Bookshelf: Children's books about the body, its parts, and how it works


Children's books about the body, its parts, and how it works--reviewed by Laura Jana, MD



Children's books about the body, its parts, and how it works

Jump to:
Choose article section... The very young child The young child The older child Preteens and teens Preteens and parents


As health professionals who devote much of our time to understanding the human body—its structure, growth, development, and capabilities (not to mention its potential to malfunction)—we know what a complex subject it is. From the simple head-shoulders-knees-and-toes books to fairly encyclopedic texts, children's books vary tremendously, depending on their intended audience.

Board books that show faces and parts of the body often appeal to young children as they learn the names for their own body parts. Books for school-age children go further, elaborating on anatomic details and delving into the body's inner and outer workings. And then there are books for preteens and teens about the human body that focus on sex and sexuality—an important but delicate subject that could (and may) fill a column of its own.

As you familiarize yourself with books that educate and enlighten children about the wonders of the human body, you may even come across a few interesting new bits of trivia that somehow never made their way into the pages of Netter's or any other of your medical texts.

You may copy Bookshelf to distribute to families of patients in your practice without permission from the publisher. All other uses of this article require written permission from the publisher.

Laura A. Jana, MD

The very young child

Eyes, Nose, Fingers, and Toes: A First Book All About You, by Judy Hindley, Candlewick Press, 1999 (32 pages, $15.99, hardcover). In this light-hearted introduction to the parts of the body and what they do, short rhythmic verses teach toddlers a delightful first lesson about the body, starting from the eyes and going right down to the toes (barring the often-omitted genitals). Colorful illustrations of young children enhance the overall playful tone of the book. The fact that the children depicted have different hair and skin colors subtly emphasizes the point that we are all fundamentally the same, despite differences in outward appearance. This is a particularly good message to introduce to young children these days. Ages 1–3

My First Body Board Book, edited by Iris Rosoff et al, Dorling Kindersley (DK) Publishing, 2000 (36 pages, $6.95, board book). Pediatricians are not the only ones to realize that youngsters enjoy looking at pictures of other children's faces. In this enticing, glossy, durable board book, color photographs of faces show different facial expressions while identifying the parts of the body that babies and toddlers use in a typical day. The five senses, counting from 1 to 10, and even photos of seasonal toddler attire are introduced. This is a good book for infants and toddlers to flip through, finger, and drool on; and therefore a good one to recommend to parents who want to engage their infants and young children in books early in life. Ages 6 months–2 years

The Body Book, by Shelley Rotner and Stephen Calcagnino, Orchard Books, 2000 (32 pages, $15.95, hardcover). Although this book's paper pages may not stand up well to an enthusiastic toddler's perusal without adult supervision, the colorful photographs of children's faces (along with those of belly buttons, fingers, and toes) are likely to appeal to a young audience. Ages 1–3

Tickly Under There, by Debi Gliori, Cartwheel Books, first American edition 2002 (8 pages, $5.95, oversize board book). Endearingly simple, this book introduces infants and toddlers to parts of the body while conveying a sense of loving interaction between bear cub and parent. It is easy to see how reading this sturdy, oversized board book could translate into playful interaction between a child listening to the story and the reader and help create positive early reading experiences. Ages 6 months–2 years

The young child

Everybody Has A Body: Science From Head to Toe, by Robert Rockwell et al, Gryphon House, 1992 (214 pages, $16.95, paperback). Using the human body as a resource, this activity book contains an amazing array of ways to teach young children about scientific discovery. Throughout the book, developmentally appropriate suggestions indicate that the authors are well grounded in early childhood education. Divided up by body part and function—beginning with "Keeping in Touch: Using Your Hands and Feet," and wrapping up eight chapters later with "Head to Toe: Everything Goes Together"—each of the more than 100 creative, manageable activities are presented in recipe-style format. A related word list and listing of necessary ingredients accompanies each topic. Ages 3–6

My First Body Book, by Christopher and Melanie Rice, DK Publishing, first American edition 1995 (32 pages, $16.95, hardcover). When it comes to depth of information, My First Body Book has plenty for school-age readers in its 32 oversized pages. Using color photographs and illustrations, the book presents an inviting mix of interesting anatomic and physiologic facts that are interspersed effectively between common questions and answers, related trivia, and even some simple worthwhile experiments. The authors discuss faces—noting that there are about five billion people in the world, each of whom has a different face—and point out that the two sides of your face are not exactly the same. When the authors mention ears and hearing, they include information about sign language and why you sometimes might feel dizzy. The overall effect is an attractive and interesting book that should foster enthusiasm and interactivity. Ages 4–8

