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Growing with Science is hosting STEM Friday this week, and we decided to feature something a little different. Squish #1: Super Amoeba by Jennifer L. Holm and Matt Holm is the first is a series of fictional graphic novels that might just inspire some reluctant readers to learn more about science.


Squish is an amoeba with some usual middle school problems. Usual, except the school bully doesn't just push students around, but actually engulfs and eats them! Can Squish save his friends? Can he keep himself out of trouble? For a full review of the book, see our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.

Let's investigate the science behind Squish.

One of the strengths of the series is that the books introduce scientific vocabulary words and concepts. It focuses on the microorganisms found in freshwater ponds.

I. Kingdom Protista

Protists are organisms made up of one cell with a nucleus. Each cell is capable of carrying out the basic processes of life on its own.

There are more than 50,000 species of protists and they are incredibly diverse. It is likely that as more is known about the genetics of the various groups, some may be classified differently or even put into different kingdoms.

A. Amoebozoans

1. Amoeba - The main character, Squish, his friend Pod, and the bully Lynwood from the book are all amoebas.


(Illustration released to public domain by Pearson Scott Foresman)

Amoebas move about by means of the movement of their inner fluids or cytoplasm (endoplasm and ectoplasm). The projections of cytoplasm are called pseudopods. The amoeba eat their prey (bacteria, algae, or other protists) by surrounding it and taking it in. The enclosed food forms a vacuole withing the cell. Another type of vacuole, the contractile vacuole, helps regulate internal fluid levels.

2. Slime Molds - The character Peggy has a pet slime mold, Fluffy.

physarium-polycephalum-slime-mold(Slime mold from Wikimedia)

Once thought to be related to fungi, slime molds are actually composed of individual amoeboid cells clustered together to form a colony. They can come together and separate again. Most of them are found on rotting plant material, particularly logs.

Recently a scientist found out that a slime mold could be trained to "run" a maze. (Note: The "related video" link in the video player takes you to random Wired videos. If you want to see more about the slime molds, see this link.)


B. Ciliates or Ciliophora

1. Paramecium - One of Squish's friends, Peggy, is a paramecium.


(This illustration of a Paramecium was released to public domain by Miklos)

The illustration is the best I could find, but requires a bit of translation (terms counterclockwise from the top right):

  • Pelicula = pellicle
  • Macronucleo = macronucleus
  • Vacuolo Alimentar ou Digestivo = food vacuole
  • Poro Anal = anal pore
  • Esofago = gullet
  • Bacterias = bacteria
  • Micronucleo = micronucleus
  • Cilios = cilia
  • Vacuolo Contratil = contractile vacuole

The beating of the cilia propels the Paramecium through the water. The ciliates take in food, like bacteria, through the gullet. Once engulfed, it becomes a food vacuole where digestion occurs.

C. Euglenophyta - these are not mentioned in the first book, but are common protists.


(Illustration released to public domain by Pearson Scott Foresman)

Members of the Euglena group have long flagella, which are different from cilia of the ciliates in structure, length and number. Most can make their own food because they contain chloroplasts like plants.

II. Kingdom Animalia

The book also contains some animals commonly found in aquatic environments.

A. Rotifera - Squish's science teacher is Mr. Rotifer.


The top of the rotifer has a ring of cilia that move water and food towards the animal's mouth.

This video shows rotifers moving around and feeding.

Okay, I admit I love rotifers.

B. Planaria - Principal Planaria keeps two eyes on everything at Squish's school, even though those eyes look like they are crossed.

Planaria are technically flatworms, and what they call "eyes" are actually light sensitive spots or ocelli.

This short educational video has narration to explain more about planaria.

Related Science Activities

1. Grow bread mold

In the book, the authors suggest growing mold on bread by wetting it and putting it in a jar. Leaving it in a warm, dark place for a week ought to do the trick. (Edit: I should note that bread molds are fungi, not protists.)

2. Hay Infusion

If you have access to a microscope, you are more likely to see protists if you try a hay infusion. Basically what you do is place some dried hay (or other dried plant material) into a container of pond water and allow it to incubate. For specific instructions, see Microbiology Laboratories or CR Scientific.

3. Purchase protozoan cultures.

If you have access to a microscope, it is also possible to purchase protozoan cultures and slide sets from reputable science supply companies to study.

Squish #1: Super Amoeba is a fun graphic novel with many different elements. Each young reader is likely to take something different away from reading it. If just a few take away an interest in finding out more about science, then it deserves a place in the STEM library.

Age Range: 8 - 12 years
Grade Level: 3 - 7
Series: Squish (Book 1)
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers (May 10, 2011)

Protozoans, Algae & Other Protists (Kingdom Classifications)
(Kingdom Classifications) by Steve Parker would be a great nonfiction book for children who want to find out more about the microorganisms introduced in Squish.


Age Range: 9 and up
Grade Level: 4 and up
Series: Kingdom Classifications
Publisher: Compass Point Books (July 1, 2009)
ISBN-10: 0756542243
ISBN-13: 978-0756542245



Disclosures: Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.


We have a special book for STEM Friday today.

The word about Fossil by Bill Thomson is simply, "Wow!"

Fossil cover

In this new wordless picture book, the intended storyline follows a boy and his dog walking on a beach. When the boy accidentally cracks open a fossil of a fern, actual ferns emerge. When they break open a fossil dragonfly, a living dragonfly skims away. The next fossil the boy opens is...

