Tapeworms, fleas and lice: an illustrated book about parasites -- for children

Categories: Literature

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Some things, once seen, cannot be unseen.
There are just some topics that the shorties don't need to have rattling around in their malleable little cranial cavities. Subjects like incarceration, nail fungus, sales tax, methamphetamines, the GOP and proper care of houseplants are ones best reserved for 22-year-old college dropouts -- not toddlers. I say let the kiddos expend their energy and time wedging earring backs and Cheez-It crumbles into their sinuses instead of Febreezing their own little mattresses and sobbing with terror every night before bed.

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Because this won't keep kids awake at night.
I found this book, What's Eating You?: Parasites: The Inside Story, by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Neal Layton, sticking out of a bin at Hobby Lobby, ostentatiously displaying its back cover art: a disproportionately large human gut filled with green goop and a wriggling pink tapeworm swimming around in it with a conversation balloon placed next to its head that reads, "Howdy!"

I bought the book, took it home, and I was equal parts enthralled and repulsed. The inside bindings were decorated with glossy depictions of curling human hair filled with nits (lice eggs), and the introductory pages were filled with amiable greetings and pleasant descriptions of how we humans are "walking habitats" for over 430 different types of parasites. It's also important to note that the curling human hair on the back binding contains hatched and active adult lice, one of which, apparently, can speak English enough to offer a pleasant greeting.

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This hair is really nitty.
Ectoparasites, those which live outside the body, are something that can't possibly get the kids all riled up in a good way. Amid cartoonish illustrations are these arrow-encased nuggets of info about the disgusting realities of how bats house five different kinds of parasitic earwigs, how flies lay eggs on frogs so that the ensuing maggots can eat the frog's flesh and how blue sharks have parasites that live in their nostrils.

The descriptions of endoparasites, those which live inside the body, are probably going to cause more child-distress than the former, since the now-fearful and obsessed offspring can at least search their own cracks and crevasses for hiders, but they can't see or root around for the internal nasties. My favorite part of this chapter is the picture of a worm-ridden human walking a worm-ridden dog and above it in the info balloon it reads, "Inside humans there can be guinea worms living in the legs, nematodes in the eyes and toxoplasma in the brain, organs and muscles." And I won't even mention what kinds of creepy crawlers live inside the dog.

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