To find out, check page 34 of our newest featured book . . .

What’s Eating You? Parasites–the Inside Story by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Neal Layton 

2009. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press.

Genre: Nonfiction

Ages: Upper elementary through middle school


In her inimitable style (good research + irresistible voice), zoologist and writer Nicola Davies takes us into the world of parasites–many of which do or can reside on us! No! Can it be? It can. We learn about ectoparasites, those that live on the surface–in eyebrows or hair, for example. (No–shampooing does NOT help.) And we learn about endoparasites, those that live in eyes, intestines, legs, muscles, lungs, and elsewhere. We humans are not the only hosts–fortunately! Virtually every creature on earth provides parasites with a place to call home. In this fascinating (and yes, sometimes grotesquely worrisome) little book, we learn how parasites hitch rides on moving hosts, how they breed and live out their life cycles, and how they evolve to use ingenious little tricks, such as turning a secondary host fish bright orange so it will appeal to a primary host heron. We also discover how some parasites can be helpful, and learn ways of managing them or preventing them from invading our space in the first place. The remarkable and zany drawings of illustrator Neal Layton add tremendously to the voice of this intriguing little book that will have your students wanting you to read another page–and yet another. If only textbooks were more like this!

In the Classroom

1. You might begin by just talking about parasites. What are they? Where do they live? Are they all around us? Are they visible–or invisible? Or both? Are they dangerous? See what questions you can answer–or think you can answer–prior to reading, then compare your early responses with how you feel/think by the end of the book.

2. This is a long book to read aloud in its entirety–but at the same time, you don’t want to break it into too many segments or you’ll lose the continuity. Preview it and make a plan. It runs about 60 pages, but they’re short. You might consider dividing it into three or four readings of 15 to 20 pages each, allowing time for discussion after each reading. Also make sure you have time to enjoy Neal Layton’s illustrations, and the text that accompanies them, as you go along. Do read the book aloud so your students can hear the voice.

3. Talk genre. What genre is this? It’s nonfiction, yes–but do the writer and illustrator also weave in some narrative? This book also has an extraordinary number of illustrations–and quite a lot of humor! Does this change the genre, or only modify it?

4. Talk about presentation. How different would this book be if it did not have any illustrations? Do this writer and illustrator make a good team? How do they complement each other’s work? Consider asking students to work with partners in this same way–on a shorter piece, of course. Have one be the main writer, one the main illustrator for any nonfiction piece. When students have finished their work, talk about the effectiveness of working in this way, and how writer and illustrator can coach each other. How do illustrations enrich the information that can be shared with the reader? Because of the number of illustrations, some people might call this a picture book. Is it? Why or why not?

5. This book opens in an unusual way. When you finish reading the book, see if anyone can recall the lead. Is it effective? Why? Is it memorable?

6. Are the paragraphs on page 57 the true ending of the book–or does it really end with the segment on “Parasite Champions,” pages 58 and 59? Why do you think so? How should a good informational piece end?

7. Have students compare Davies’ book to a research paper one might write about parasites for a school assignment. How are the two alike? How are they different? What do we as readers learn from this book that we could use in writing better informational pieces?

8. Talk about the informational value of this book. What do we learn? Which facts are most interesting? Most startling? Make a list. Would we expect–should we expect–to make similar discoveries when reading a research paper written for school? Why?

9. If we could wipe out ALL parasites, should we do it? Have students draft a short persuasive paragraph on this, and read several aloud. If you get opposing views, take a survey to find out what percentage of students would favor this drastic approach.

10. Take time to notice the special features of this informational text: an outstanding index and glossary. How many of your students have included either of these in their informational writing? Encourage them to add one or both to the next informational or persuasive writing they do.

11. Would this book make a good basis for a film? If so, how should it open? How should it end? Would it be a good idea, in making such a film, to terrify the audience about parasites–or reassure them? Or something in between?

12. Based on this book plus some additional research you do on your own, see if you can identify the three or four most important things a person can do to prevent any ill effects from parasites. Then present this information in a report, speech, PowerPoint, film–or any form you wish. Talk about how presentation can be as important as ideas when it comes to getting the message across!

Coming Up . . .

Thanks for visiting Gurus! Next week, watch for a review of Birdology by Sy Montgomery, as well as thoughts on what you might be missing when you settle for a one-day workshop on the traits.