Microbe Wars

Microbe Wars
Gill Arbuthnott and Marianna Madriz
Templar Publishing

Despite this book not being a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as changing our lives considerably, said pandemic seems to have spawned a number of books for children on the topic of microbes. But we humans have waged war on these micro organisms – only visible by means of an electron microscope – for thousands of years as they’re responsible for the spreading of the most deadly diseases in history. However it’s not only humans that fight microbes, sometimes it’s a case of microbes versus microbes, or humans fighting each other with microbes. Did you know that there are around a trillion microbe species in all, many of which are as yet unknown?

After a couple of introductory spreads mentioning some of the microbes from Protozoa to the bird flu virus, there’s a double page on the Black Death aka the plague, 

followed by another with information about several other diseases caused by microbes: Spanish flu, malaria and smallpox – it’s possible that Pharaoh Rameses V died of smallpox, a disease which happily, thanks to Edward Jenner’s vaccination, and the determination of the WHO, has since 1980, been exterminated.

As yet this isn’t so for COVID19 despite the vaccines now being rolled out, and perhaps never will be; but not all microbes are bad. Indeed there are many helpful ones: we wouldn’t be able to digest our food without those microbiomes in the gut. 

Other microbes help in the production of popular foods such as yogurt and cheeses, while still others are used in medicines for the treatment of diabetes and even some cancers. Indeed, the scientific innovations continue to bring hope and one never knows what the next amazing step on this life-changing journey will offer. That’s the message that emerges from this fascinating, sometimes funny book by one time science teacher, author Gill Arbuthnott, and illustrator Marianna Madriz whose lively, often gently humorous illustrations infuse the information with drama.

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut / Make & Play: Space / Balloon to the Moon

Here are three very different books all with a space theme:

Suzy Orbit, Astronaut
Ruth Quayle and Jez Tuya
Nosy Crow

Space engineer, Suzy Orbit lives with her boss, Captain Gizmo in a lunar space station.

One morning they learn that aliens have been spotted within range of their location and they need to act quickly to launch their space pod. The Captain orders one forthwith but it arrives without batteries and those the Captain has don’t fit.
Furthermore his shiny new space suit is way too small and as the aliens have by now arrived, it’s pointless trying to get a new speak-o-phone.

Happily though, the aliens are peaceable beings but they have bad news to share. Earth is about to be blasted by a meteor storm unless Suzy and her boss can stop it. No pressure there then.

Fortunately Suzy, with her tools always to hand, is an engineer extraordinaire and just happens to have a wonderful new invention ready and waiting. It’s as well that one of the team realises that it’s better to rely on ingenuity than ordering things on the net. Before you can say ‘blaster’ the two are heading out into the meteor storm with Suzy at the controls to do battle with those errant meteoroids. Can they save the day and see off the storm?

It’s great to see Suzy as a positive STEM character in the role of engineer/inventor in Ruth Quayle’s quirky tale. Jez Tuya’s bold illustrations show her as having determination and resourcefulness – exactly what’s needed in the face of the Captain’s lack of drive and inability to show any innovative aptitude.

Make & Play: Space
Joey Chou
Nosy Crow

The latest of Joey Chou’s Make & Play interactive activity book series is sure to please young space enthusiasts.
It contains eight pages of bold, brightly coloured, double-sided press-out play pieces that can be used to create a space scene (some have a hole to suspend with thread while others slide together to stand). The entire set would make a great diorama with space dogs, aliens, astronauts and spacecraft, though if desired, the pieces can be fitted back into the spirally bound book for safe keeping.

There are also other space-related activities – a fruit rocket made from fresh fruit pieces; a song to learn; a ‘blast-off rocket’ science experiment, alien models to create (they could be made into puppets perhaps) and more.
There are hours of fun to be had with this, whether used by an individual, or a small group of young children.

For older space enthusiasts is:

Balloon to the Moon
Gill Arbuthnott and Christopher Nielson
Big Picture Press

Rather than concentrating on the Space Race, this takes a historic look at the steps that began in the late 18th century with the Montgolfier brothers flight of a large unmanned balloon and led on to their sending a variety of animals skywards on a 3km flight three months later.

In the same year came the first manned untethered flight by inventor Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes who flew 8km in a Montgolfier balloon. Hot on their heels came the first woman to do similar, the following year (1784). There’s a whole spread given over to this balloon bonanza.

The narrative then shifts to the first half of the 20th century with a look at some aviation pioneers, followed by a focus on some iconic planes.

I was especially pleased to find some literary references on the opening page of the ‘rockets section’ where there’s a mention of both Cyrano de Bergerac and Jules Verne. The author uses numbers in her selection of what she includes so we have, for instance ‘8 Rockets’

and ‘Into the Unknown 7’. The seven referring to the seven animals that became the first astronauts; and this chapter cleverly links these with an explanation of g-forces and their relation to fighter pilots and astronauts.

Much of the remaining part of the book provides information on the endeavours of the US and the Soviet Union to win the space race; and what happened thereafter. In conclusion there’s a quick look at some of the new information the Apollo Moon flights gave us; what ‘space travel has done for life on earth’ and a final look to the future.

Christopher Nielson’s retro style illustrations are full of humorous touches adding to the allure of the book and the enjoyment of the whole narrative.