The Amazing Pull-Out Pop-Up Body in a Book, by David Hawcock, DK Publishing, first American Edition 1997 (9 pages, $19.99, hardcover pop-up). The pages of this book not only introduce information and trivia about the human body (including the bones, blood, and brain), but they can also be unfolded to make a life-size, paper version of the human body. While the body might not hold up long in a waiting room or on the walls of your exam room, some of your patients will be grateful when you recommend the book. Ages 4–8

The Magic School Bus: Inside the Human Body, by Joanna Cole, Scholastic Trade, 1990 (40 pages, $15.95 hardcover, $4.99 paperback). True to the Magic School Bus science series, an eccentric teacher, her class of elementary school-age children, and a magic school bus take another fun-filled fictional adventure. This time, the plot centers around a routine class trip to a science museum that unexpectedly turns into a voyage through the human body. Readers get a close-up look at everything from the digestive tract to the bloodstream and brain, all before the shrunken fictional characters are sneezed back into their classroom to complete a class project on the human body. The story is enhanced by cartoon-like illustrations and imaginative, relevant facts. Parents may be pleasantly surprised to see their children actually enjoy taking the true-or-false test at the end. Ages 4–8

Why Don't Haircuts Hurt? Questions and Answers About the Human Body, by Melvin and Gilda Berger, Scholastic Reference, 1999 (48 pages, $5.95, paperback). Do you ever wonder how the funny bone got its name, or why we use the term charley horse? And were you aware that an estimated 75% of household dust consists of dead skin cells? Part of the Scholastic Question and Answer series, this book presents a wealth of facts and trivia about the human body. In age-appropriate, question-and-answer format, the book is certain to intrigue both school-age children and their parents (not to mention trained health professionals). As for the funny bone and charley horses—humerus sounds like humorous, and the word charley originally referred to a lame horse. Ages 4–8

You and Your Body: It's Science! By Sally Hewitt, Children's Press (Grolier), first American edition 1999 (30 pages, $22.00, hardcover). One of the best features of this overview of the human body is its fundamental assumption that "children are natural scientists . . . [who] learn by touching and feeling, noticing, asking questions and trying things out for themselves." How the content is presented is what makes this book outstanding—small information boxes encouraging interactivity are interspersed throughout the book, and carry titles such as "Think about It," "Try It Out," and "Look Again." The book is visually appealing and has a glossary. Ages 3–6

Your Insides, by Joanna Cole, Paper Star (Putnam & Grosset Group), 1998 (36 pages, $9.99, paperback). Best known for her Magic School Bus series, Joanna Cole's talent for relating to young children is also evident here as she presents the structure and inner workings of the human body. She is careful not to overload her target audience with too many technical terms, facts, and figures. Brief discussions cover the amazing abilities of the human body—such as how joints allow us to bend, what happens to the food we eat, and how and why we breathe. Ms. Cole puts facts into child-friendly perspective; saying, for instance, that "a grown-up's intestines stretched out straight would be as tall as a house." The book uses cartoon illustrations to make its points, and asks and answers thought-provoking questions—for example, "Why does your heart pump?" This book is meant to leave children bending their knees, poking their bellies, and feeling or listening to each other's heartbeats. Ages 4–8

The older child

Blood and Gore, Like You've Never Seen! By Vicki Cobb, Scholastic Inc., 1998 (32 pages, $4.99, paperback). This book definitely lives up to its claim of allowing children to "travel through the landscape of [the] human body magnified thousands of times." The author takes dry, encyclopedic facts about everything from blood, bone, skin, muscle, and nerves all the way to the digestive and respiratory processes and spices them up with interesting facts, age-appropriate descriptions, and colorful electron micrographs. A description of white blood cells entitled "Enemies, Beware!" is one example; a picture of a macrophage that bears the caption "Picking up the Trash," is another. Two pages are devoted to collagen and joints, and are summarized under the heading "Human Plastic." Ages 8–12

