Friday, December 1, 2023

Life on a Very Small Scale

We are made of cells, and cells are made of smaller parts, and those smaller parts are made of things we can’t even see. Today’s books explore the microcosm of life.

theme: life, cells, atoms
Happy one-year anniversary to Jason Chin’s book, The Universe in You: A Microscopic Journey (Neal Porter Books, 2022). This is one of those picture books that I think is a perfect crossover for the 8-12 crowd. As I recall, my biggest desire when I was in fourth grade was to have a microscope so I could see really tiny things.

The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the United States.

It measures 8 centimeters (just over 3 inches) from beak tip to tail. “Small enough to fit in your hand,” writes Jason Chin. The Western Pygmy Blue butterfly is smaller than a penny, the smallest bee is 2 millimeters long (that’s the height of two pennies stacked together). And even that isn’t as small as…. A hair, a skin cell, a strand of DNA. This book takes us on a tour of very small things.

What I like about this book: What a great way to explore cells and molecules and atoms and elementary particles without needing to own your own microscope, electron-scanning microscope, and particle accelerator. I like how Jason gets to the building blocks of life, the universe, and everything page by page. And he does it using beautiful language that pulls you along, and some comparisons that make you want to turn the page. Plus there is smaller text that explains stuff, like showing how big a millimeter is, and explaining why dead cells are important. In the end those particles and atoms and molecules are arranged into cells that form you … “a singular person who can think and feel and discover the universe within.”

Back matter includes a spread on the building blocks of matter, with more information about elementary particles (quarks and nutrinos and gluons and more!), atoms, and elements. Another spread focuses on the building blocks of life: cells, genes, single-celled life, and more. This is a great companion to his earlier book, Your Place in the Universe. [review copy provided by the publisher]

If you’re looking for a book for slightly younger kids, and one that focuses on cells, here’s one. I checked it out of the library before the pandemic, and am finally getting around to sharing it!
Cells: An Owner's Handbook
by Carolyn Fisher
48 pages; ages 3 - 8
Beach Lane Books, 2019

Hi! I’m Ellie. No, not the dog. Follow the arrow. I’m a cell!

Ellie is a skin cell who lives on the “derriere of a Boston terrier”. You can’t see her because she is very, very, very small – but she has all the working parts of an animal cell: nucleus, ribosomes, mitochondria – the works. Cells make up all sorts of living things: plants, whales, people. Yes, you are the owner of 37 trillion cells (give or take a few). And this handy guide book will help you take care of them so that they last you a lifetime.

What I like about this book: I love the breezy, sassy attitude of Ellie the cell. She is a fun guide to the world of the microscopically small. She shows unicellular (one-celled) organisms, multicellular (many-celled) organisms, and things that don’t have cells at all. I love how she makes complex ideas easier to comprehend (blood cells make blood; bone cells make bone) and how the food we eat and exercise we do are essential to our cells’ health. Ellie takes a cell-fie, explains the small print in the lifetime guarantee, and even tells jokes. Back matter includes blueprints for cells (and jokes).

Beyond the Books:

Look at some things around your house using a microscope (if you have one) or a magnifying lens. Here’s a short list of fun stuff to look at: Velcro, sand, yarn, leaf, tree bark, onion skin, insect wings, moldy bread, a feather, fabric, stamp, snowflakes, and rocks.

Draw a picture of what you see when you look at something under a magnifying lens or microscope.

Write a story about what the world would be like for you if you were the size of a sunflower seed or a grain of sand.

If you want to get a microscope for your kids, Popular Science magazine has a review here. There are even some portable scopes to carry on walks.

Today we’re joining Perfect Picture Book Friday. It’s a wonderful gathering where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Publishers. Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other  bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading.


  1. Cells sounds like a fun book kids into science will enjoy.

  2. What fun science inspired books and love the activities. Happy MMGM

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  4. Great recommends! I was also overly curious about microscopes as a kid and the first book is one I will have to track down. Have a Happy MMGM!

  5. These both sound fun books, a great way to introduce scientific concepts to young kids, especially those scientifically-minded! Thanks for sharing!

  6. I had a microscope when I was a kid, and I thought it was so wonderful. What a lucky girl I was! These both look great. I love the cover on The Universe in You. Thanks for the post.