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



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