________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 15. . . .December 16, 2017


Monster Science: Could Monsters Survive (and Thrive!) In the Real World?

Helaine Becker. Illustrated by Phil McAndrew.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2016.
96 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-77138-054-6.

Subject Headings:
Monsters-Juvenile literature.
Animals, Mythical-Juvenile literature.
Life sciences-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

**** /4



The “Mad” Scientist. . During the Enlightenment, the pace of scientific discovery was lightning-fast. People worried that it might be too fast – to go too far. Discussions about the ethics (the rights and wrongs) of science were fierce and frequent. Mary Shelley’s novel [Frankenstein] tackles some of these ethical questions. (p. 11)

Vampire Fact vs. Vampire Fiction. According to lore, vampires possess some seriously strange characteristics. Were these legendary traits just the stuff of scary stories? Or could these creepy creature features really exist? … could someone really live on blood alone? (p. 28)

Cryptozoologists. Are you interested in hunting for bigfoot? Then consider a career as a cryptozoologist. Cryptozoologists are scientists who study and search for cryptids. The word cryptozoology comes from three Greek terms that mean “hidden”, “animals” and “study”. Cryptozoologists study scientific subjects like biology or zoology. Fieldwork, where you observe animals in their natural habitats, would also be part of your training. Last but not least, brush up on your math skills. Croyptzoologists need to analyze plenty of data to separate fact from fiction. (p. 42)

Could a Zombie Attack Really Happen. To date, there is no known way to revive truly dead organisms. Not even a little bit. Once a living thing dies, the process of decay inevitably takes over. It’s orderly, predictable and unavoidable. The only way to stop it would be to freeze the corpse. Even if a zombie did come back to life and walk the earth, it would slowly decompose into goo. That would take about three weeks in a temperate climate, even less in the tropics. (p. 64)

Genetic Engineering. Scientists use genetic engineering to alter DNA. Here’s how it works with bacteria: 1. An enzyme is used as scissors to snip open the plasmid, a small piece of DNA. 2. A gene from another species is inserted into the plasmid. 3. The modified plasmid is inserted into another bacterium. 4. When the bacterium reproduces, the altered genetic information is passed to its offspring. (p. 77)

Monster Fact. On the Hunt-Lenox globe, made around 1510, the uncharted ocean included the words “Here be dragons”! (p. 82)


Who would imagine a book about monsters that would also be about science? When I first saw the title of Monster Science and the images on the cover (a zombie and stereotypical “mad” scientist), I wasn’t immediately certain that I would enjoy reading and reviewing this book. Author Helaine Becker, however, captivated me with her ability to combine folklore, myths, and hoaxes with literary history, social history, and events from the history of science, as well as science knowledge, and contemporary science research. It’s an amazing feat, and for youth interested in monsters and those who may wonder if such creatures could actually live in the real world, Monster Science is likely to be of great interest.

     Eighty-nine of the ninety-six pages of Monster Science are divided into six sections: one for each kind of monster. These are Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, Bigfoot, zombies, werewolves, and sea monsters. The remaining pages include the title page, dedication, acknowledgement, and copyright page, table of contents, introduction, and two-page index.

     The contents associated with each monster are varied as a result of the applicable topics addressed. Each section, however, begins with an image of the monster presented in a scientific-like diagram with labels that describe its most significant parts and ends with a test of the material presented. For example, readers will know that a vampire, looking very much like a cross between Count von Count on Sesame Street and Bela Lugosi’s portrayal of Count Dracula, has a “widow’s peak”, “deathly pallor”, “fangs”, “keen fashion sense”, “coffin for daytime snoozing”, “cape (optional)”, “hypnotic eyes”, and is “obsessed with counting.” Sea monsters, on the other hand, such as Nessie and the Kraken, are simply described as “extremely elusive” because there are few, if any, photographs that have been taken of them. The review test for vampires is composed of eight multiple-choice questions, and the sea monster test requires true or false responses to 10 statements. Other assessment approaches include matching (e.g., moon with tides and chromosomes with DNA) and responses to closed questions.

     In the 18 page section on Bigfoot, Becker identifies other “mysterious, wild, humanlike creatures” found in myths and legends, including the Chinese “Yeren” that she compares to a humanlike bear, the “Yeti”/”Abominable Snowman” in Nepal, and the half human, half goat “faun” in myths from the Middle Ages. She then addresses hoaxes and made-up sightings of Bigfoot and Yeti before moving into science where cryptids (plants and animals that have not been officially identified and named), cryptozoologists (see third excerpt above), and the taxonomic system developed by Carl Linnaeus are described. This is followed with information on early hominids, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, hybrids, confirmation bias, placebos, low oxygen environments, and optical illusions.

     In contrast, the 12 pages on werewolves, begin with a brief history of “were-animals” and the real and imaginary powers attributed to Earth’s Moon. This includes an explanation for the reason wolves appear to be howling at a full moon. Becker then describes the trials of witches during the Inquisition, particularly those that were thought to shape shift into wolves, and the methods one could use to stop a werewolf. She then looks at the science of hybridization, Mendel’s crossbreeding of peas with different characteristics, the Punnett square, chromosomes, and the impossibility of a chimp-human and a wolf-human hybrid, even such a hybrid that is genetically engineered. The section ends with information about the evolution of dogs from wolves and diseases and genetic disorders with symptoms that mimic werewolf traits.

     At the end of these and the remaining four sections of Monster Science, readers will not only be able to discuss the topics just identified, but they will be able to answer questions about Mary Shelley’ novel Frankenstein, electricity and the historical arguments related to electricity as a source of life, the defibrillator, the nervous system, organ transplants, William Harvey’s study of the heart and blood circulation, the likelihood of a blood diet being nutritious, the possibility of immortality, the origin of the zombie, sonar, ocean trenches, tsunamis, and much, much more.

     As suggested by the final excerpt above, Becker also provides information in brief statements titled “Monster Facts” and in large and small text boxes with headings such as “Electricity and Your Muscles” and “Warm-blooded vs. Cold-blooded Creatures”. Each page is illustrated with one or more colourful, cartoon-like images created by Phil McAndrew. With the exception of information presented in a timeline, table, and map, and the scientific diagrams of objects such as a voltaic pile, neutron and family tree of Homo sapiens, McAndrew’s images are amusing and a complement to Becker’s text.

     Monster Science is a highly recommended for all readers with an interest in developing a scientific understanding of frightening and mysterious beings and beasts.

Highly Recommended.

Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator in the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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