So, today’s post is a little unusual, and I’ll explain why.
(Don’t let this distract you from the review; scroll down a bit to read about the book– it’s a good one– if you want to skip the blog blatherings…)
You see, I pride myself on only ever reviewing books I find and love on my own or with the help of friends. I gladly take recommendations from any and all sources, but I don’t accept payment or recompense in any form for my reviews. This little blog is just me and my books, and that’s it!
But, I sometimes am asked, what if an author, editor, or publisher approaches you? That sometimes happens, and I treat it like any other recommendation: sure, sometimes they send me the book, and then I read it. Then I treat it like any other book: if I don’t like it, I keep quiet. And then there’s all the degrees of stuff that have to happen before I write about it. I have a ton of great books I’ve never told you about, you know, because if I tried to tell you about every good book then I’d have no time for anything else. And I’m supposed to be writing a dissertation, too. So, perforce, my selections are somewhat arbitrary– but only somewhat.
If a book is good but I have nothing I think I can add, analytically, then I probably won’t write about it. If I love it but don’t have time, I won’t write about it. But often, if I love it and have something to say about it and have time to write about it (increasingly short supply these days)– and if I feel the COMPULSION to write about it– why, then I’ll tell you about it.
That hasn’t happened before with a book I’ve been sent by the author, though– until today. She’s an author I happen to really like, so I was already intrigued, and she sent me her book, and I loved it a lot, and think I have what to say about it– and it gave me an opening to explain to you up here a bit about my policy on being sent books! So, yay, here we go– and now you know.
In sum: Feel free to contact me about sending me a book, I’d love to see it, but be aware that I’ll treat it like any other recommendation I may get. Don’t take it personally, and if I don’t review it– don’t assume that I didn’t like it. I may well have liked it a lot! I just was busy, didn’t have time, or didn’t have anything I felt that I personally could add in my review.
But today’s book? I loved it, I really want to tell you about it, and, gloriously, I have half an hour to start writing a post right now, with another hour later in the day to probably finish it! HURRAH!
You probably remember Anita Sanchez from the blog before. As I said, she’s an author I like a lot, and you’ve seen me write about her book with Charlesbridge, Karl, Get Out of the Garden! several thousand times before.
Itch! does something I love: it shows me another side of an author I already enjoy. I read and re-read Karl!, so I know she can do biography beautifully. I know she can write an advanced picture book which speaks to many levels of children, too. But I did not know that Anita could write an informative, intriguing, delightfully tactile-seeming advanced picture book/MG book about everything that makes you itch. But now I do!
I’m going to admit up-front that if it hadn’t been coming from Anita Sanchez, whose prose I knew I liked, I may have skipped this book. I don’t like itchiness, I’m squicked out by lots of insects, and my daughter’s in kindergarten so I’ve had enough of lice for a lifetime– believe me! But this book goes to show that stepping out of your comfort zone can be an excellent thing: I didn’t want to be provoked to scratch my head as I read, but my hands were so busy turning the pages that I barely scratched at all.
(There, Anita, is a blurb for you: “Deborah Furchtgott writes: ‘My hands were so busy turning the pages that I barely scratched at all!'” People, you can be sure that they don’t send me books for the blurbs…)
While it’s an evocative book, and, yes, you may feel an uncomfortable tickle as you read about tarantula setae, I assure you that it’s worth it to learn about the triple-decker sandwich that goes to make our skin, and the anesthetic properties of mosquito saliva. Who knew, right? Apparently, Anita Sanchez.
A word about the illustrations: my primary anxiety in receiving this book was that the illustrations would revolt me. As I said above, I don’t love insects, and I’m not into being grossed out or made uncomfortable for the hell of it. I have a pretty low threshold for being irritated by by insect illustrations, but I also really don’t like “cartoony” science illustrations; I like them to represent reality. (You know I love Charlesbridge, and my love of accuracy probably comes from my healthy respect for their rigorously researched books.) Gilbert Ford hits this balance perfectly. On the one hand, the illustrations of insects are pretty darned cute. I actually smiled at the mosquito, and I’m a Maritimer, so that’s the first time in my life I can say that. On the other hand, the science diagrams, such as the skin sandwich I mentioned above, are clear, well-organized, and the relevant bits are not at all cartoony (the skin sandwich is posed beside a pickle, yes, but the skin itself is a good representation of what we’re looking for). There are no distractions from getting nice, accurate information– while at the same time the illustrations aren’t too gross, and are amusing to the eye. (If you’re looking for gross… you may see things differently. Other reviewers have praised it for its grossness. Flip through the book, your mileage may vary!)
To me, this was a real learning experience– not just to figure out exactly why it’s been so difficult to get and keep lice out of my daughter’s classroom (Kindergarten parents: Read this book!), but also to learn that I can still broaden my mind into areas I may have expected to make me uncomfortable. I think this is a great introduction to entomology, botany, natural history in general, and the more hands-on medical sciences, and will help both parents and children avert some anxieties about what insects are, how they behave, and why they behave as they do. I highly recommend it for kids aged about 7 or 8 and up. Amazon says 7-10. I personally think you could go a fair bit higher in that range– 12- to 14-year-olds would love it, too, I’m positive.
And this is why it’s great to hear from authors directly sometimes! I don’t know anyone who knows me who would have handed me this book, but clearly that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy it or learn from it. I had a wonderful time reading it, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with the Changeling when she grows older. Or maybe I’ll show her the section on lice now, so she understands what’s happening in her class! Knowledge, after all, is power.