While hosting STEM Friday last week, Natalie from Biblio Links told us about a new children's picture book she found, Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine and illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth. Even though I thought maybe it would be dry and static as a pile of old bones, Natalie made it sound so good that I decided to get an electronic review copy at NetGalley to see for myself.
This really fun book is not dry at all. It starts with a question, what would we be like without our bones? The answer is shown in a silly illustration: a pile of smush!
Using a roughly question and answer format, Levine takes the reader through some of the more skeleton types, like bats with long finger bones for wings and the large neck bones of a giraffe. The author also spends some time explaining the skeletal systems (or lack of) found in invertebrates. Sprinkled in are important vocabulary words that kids will absorb without even realizing it and a glossary if they need some additional help.
Bone by Bone features one of my pet peeves, which is a mix of fonts in a book for young children. Usually I would say big jumps in fonts makes it very hard for struggling readers, but for this particular book the differences in the fonts were mild, so it actually works just fine. The varying fonts make the text seem like a conversation.
Understanding bones and skeletons is important not only for scientists, human health professionals and veterinarians, but also artists and those interested in sports. Let's "face" it, virtually every child could benefit from learning more about anatomy, including the skeletal system and how it compares to other animals. Bone by Bone is definitely a book you will want to have on "hand" for children grades K-4.
1. Take a field trip to a natural history museum
Many natural history museums feature assembled skeletons. Use Bone by Bone as a guide to compare the structures found in the different animals.
2. Check for open houses or exhibits at local medical and veterinary schools.
When I was a child, our 4-H club went to the Cornell University Veterinary College Open House almost every spring. It was absolutely fascinating, and a great place to learn about anatomy.
3. Owl pellets
Dissecting owl pellets for bones is another way to find out more about skeletons.
Owls can not digest the fur and bones of the animals they eat, and instead of passing through their bodies, the remains are regurgitated back up in the form of an owl pellet. Collectors go to old barns and other areas where owls live and pick up the pellets (google for a Dirty Jobs episode about this if you want to learn more). Students can then dissect the pellets and discover what the owls have been eating.
You will need a owl pellet for each child participating, trays, forceps or pointy probes to poke through the pellet, and bone charts to help sort out where each bone belongs. Rather than go into it in great detail here, see Alison's Owl Pellet Page for a lesson and bone charts. (Please leave a comment if this link breaks).
Owl pellets and owl pellet dissection kits are available from various sources and at various prices. For example:
4. Skeleton models
Having a model of some sort that they can touch and manipulate can really help children remember how the bones go together and work. You can find plastic models of both humans and other animals in a wide range of prices and styles to suit your budget.
Discuss the names and functions of the different bones and label them.
Some students learn the names more easily if they know the word origins or derivatives. The UT Health Science Center has a lesson on the origin of bone names and activity cards to download.
Please let us know if you have an ideas for activities to accompany Bone by Bone.
Bone by Bone: Comparing Animal Skeletons by Sara Levine and illustrated by T.S. Spookytooth
Library Binding: 32 pages
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group (August 1, 2013)
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Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.