take a strong stomach. But I love the metaphor that Montgomery uses to explain how it works. She explains that Lauren, a person who beat C. Diff, and lived to tell the tale, suffered after taking antibiotics for a long period of time after she fought off a staph infection. The antibiotics not only killed the bad bacteria, they killed the good bacteria as well. Montgomery writes, “Think of all the good guys that get axed when a rainforest gets hacked. In my neck of the woods, one of the first things to grow back after you cut the trees is poison ivy. Imagine a forest of that.” (In someone’s intestines.) Parents beware! After reading this book you may never let your child play outside again. Sharing information about roundworms, Montgomery writes about how roundworm infections often go undetected in toddlers. Usually, medical professionals don’t figure out that the kids are sick “until they have a devastating brain injury that is not reversible. One of the very first cases was a little boy named Tommy, and he was maybe 18 months old.” Montgomery goes on to share that he lost his vision, his hearing, his ability to talk and walk, and he lived to be 18 years old. Tragic. It’s a fascinating book filled with information — but it’s also a bit frightening. Kids will love it. (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

“What Breathes Through Its Butt? Mind-Blowing Science Questions Answered” by Dr. Emily Grossman and illustrated by Alice Bowsher is a book that teachers will love (parents, too). On one of the very first pages, Grossman writes, “If you don’t know the answer, just take a guess. Some of the best discoveries in science came about when people got stuff wrong, made mistakes, or messed up their experiments.” She then goes on to explain that Alexander Fleming, a scientist, was doing an experiment and made a mistake. He left his bacteria out and went on vacation. That mistake led to the discovery of penicillin, the first antibiotic.

The book consists of intriguing questions that are then answered. Questions like:

“The skin on what part of your body can’t feel any pain? a) your elbow; b) your knee; c) behind your ears; d) your little toe.” and

“About how much does the whole of the internet weigh? a) nothing, silly; b) as much as a small crumb of bread; c) as much as a pineapple; or d) as much as a submarine.”

To find out the answers (admit it, you want to know), you will have to read the book! Sometimes, the answers are not what you expect, but the questions are always intriguing. And Grossman doesn’t just give you the right answer; she goes into detail explaining about each scientific area. She writes, “I wrote the book because I wanted to share with you some of my most favorite weird facts about science. There are some strange and amazing things that happen in the world around us. You’ll find them here in the form of 30 mind-bending questions, each with four possible answers.” This is a book that would be as much fun for adults to read as children. I can see a teacher reading a question each morning to the students and telling them the answer at the end of the day. In fact, I might just try that starting with my next zoom session! I’m guessing the kids will love it! (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

“Gross Science Experiments: 60 Smelly, Scary, Silly Tests to Disgust Your Friends and Family” by Emma Vanstone is a collection of things you can make in your kitchen, usually with items you already have. A few of the headings in the content page include “Blood and Brains,” “Stinky Smells,” and “All About the Poo.” (Are you seeing a theme in these books yet?) The introduction explains what this book is about better than I could. “Get ready to shriek and squeal all the way through this bone-chillingly gruesome book. Make and pick fake scabs, create a blood bath, drink a blood cocktail, and dissect a brain. Test your surgical skills by cutting open a fake stomach, and try to identify healthy urine through taste…yuck!” And while at least one of the activities involves live worms, the author admonishes readers to “take care of animals.” Worms, she says, are an important part of our environment. I agree. (Page Street Publishing)

Last but not least is “Exciting Sensory Bins for Curious Kids: 60 Easy Creative Play Projects that Boost Brain Development, Calm Anxiety and Build Fine Motor Skills” by Mandisa Watts. My daughter, a school psychologist, put her seal of approval on this collection of activities for toddlers from 18 months through three years old. Some bins are for exploring and others are for activities. Most are very colorful and visually engaging. Kids will enjoy them all, especially if you have a toddler home from preschool because of the pandemic or if you just want something to do on a Sunday morning. This book will keep you both busy for weeks having fun together. (Page Street Publishing)

Please note: This review is based on the final books provided by the publishers for review purposes.