Bookworm: ‘Egg’ for kids who loves animals, science, peril

‘Pump’ is a rabbit-hole of cardio delight for ‘sciency’ readers

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Egg Marks the Spot: A Skunk and Badger Story”

  • By Amy Timberlake
  • c. 2021, Algonquin Young Readers
  • $18.95, higher in Canada 160 pages

“Dig here,” said the map with a big red “X.” And you did, and it was fun, and it's a challenge, too, because you have to be smart to read the clues and de-cypher the secret messages. Treasure hunting is great, even if it's just a game that adults set up, even if everybody knows it's not real. Or read the new book “Egg Marks the Spot” by Amy Timberlake – and, well, is it?

“Egg Marks the Spot: A Skunk and Badger Story” by Amy Timberlake.

Badger liked his new rock room well enough. It used to be the attic and the “Important Rock Work” was done in the living room but when Skunk moved into Aunt Lula's house with Badger, everything got moved around.

That was fine. It gave Badger a chance to set up his “Wall of Rocks”: every specimen, from A to Z, had its own spot and its own light and it was magnificent. Only one thing made the Wall of Rocks less-than-perfect: Badger's beloved Spider Eye Agate (the A-rock) was stolen by his cousin, Fisher, at a family reunion.

As it happened, Skunk was having issues of his own. Someone was taking his Sunday New Yak Times Book Review, and he was powerless to stop the thief. The only thing to do was to create a distraction for himself, so he convinced Badger to go rock-hunting at Endless Lake. It would be fun!

And it was. Badger found a few good rocks; even Skunk had some luck, and Augusta, also known as Tiny Orange Hen, showed up. Sadly, so did Fisher, who was stalking Badger because he was looking for treasure to sell and he thought Badger might know where it was.

“Egg Marks the Spot: A Skunk and Badger Story” author Amy Timberlake.

Nope, Badger didn't. But Augusta did, she showed Skunk, and when Badger followed them into a nearby cave, everything became a big mess. The treasure was gigantic and rare and very valuable, and legions of hens had been guarding it for centuries. But Fisher – who never saw pretties he couldn't poach – vowed to have it...

If you read author Amy Timberlake's first book about Skunk and Badger last year, and were charmed, alas, you'll be disappointed in this one and its preposterousness. That's okay, though. “Egg Marks the Spot,” the second tale in the series, isn't a book for you.

Indeed, this book speaks to the silliness in the heart of your average upper-gradeschooler, in a tangle of adventure and science, dinosaurs and spelunking and the comeuppance of a criminal, all packed into a few chapters of chaos and feathers. And yet, the story's not silly to the point of ridiculous; in fact, Timberlake's characters teach archaeology and geology to kids who might not notice they're learning while they're laughing. It's like giving your child a science tutorial in a windstorm, knowing that they'll be eager for more when the next installment is out.

“Egg Marks the Spot” is great for 7-to-10-year-olds, and both boys and girls can enjoy the pandemonium. If you know a kid who loves animals, science, peril, and hilarious tales, they'll totally dig it.

More:Bookworm: ‘Dare to Know’ – Sci-fi, snark-horror and futuristic thriller fans will love it

“Pump: A Natural History of the Heart”

  • By Bill Schutt
  • c. 2021, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • $26.95, higher in Canada; 288 pages

Your heart pounded so hard; you could hear it in your ears. Blood rushed to the parts of your body that could help carry you away from the danger, adrenaline flowed in your veins, and extra oxygen came to the rescue. All this from a little scare; this, thanks to that organ inside your chest. Proof, as in the new book “Pump” by Bill Schutt, that you got to have heart.

Biologist and former American Museum of Natural History research assistant Bill Schutt is fascinated by hearts.

“Pump: A Natural History of the Heart” by Bill Schutt.

And why not? There's a lot to that piece of exquisite machinery we carry around in our chests from pre-birth until we die. There's plenty to say about it, including that not all living, breathing creatures bleed red, and tickers come in many sizes. This book, in fact, begins with a blue whale heart, a rare specimen that was larger than Schutt himself. There, he explains why a tiny mouse has a higher heart-to-body ratio than you do.

But size isn't everything: many creatures' tickers aren't what we'd expect when we envision a “heart.” Some creatures have open circulatory systems, while ours are closed; to get oxygen into the body, some use gills rather than nostrils. Around the animal kingdom, even the shape of that pump can vary widely and some creatures, says Schutt – like insects, for instance – simply lack what we'd call a heart.

But back to you.

Once upon a time, Aristotle thought that the brain was only around to cool the heart, like an HVAC system in your head. The Egyptians had funny notions about the heart, too, and they were careful to embalm them separately from the rest of a body. Until the eighteenth century, physicians thought that blood carried the essence of its owner's personality – a tame belief, as compared to the practice of blood-letting as treatment for pretty much any ailment. And as for you, brush your teeth, no snow shoveling, and watch what you eat.

“Pump: A Natural History of the Heart” author Bill Schutt.

Your heart – your very life – will thank you for it.

Hard to believe that your entire existence relies on a scrap of muscle the size of your fist, isn't it? And yet, your heart can't do it all by itself; it takes a whole lot more to ensure that you're alive – so much so that “Pump” isn't only about your heart.

Nope, author Bill Schutt bobs and weaves through biology and science, writing about blood and lungs almost as much as he does about his title topic, with side-trips happily encouraged. That'll please an Armchair M.D. – there's a heavy load of sometimes-near-physician-level information scattered here and there – but it can be daunting for the not-so-science-minded reader. Still, don't fret, science should be fun, and Schutt packs this book tight with holy-cow tidbits from several -ologies, crammed between time-machine peeks at medicine, funeral practices, giraffes, mummies, and monkeys.

So, brush off your Biology 101 knowledge, and settle in. Here's a rabbit-hole of cardio delight for “sciency” readers and the curious alike, and that means “Pump” can't be beat.

More:Bookworm: Rare photos, stories from the day that everything changed forever

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. Read past columns at marconews.com.