Bookworm: The animals in your life; stuff stories

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals”

  • By Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers
  • c. 2019, Scribner 
  • $28, $37 Canada, 368 pages
“Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals” co-author Barbara Natterson-Horowitz.

You live with a pack of wolves. There’s no other explanation: you hear growls coming from their bedrooms. They leave pawprints all over the house, your refrigerator is raided on a regular basis, and they often communicate with deadly stares. Sure, they might look like teenagers but nope: wolves. If it’s any consolation, as you’ll see in “Wildhood” by Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers, real canis lupus parents have similar issues.

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Not long ago, while visiting a cove off the California coast, Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers watched as adolescent sea otters repeatedly seemed to dare one another to get near hungry, sharp-toothed sharks. The authors had previously written a book about the correlation between human and animal health and here was another clear parallel: animal adolescence and human adolescence look a lot alike.

“Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals” co-author Kathryn Bowers.

Like humans, animals have a period in life that’s sandwiched between babyhood and adulthood, a time framed by four things that all creatures must learn: how to be safe, how to get along, how courtship works, and how to “launch.” Often, very young animals observe those things through the experiences of others but during adolescence – when adulthood looms and parental support may be on the wane – these challenges coalesce on a personal, individual level.

Risk-taking, the authors say, is seen in many instances of animal adolescence, from otters and bats to lemurs and humans. Risk brings fear, which teaches the risk-taker about danger, helps them to know where danger lies, and teaches self-confidence. It seems like a huge contradiction but one cannot learn to be safe without taking risks – and risk-taking is easier when you’re in a group in which you know your status and know how to get along with others.

“Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals” by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers.

Learning to get along extends to courtship, and adolescence is a universal time to learn the “language” of romance and how to read a “no.” That can be awkward, and human teens will be comforted to know that their animal counterparts are really no less gawky. Likewise, parents will be happy to see that animals nag and remind, too – and that every bit’s necessary, whether you’re a hyena, wolf, horse, or human.

It’s hard not to be charmed by stories of crooning whales or a sassy otter. It’s hard not to see wolves, cows, and fish with fresh eyes, and even your teen looks a whole lot different when you read “Wildhood.”

While parents may joke about the similarities between their teens and animals, authors Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers prove that it’s a real thing. It’s science-based but never dry – the authors add delight and curiosity to their tales, which may hold you spellbound – and readers are furthermore shown that there’s a true, plausible reason why adolescents across the board do the (sometimes dumb) things they do.

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Take the authors up on their invitation to observe animals in the wild and in your own household, and you’ll never look at other beings the same again. “Wildhood” is for parents, nature lovers, and the curious alike. You’ll be wild for it.

“Surprising Stories Behind Everyday Stuff” by Stephanie Warren Drimmer.

“Surprising Stories Behind Everyday Stuff”

  • By Stephanie Warren Drimmer
  • c. 2019, National Geographic Kids
  • $9.99, $13.99 Canada; 255 pages

By the time you started first grade, you already knew your A-B-Cs. You started second grade knowing how to read at least a little bit, and each year brought new knowledge and a new start. By now, hey, you’re doing school like a boss. Still, everybody’s got to start somewhere and in the new book “Surprising Stories Behind Everyday Stuff” by Stephanie Warren Drimmer, the same goes for your favorite things in life.

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The paper you’re holding, the chair you’re perched on, the shoes you’re wearing – they didn’t just magically appear, you know. Nope, each one of them has a story, so look around and be prepared to find out more …

“Surprising Stories Behind Everyday Stuff” author Stephanie Warren Drimmer.

Start with your toys. Would you believe that ancient Egyptians played with rings that resembled our modern Hula Hoops? Or that there was a time when marbles were for adults only? Or that the TV jingle for today’s Slinky is the same jingle your grandma heard when she was a kid?

And what about your food?  More than ninety percent of American homes have peanut butter on the shelf somewhere, and kids in the U.S. will eat around 1,500 PB&Js before they leave high school. Get this: American soda makers once offered soda in flavors like turkey, and Brussels sprouts.

If you want to start in the morning with a look around, then how about your jams? Back in the early 1800s, PJs were worn all the time: at night, to sleep in; and when the wearer got dressed for the day, jammies became underwear tucked in beneath everyday clothes. The pajamas we’re familiar with came from India in the very late 1800s and by the 1920s, almost everybody had them.

Once upon a time, high heels were just for men, as were pockets in clothing; women didn’t have pockets – they had pocketbooks. A woman invented windshield wipers in 1902 but it wasn’t until 1916 that her idea caught on. Clapping for approval, saluting a superior officer, shrugging your shoulders all had their unique beginnings. And hair dye?  It’s an ancient product but not very long ago, using it was an embarrassment…

Remember the days when your child asked incessant questions, whys, and whats?  Now, he tends to learn things by himself, and “Surprising Stories Behind Everyday Stuff” can be one of the ways he does it.

Look around at some of the things surrounding your child, and author Stephanie Warren Drimmer has included many of them in this book. Here, kids will get the scoop on those physical items like tools and food, as well as sports, gestures, and culture, all with an eye toward entertaining and surprising them with little-known truths and tales. Every chapter is accompanied by full-color pictures and quick facts that hold the subjects together like chewing gum (which is, coincidentally, one of the entries here).

For curious adults who want a super-light, fun book to browse, “Surprising Stories Behind Everyday Stuff” is it. You’ll like this book – but really, it’s meant for your 8-to-12-year-old, so let her start it first.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.