It is well established that at a certain age children become fascinated with all things gross and repulsive. The new book for older elementary and middle grades, ICK!: Delightfully Disgusting Animal Dinners, Dwellings, and Defenses by Melissa Stewart, uses that interest to entice kids to learn about an amazing variety of animals.

Not for the squeamish or easily offended reader, Ick! explores animals that eat, defend themselves, or live inside revolting things like poop, slimy mucus, spit, and vomit.

Melissa Stewart is a renowned children’s science writer and she has done an outstanding job in finding weird and wonderful examples. Some might be familiar, like dung beetles that raise their offspring in balls of manure, but others are exotic, like the bone-eating snot flower worm. What a name!

What is even better is that she sneaks in a lot of biology concepts and vocabulary. Do you know what a cecotrope is? You’ll learn that in the very first section. At the same time, you will find that what at first glance seems really repulsive is actually part of an animal’s way of surviving and isn’t as disgusting as you might imagine.

The book is illustrated with eye catching photographs — as we’ve come to expect from National Geographic — that bring the text to life.

For example, can you see the bubble around the fish in the middle? It is actually a floating wrapping of slippery slime. The fish spends the night within the mucus blob to protect itself. Tissue anyone?

ICK! will grab the attention of young readers interested in STEM — particularly budding biologists — who will likely memorize sections to impress and gross out their friends. The visually attractive layout and yuck factor will also appeal to many reluctant readers. Hold onto your stomach and explore a copy today!


To expand on the book, find your own icky critter and research its habits.

In honor of National Moth Week (July 18-26, 2020), we chose a small group of unusual moths that fit right in with the other animals in the book.

Sloth moths get their name from the fact they spend their lives riding on South American sloths. Being a hitchhiker doesn’t seem all that gross until you find out that the moths are waiting for the sloth to climb down from the trees to go to the bathroom, something it does only about once a week. When the sloth poops, the female moths hop off and lay their eggs in the excrement. The larvae (caterpillars) feed on the poop, and after completing their life cycles, fly around to find another sloth to sit on.

PBS NOVA has an animated video that shows the sloth moth life in detail.

Aren’t moths amazing?

And so is Ick!

Age Range: 8 – 12 years
Publisher: National Geographic Children’s Books (June 23, 2020)
ISBN-10: 1426337469
ISBN-13: 978-1426337468

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Looking for more children’s nonfiction books? Try the Nonfiction Monday blog.