Friday, December 13, 2019

Real Science about Farts & Superpowers

People ask scientists all kinds of questions, but one of the most frequent is whether a certain animal farts. Which, believe it or not, scientists collect data about – because sometimes science is funny. And it’s part of the information they collect when studying what an animal eats and how it digests food. And – as in the case of some insects – passing gas can be an insect’s superpower!

themes: animal adaptations, insects, nonfiction humor

Does It Fart? A Kid's Guide to the Gas Animals Pass
by Nick Caruso and Dani Rabaiotti; illus. by Alex G. Griffiths
48 pages; ages 6 - 9
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019

This is a book about farts.

They may make you laugh and they may be really stinky, but the fact is that everybody farts. Well, almost everybody. Some animals don’t. Scientists Nick Caruso and Dani Rabiaotti present what could be a silly topic in a straight-forward manner. Their mission: to help young readers understand some of the basic chemistry behind toots and butt burps. They analyze how 20 different animals digest their food, and whether gas is produced.
What I like about this book: The format is fun. On one page is a cartoon representation of an animal with a statement and a question. For example: “This is a horse. Does it fart?” Turn the page and you get the answer – plus an explanation of how its digestive system works. Horses, it turns out, do fart. But parrots? Nope. And some animals have weaponized their gas. Beaded lacewing larvae expel gas to stun their termite prey, putting new meaning into “silent but deadly”.

Like other nonfiction, this book grew from a question. Dani’s teenage brother asked her if snakes farted. She knew from her own research that wild dogs of Africa farted, and so did gray seals. But she wasn’t sure about snakes, so she contacted a snake expert. And you know, when a scientist gets curious about something, they begin talking to others, and before long researchers all over the world were creating an animal fart database.

As a bug-lover, I was intrigued by the beaded lacewings and wanted to know if other insects farted. Which leads to our second book of the day….

Insect Superpowers
by Kate Messner; illus. by Jillian Nickell
80 pages; ages 8 - 12
Chronicle Books, 2019

The book’s subtitle describes what’s between the covers: 18 Real Bugs that Smash, Zap, Hypnotize, Sting, and Devour! So I could not wait to get my hands on a copy (it was released just a few weeks ago).

Sure enough, Kate Messner devotes an entire chapter to the “Masters of Chemical Weaponry”. This chapter features termites, the bombardier beetle and lubber grasshoppers. Good thing these insects are small, because their superpowers make them mighty.  “Imagine a human-size termite with a goo gun for a face,” writes Messner, “or a beetle the size of a bear that shoots a hot toxic chemical mist from its bottom!”

The African bombardier beetle sprays a hot chemical mist from its rear end when threatened. It actually sprays a series of superfast pulses – about 500 per second – so it’s like a chemical machine gun, Messner points out. That’s enough to make birds back off.

In six chapters, Messner presents a diversity of insect superpowers that rival any comic book hero: speed, mimicry, strength, defensive engineering, and the “Jaws of Doom”.

What I like about this book: I like graphic-novel style. It’s filled with action: swoops! sluuurps! Chomp! Smack! Slash! Crunch! Pfffr-ffft! 

I like the way Messner begins each chapter with an introduction of the insect: common name, scientific name, identification features, size, and superpower. Throughout the short chapter, she presents information in text boxes. She also includes an icon illustrating an arch-enemy for each insect. Total fun!

Beyond the Books:

Do you know what animals fart? Take a quiz here at Science Friday.

You’ve already met two bugs that fart. Meet one more here.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Create a short comic showing how you would use your superpower to help others or defend yourself. You can download a free comic template here.

Today we're joining other book bloggers over at STEM Friday, where you can discover other cool STEM books. And we're joining  Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website.
I borrowed Does it Fart? from the library; A review copy of Insect Superpowers provided by the publisher.


  1. I just love books like this. I know some kids who will like them too. Thanks for the heads up.

  2. Interesting books. I too know some kids who will love these books. Great review.