________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 14 . . . . December 9, 2016


Inside Your Insides: A Guide to Microbes That Call You Home.

Claire Eamer. Illustrated by Marie-Ève Tremblay.
Toronto, ON: Kids Can Press, 2016.
36 pp., hardcover, $17.95.
ISBN 978-1-77138-332-5.

Subject Headings:
Microorganisms-Juvenile literature.
Bacteria-Juvenile literature.
Microbiology-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

**** /4



What Are Microbes? Most of the microscopic organisms traveling in you and on you are just a single cell, or something even smaller. Some can make you sick, and others do little more than hang out and keep you company. But plenty of microbes are actually good for you. They help you digest food, train your immune system to fight disease, produce chemicals that keep you healthy, or even form protective layers that block other, more harmful microbes. (p. 6)

Did You Know? It's not really possible to count the microbes – or the cells – in a human body. You can only take an educated guess. Currently, the best guesses place the number of microbes in the average adult human between 100 trillion and 200 trillion. That's a lot! If you counted all day and all night, every day, it would take you more than 3000 years just to get to 100 trillion.. (p. 5)

What do you call a photo that a microbe takes of itself? A cell-fie. (p. 25)

Author Claire Eamer has selected an unusual and fascinating topic for her most recent book for children. Unless you're sick, you tend not to think about the benign and, oft times, beneficial microorganisms that live in the nose and lungs of the respiratory system, the mouth, stomach, and intestines of the digestive system, behind ears, in pores and hair follicles, just about everywhere, even under eyelids and on the surface of eyes. Many will find it astonishing to read that scientists estimate there is "at least one microbe cell and maybe as many as ten" for each cell in the human body. (p. 5) These populations of microorganisms make up the unique microbiome living in and on each man, woman and child inhabiting Earth. Since these microbiomes tend to be fairly distinctive, "scientists are beginning to suspect that [combinations of] microbes can affect how we feel and behave". (p. 27) Who would have guessed that the chemicals excreted by microbes living in places like the stomach would be used in the brain?

      Eamer begins Inside Your Insides with descriptions of six categories of microbes. These are bacteria, viruses, fungi and mites that many readers would be familiar with, as well as archeae (methane producing single-cell organisms that live in extreme environments) and protists (single-cell animals, plants, and fungi). As microbes, all would require a microscope in order to be seen. According to Eamer, microbes were not only the first living organisms on Earth, but one group, the cyanobacteria that appeared "at least 2.5 billion years ago", also made the planet habitable by producing oxygen as a waste product of photosynthesis. (p. 9) The information that follows these first nine pages addresses what many perceive as the difference between microbes and germs, how each individual accumulates the microbes that become her or his microbiome, and why some microbes can be "troublemakers" causing bothersome to serious damage to the body, while others are "good guys" helping one's body to stay healthy in numerous ways (see first excerpt above). There is also information about Sir Alexander Fleming's "discovery of a bacteria-killing fungus that led to the production of the antibiotic penicillin, Edward Jenner's vaccine that protected people against the smallpox virus, and the Human Microbiome Project. The goal of this project is to identify all microbial components of the human microbiome in order to build a world human microbiome map and to identify which combinations of microbes might cure diseases or fix a microbiome that is damaged and causing illness.

      Eamer ends the book with advice for readers to "Save Our Microbes". She mentions the importance of a rich and flourishing microbiome for keeping one healthy and suggests several ways of attracting a variety of microbes. These are to explore and play in natural environments, keep pets, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, and avoid antibacterial soaps and shampoos that kill bacteria on your skin and hair as well as in lakes and rivers where water in sinks, showers, and bathtubs eventually flows. She also cautions readers not to use antibiotics, designed to kill bacteria, in an attempt to cure colds and flus caused by viruses. Such use, she warns, results in the evolution of bacteria that are resistant to available antibiotics.

      Each topic is presented on two facing pages. These pages incorporate whimsical coloured illustrations of microbes and people created by Marie-Ève Tremblay. Tremblay is known for her simple, stylized faces, most often in profile, that incorporate a very pointed nose, an open mouth, and two observable eyes where there should be only one. In addition to Tremblay's illustrations, one will find interesting supplementary information presented as text over an ochre coloured amorphous shape (amoeba-like) with the heading "Did You Know?" and as dialogue balloons with riddles and jokes told by a red, two legged, two-eyed, one-cell protist (see the second and third excerpts above). In addition to the 30 pages of text, Inside Your Insides includes a table of contents, a one-page glossary with 11 terms, and a two-page index.

      Students normally learn about microorganisms, digestive health, immunity, antibiotics, and vaccines in Grade 8. Even so, Eamer writes in a way that will keep younger readers interested in what she wishes them to know and understand, and Tremblay's illustrations bring a levity and playfulness to what could easily have been a squeamish and unpleasant look at the good and bad of human microbiota.

Highly Recommended.

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

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

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