Friday, April 4, 2014


written and illustrated by David Macauley with Sheila Keenan
2013 (Macmillan)
Source: Mebane Public Library

Check out STEM Friday for more links to STEM books.

This blog has gone to the toilet and that's a good thing. David Macauley's Toilet explores the workings of a toilet and what happens to waste. Appropriately, the first order of business is to learn about why we need toilets in the first place. What is waste and how does it leave our bodies? Macauley answers that question in about as tasteful a manner as you can explain it. Body parts, sans the body, are drawn to illustrate an eclair's path through the body. You see the liver, the stomach, intestines and bladder without seeing any "private" parts. Simply read the text  and follow the drawing to learn how waste leaves your body. The next stop is the toilet. If you lift the lid of the tank of your toilet, you will see what readers see in this book along with a simple explanation of the mechanics of how the chain, floats, and stoppers work. Further explanations show how waste and water exit the toilet through the siphon. Where does all of this go from there? Depends on where you live. Having experienced both, I prefer a sewer system over a septic tank. Macauley goes into detail to explain how both of those work. A great companion to this book would be The Magic School Bus Goes to the Waterworks since it also covers some of the same territory of showing what happens to water when it goes to the treatment plant. Toilet covers more of what happens to the solids (sludge) of waste water than Waterworks.

It would be easy (And I've done this!) to dismiss a child who asks what happens to waste once we flush.
Instead, sit down with a copy of Toilet and explain how all of this works. The text and illustrations are terrific so you will be able to engage a young learner and help them understand. Just know that this is an easier reader but not necessarily an easy reader. I think a third grader could probably read and comprehend the text independently, but not much further below that level. The books in this series receive stars from reviewers because they are top notch explanations of processes that are important in our lives.

Now to explain the picture below. I was visiting a science museum in Copenhagen, Denmark. You climbed down a ladder inside the toilet to visit the basement where murals explained the history of city sewer systems and why they were needed. Quite the experience and photo op!

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