Because it is a wordless book, the reader is the one who develops the story based on the illustrations. It can change every time you read the book.

The book trailer is a great way to see how it can work:


Isn't that amazing? By the way, Bill Thomson's stunning illustrations are all done by hand, using acrylic paint and colored pencils.


Would you like to win a copy? Two Lions/Amazon is pleased to offer a giveaway copy of Fossil to one winner (U.S. addresses only). All you need to do is leave a comment on this post (with a legitimate e-mail address so we can contact you if you win) by December 6, 2013 at 11:59 P.M. PST. Entrants will be numbered in the order received and then selected at random. Note:  to increase your chances of winning be sure to visit some of the other participants in the blog tour, because most are also offering giveaways. Check the blog tour links listed below for details. Edit: The giveaway has now ended and the winner has been notified. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Fossil is so stimulating, it is sure to raise questions. Here are some links for related information and activities:

1. Ferns

Ferns are a group of plants that have been found as fossils, but also can be found in forests today.


They are vascular plants, which means they have the internal channels that move water and nutrients (xylem and phloem). Ferns differ from other vascular plants because they reproduce by spores. More about ferns at Mosses, ferns, liverworts and horsetails at Growing with Science.

2. Dragonflies


These insects with large eyes and wings that stick straight out have also been found in fossils. Some of the relatives of dragonflies were larger that those found today, with wingspans over two feet wide! The adults feed on insects they catch in the air, especially pesky mosquitoes.The immature forms or nymphs live in the water.

See Dragonflies and damselflies at Growing with Science.

3. Pteranodon

One of the fun things about the book, is that kids can call the large winged reptile whatever they feel comfortable calling it. The generic name for it is pterosaur, which means "flying lizard."

Some people have called all these flying creatures with leathery wings "pterodactyls." Technically the genus Pterodactylus consists of only smaller pterosaurs with teeth, so you won't catch experts calling them that.

The larger pterosaurs that lack teeth and have large crests belong to the genus Pteranodon. The creature in the book is a Pteranodon.

If you are local, it turns out there's an exhibit of pterosaurs  called Rulers of the Prehistoric Skies at the Arizona Museum of Natural History right now. Even if you aren't local, you can download a free educator's guide - see "Rulers of the Prehistoric Skies" under "Current Exhibit."

Related fossil activities at Growing With Science:

Links to free guides to accompany the book at Amazon :

Fossil by Bill Thomson is sure to charge up the reader's imagination. See where it leads your children today!

Age Range: 3 - 7 years
Publisher: Two Lions (November 5, 2013)
ISBN-10: 1477847006
ISBN-13: 978-1477847008

See a short review of Bill's previous book, Chalk, at our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.

Previous stops on the blog tour:

Disclosures: This book was provided for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.

Today for STEM Friday we have new addition to the incredible Scientists in the Field series: The Dolphins of Shark Bay by Pamela S. Turner, with photographs by Scott Tuason. dolphins-of-shark-bayThis outstanding book encapsulates over twenty-five years of research into dolphin intelligence by scientist Janet Mann and her colleagues working at Shark Bay in Australia.

It is difficult to decide where to start, because there is so very much packed into the book. It reveals how science is done in the field, plus gives loads of information about wild bottlenose dolphins. It also asks some hard questions about whether these intelligent animals should be kept in captivity solely for our enjoyment, and those are just a few highlights.

One of the first findings from Mann's early studies has to do more with humans than dolphins. She found tourists who fed the dolphins at Shark Bay were inadvertently causing increased dolphin mortality because begging to humans took the mother dolphins away from tending their babies and the babies weren't learning how to hunt, a skill they needed to survive. "Tame" dolphins were also more likely to be caught in fishing nets and injured. With her information in hand, the Australian government ended unregulated feeding of dolphins in 1995, although illegal feeding still sometimes occurs.

The main thrust of Mann's research has been looking at dolphin intelligence from an evolutionary perspective. Why do dolphins have big relatively brains and what do they use them for? By using techniques developed in primate research, she has been able to follow individuals throughout their lifetimes. Some evidence suggests that how the males form alliances to control females for mating may be at least part of the answer.

Some of the research group's more exciting findings include the use of "tools" by dolphins. Certain dolphins have learned to pluck sponges and carry them on their noses (rostrum) to poke around amongst rocks and on shells the bottom of the ocean to chase out fish that hide there. These fish are at least partially hidden from the echolocation the dolphins normally use to find fish and were shielded by the sharp bottom debris, at least until dolphins figured out how to protect themselves!

These special dolphins have been the subject of several BBC documentaries, some of which are available online like this one:

Lovely! Doesn't make you want to pack your bags for Australia right now? Well, maybe not the sharks...

The Dolphins of Shark Bay will surely inspire future generations of scientists and dolphin enthusiasts. Look for it today!

For more information:

Shark Bay Dolphin Project website

Learn about different types of dolphins and other marine mammals at Kids Do Ecology

Other reviews at:


A Life in Books

Smart Books for Smart Kids (author interview)

Age Range: 10 - 14 years
Grade Level: 5 - 9
Series: Scientists in the Field Series
Hardcover: 80 pages
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (November 5, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0547716389
ISBN-13: 978-0547716381

Disclosures: This book was provided by the author for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate for Amazon, and if you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.


Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.