Looking for microbes - or at least information about them? September 21 2014, 0 Comments

Recently I needed to find some good websites on bacteria to pass them onto a person that needed basic information. I thought it would be easy, but I found that there was plenty of technical information, but not that much for the beginner. I was in a better position to appreciate the book, Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton.

This new book is aimed at 4-7 year-olds, children who can handle learning a bit about things they can’t see, but still need very simple information that ties into their world. It is an excellent introduction to microbes, and it gets my stamp of approval for presenting all sorts of microbes and many of their vital roles in the biosphere. Too often children’s books emphasize the “germs” aspect of microbes without telling why the tiniest life is important for all life.

Overall the information is good, and the artwork makes the story work. The illustrations are attractive and interesting, so that even those who aren’t totally following the story will be engaged. The part on bacteria dividing is a bit deceiving, as E. coli (Escherichia coli) can divide every 20 minutes under ideal laboratory conditions, but that rate is very rare in natural conditions. Some bacteria may take hours or even days or longer to divide. Still the E. coli example illustrates the way bacteria grow and makes it understandable.

Some of my other favorites for introducing elementary children to microbes are the website, Microbe Zoo (http://commtechlab.msu.edu/sites/dlc-me/zoo/ ), Betsy Dexter Dyer’s Field Guide to Bacteria, and Jeanette Farrell’s book, Invisible Allies: Microbes that Shape Our Lives. The latter is upper elementary to middle school level.

For the adult general reader, The Amoeba in the Room: Lives of the Microbes by Nicholas P. Money is great. The writing is engaging, and the stories are amazing. The reader learns of the smallest eye in the world, the many microbes that are known only via their DNA, and the variety of eukaryotic microbes. All sorts of environments are considered, from extreme temperatures to the human body. There are stories in this book that could be shared with elementary or middle school children. It could be a good study for high school advanced biology.

Meanwhile, I recommend that you present bacteria and archaea, discard the Kingdom Monera, and help children learn about all the vital roles of microbes, not just the germs.