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Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes
Written by Nicola Davies, Illustrated by Emily Sutton
Published by Candlewick Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-7636-7315-4
Grades 3-5
Book Review
Where do you begin the conversation with young people about the tiny microbes in and around us everyday, some of which keep us healthy, some of which make us sick? You start with Tiny Creatures, a beautiful nonfiction picture book written by zoologist and children’s author Nicola Davies, and illustrated by Emily Sutton. Rather than attempting to be a survey book telling readers a little bit about all there is to know about microbes, it is instead an ideal example of the concept book. It focuses on the basic essentials of the concept “microbe” and includes information about size and scale, their ability to quickly reproduce, and as Davies says, the fact that “[t]hey are the invisible transformers of our world—the tiniest lives doing some of the biggest jobs.” This book doesn’t provide a full range of vocabulary; it does not discuss the difference in language between germs, bacteria, and microbes, for example. However, through concrete comparisons of size and scale, matched beautifully by Sutton’s gorgeous illustrations, your students will walk away with new awareness of what microbes are, and of how many millions of them could be growing inside of them, for better or worse!
Teaching Ideas and Invitations
Sense of Scale. How do your students develop a sense of size and scale of animals relative to one another? After reading Tiny Creatures together, read aloud Steve Jenkins’ Actual Size. How do Nicola Davies, Emily Sutton, and Steve Jenkins use both words and pictures to develop a sense of size and scale? For example, examine the illustration of the ant antenna and whale as a means of showing scale rather than accuracy of size, or the use of a drop of water or teaspoon of soil to convey numbers. How do comparisons and contrasts help your students to better understand size and scale in relation to one another? Have students research an animal, and decide what feature of the animal they would like to illustrate. Have students use something else (another animal, an everyday household object, sports equipment) to help others understand the size and scale.
Healthy Microbes. Many students may be surprised to learn that there are things that are alive that are not animals or plants! Students may be even more surprised to learn that there are important microbes living inside of them. Have your students explore what some of these microbes do to keep the ecosystems inside their body healthy! Have students illustrate particular microbes from particular parts of the body, and write a few sentences describing what they do. Using pictures of microbes, have students convey a sense of accurate color and scale. Recognizing that they will be drawing them much larger than they are, have students do the math to determine the level of magnification their drawings are taking on. Use resources listed below to assist you in your explorations.
Vocabulary of Microbes. After reading Tiny Creatures together as a read aloud, list your students’ questions about all things microbes. After all, microbes can be many things. What are germs? Bacteria? Viruses? Use some of the digital and print resources below to begin to develop a working vocabulary of these types of microbes. Students can work together in pairs or small groups to write and illustrate a class book to share their research.
Microbe Reproduction. How fast can microbes split to reproduce? The example of e-coli is quite startling! Find information about how fast other microbes split, and have students read about those different microbes in small groups. Have each group pictorially represent the germs splitting the way in which Davies and Sutton do in this Tiny Creatures.  
Pathologist Visit. Have a pathologist visit from a local hospital, or do a Skype visit with one if you life in a rural area without close access to someone. What made him or her choose to become a pathologist? What is it like to study microscopic pictures? Have him/her share slides if possible, and ask students to identify what they see, practicing their “close viewing” and descriptive language skills.
Microbes at Work in Compost. Davies mentions compost and yogurt as two concrete examples of microbes at work. Does your school have a composting program? If not, perhaps you and your class can write a persuasive letter to the head of your food service requesting that such a program be initiated in the school cafeteria. This might serve as a catalyst for planning a school garden in the spring! If interested, see our entry on It’s Our Garden and Planting the Wild Garden.
Microbes at Work in Yogurt. Ask your students how yogurt is made. What do they think happens? Next, bring in a yogurt maker and have the students experience the difference between milk and yogurt. What happens when the milk is heated up and microbes from older yogurt are added? Have students describe the taste and texture of milk in their science journals, and then describe the taste and texture of yogurt. Next, have them review and write down the process of making yogurt. Finally, have them pose questions about what might be happening to the milk that turns it into yogurt, and have them make predictions about what they think microbes are doing, based on what they learned. You can then fill them in on what does happen. 
Author Study. Nicola Davies has a Ph.D. in zoology, but writes for children and young adults about scientific issues. After reading Tiny Creatures, place students in small groups reading a nonfiction book of their choice authored by Davies. It may be possible to get copies of the books you need for small groups through interlibrary loan. Ask your school or local librarian if this is possible!  What do students see as similarities and differences within her body of work? Have students identify her writing style and how she addresses concepts in her work. Next, have them research a scientific topic of their own choosing, and emulate some aspect of Davies’ writing style that they have identified. 
Further Explorations
Digital Resources
Nicola Davies’ Official Website
Emily Sutton’s Official Website
Microbe World
Microbe Magazine
BBC for Kids – “Bitesize” Videos on Microbes
Kids Discover Issue on Mircrobes
NOTE: Check databases available via your school and local library for articles from this issue that you can have students read on laptops or tablets or using your LCD projector/Smart Board.
Microbe Magic
Live Science: Microbiome Surprising Facts
Corcoran, M. (2011). The quest to digest. Ill. by  J. Czekaj. Watertown, MA:
Gardy, J. (2014). It’s catching: The infectious world of germs and microbes. Toronto, CA:
Jenkins, S. (2004). Actual size. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Leet, K. (2012). Food intruders: Invisible creatures lurking in your food. [Tiny Creepy
Creatures series]. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishing. 
—-(2012). Yard monsters: Invisible creatures lurking in your backyard. [Tiny Creepy
Creatures series]. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishing. 
Simon, S. (2005). Guts: Our digestive system. New York: Harper Collins.
Swanson, J. (2012). Body bugs: Invisible creatures lurking inside you. [Tiny Creepy       
Creatures series]. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishing. 
—–(2012) Uninvited guests: Invisible creatures lurking in your home. [Tiny Creepy
Creatures series]. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishing. 
Weakland, M. (2011). Gut bugs, dustmites, and other microorganisms you can’t live     without. North Mankato, MN: Capstone Publishing.  

Mary Ann Cappiello About Mary Ann Cappiello

Mary Ann is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former public school language arts and humanities teacher, she is a passionate advocate for and commentator on children’s books. Mary Ann is the co-author of Teaching with Text Sets (2013) and Teaching to Complexity (2015) and Text Sets in Action: Pathways Through Content Area Literacy (Stenhouse, 2021). She has been a guest on public radio and a consultant to public television. From 2015-2018, Mary Ann was a member of the National Council of Teachers of English's Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction (K-8) Committee, serving two years as chair.