Preteens and teens

Girl Stuff: A Survival Guide to Growing Up: Answers to Every Girl's Questions—Especially the Ones She's Afraid to Ask! by Elissa Haden Guest and Margaret Blackstone, Gulliver Books (Harcourt), 2000 (170 pages, $8.95 paperback). With a contemporary look and feel, this self-proclaimed "survival guide to growing up" offers preteen girls a puberty-centric understanding and acceptance of their bodies. The authors mention how puberty affects boys, but the focus is clearly on providing "answers to every girl's questions—especially the ones she's afraid to ask" in a casual, approachable way. The book starts with a discussion of so-called "cringe" words such as "vagina," "penis," "breast," "period," and "sex" and travels through a range of puberty-related topics. The authors use attention-grabbing titles, such as "What You Never Wanted Anyone To Know You Wanted to Know About Sex." Ages 8–12

Grossology: The Science of Really Gross Things! by Sylvia Branzei, Price Stern Sloan Publishers, 2002 (80 pages, $9.99, paperback). As pediatricians, we spend a great deal of time discussing stuffy noses and postnasal drip. Yet how many of us are able to quantify the actual amount of "snot" that is swallowed during a single day? Along with a nationally known and hugely successful traveling exhibit of the same name, Grossology lives up to its name. The book answers a smorgasbord of questions about the everyday functioning of the human body through the use of subject matter that is, albeit gross, reported to be scientifically accurate. While a review of children's books about the human body would not be complete without it, this book is definitely not for everyone—specifically, not for those who are offended by the use of the words "fart," "barf," "snot," and "pee." That said, it is likely to be of immense interest to many children (or fraternity-bound college students), and may just grab the attention of children not easily enticed by reading or scientific learning. Ages 7 and up

Guide to the Human Body: A Photographic Journey Through the Human Body, by Richard Walker, DK Publishing, 2001 (64 pages, $19.95, hardcover). The Guide to the Human Body is one of the best examples of DK Publishing's ability to publish books about the human body that many would consider works of art. A glance at the cover alone had my own 6-year-old eager for more. As promised, the book delivers to its readers an unbelievable look at the "incredible systems of the body—from the tiniest cells to the largest organs"—all of which are enhanced by cutting-edge computer technology and amazing photographs. Ages 7 and up

Human Body: The Usborne Internet-Linked Library of Science, by Kirsteen Rogers and Corinne Henderson, Usborne Pub. Ltd., 2002 (64 pages, $9.95, paperback). Take a huge amount of factual information about the human body (from cells, chromosomes, and genetics to the brain, muscles, the ability to reproduce, and what medicines do), give it a contemporary layout with plenty of photos and illustrations, and print it on brightly colored backgrounds. Then add a set of related Internet links on each page to take learning beyond the pages of the book. The result is a technologically vogue version of a basic science textbook on the human body that is far more likely to appeal to young readers. Ages 8–13

Preteens and parents

The What's Happening to My Body? Book for Boys: A Growing Up Guide for Parents and Sons, third edition, by Lynda Madaras, Newmarket Press, 2000 (288 pages, $12.95, paperback). Most so-called head, shoulders, knees, and toes books for toddlers and young children omit any mention of the genitals, but many books written for preteens and teens do direct their attention to that region and to others that change during puberty and that play a role in sex and sexuality. Lynda Madaras's many years of experience as a puberty-education instructor are evident in her best-selling, straightforward, and comprehensive presentation of the physical, social, and emotional changes experienced by boys moving toward manhood. As a prolific author on the subject of puberty, the author speaks effectively to children—addressing myths, slang, and misconceptions as well as the basics. A look into this book and into Madaras's related books, including the "For Girls" version of What's Happening to My Body? and the My Body, My Self activity books for both boys and girls, is worth the time. Ages 7–13, parents



DR. JANA is a practicing pediatrician with Physicians Clinic in Omaha, Neb. She is co-founder of The Doctor Spock Company, a national parenting media company, and maintains special interests in early childhood literacy and in childhood safety and injury prevention. Dr. Jana is the mother of three young children and an avid collector of children's books.


Bookshelf: Children's books about the body, its parts, and how it works.

Contemporary Pediatrics

June 2003;20:121.

Related Videos
Wendy Ripple, MD
Wendy Ripple, MD
Courtney Nelson, MD
DB-OTO improved hearing to normal in child with profound genetic deafness | Image Credit: © Marija - © Marija -
Carissa Baker-Smith
Perry Roy, MD
Perry Roy, MD | Image Credit: Carolina Attention Specialists
Angela Nash, PhD, APRN, CPNP-PC, PMHS | Image credit: UTHealth Houston
Allison Scott, DNP, CPNP-PC, IBCLC
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.