Gross things are always perennial favorites for kids… and adults. Stiff : the Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach was the first nonfiction book I read as an adult that delved into a more “unsavory” topic in an entertaining and informative way. Since reading it, I’m always looking for more nonfiction that explains some of the more disgusting aspects of life. I’m really not sure what it is about puke and farts that pique our interests, but these kinds of books never fail to attract the attention of both avid and reluctant readers. Giggles and “Ewwwwwws” are like music to a librarian’s ears when kids are reacting to books!

Today I’ve included three nonfiction books about icky topics that I’ve read in the past few weeks. Besides browsing appeal, these books could also be used in science courses talking about life cycles, animal behaviors, human biology, and more. Just don’t eat your lunch while you read these!


ROTTENRotten! : Vultures, Beetles, Slime, and Nature’s Other Decomposers written by Anita Sanchez and illustrated by Gilbert Ford. HMH. ISBN 9781328841650. January 2019.

Grades 3-6. Rotten! is the story of decomposition and how important this step is in nature’s circle of life. The humble dung beetle, vultures, and fungi are just some of the creatures that are investigated in this book. Why are scavengers like sharks and bears integral to ecosystems? What good are earthworms? Why are vultures so ugly? These are just a few of the myriad of facts kids will learn. I personally find fungi to be fascinating, and there really isn’t a lot of information out there about mushrooms and the like for younger readers. Not only do they break down soil to help new trees grow, but they can also break down toxic materials like chemicals and pesticides. The pages are highly illustrated with cute nature scenes that enhance the information. There’s also a glossary in the back of the book with vocabulary words, an index, and a bibliography for ambitious readers who want to dive even deeper into the wonders of decomposition.


SNIFFSniff, Lick & Scratch : The Science of These and Other Disgusting Animal Habits written by Julia Garstecki and illustrated by Chris Malone. Hachette. ISBN 9780760363454. November 2018.

Grades 4-6. Animals (humans included) do weird and icky things. Spraying stinky smells, sniffing butts, and regurgitating food are just some of the wildly gross things readers will learn about as they read Sniff, Lick & Scratch. The animals included range from cats and dogs to hippos and blue whales. Besides being disgustingly entertaining, the sections also include vocabulary words to explain unfamiliar concepts to readers, like symbiotic relationships or defense mechanisms. The gross things aren’t just mentioned and illustrated- the reasons why these animals do these things, whether for protection, attraction, or food, are explained. While this book is excellent for browsing and passing around to friends, it could also be used to supplement units on animal behavior. Don’t be surprised when the word “coprophagy” starts being heard around school after kids devour this one.


DIDYOUJUSTEATDid You Just Eat That? : Two Scientists Explore Double-Dipping, the Five-Second Rule, and Other Food Myths in the Lab written by Paul Dawson and Brian Sheldon. W. W. Norton. ISBN 9780393609752. November 2018.

Grades 11 and Up. Although this book is technically for adult audiences, it could definitely find application in high school biology or home economics classrooms. Did You Just Eat That? delves into common food myths and explains the reality behind all the microbes and other nasty things everywhere around us. The prologue gives in depth information on everything about germs. The subsequent sections on surface, air and water, and transport mechanisms dive into the five-second rule (not true), hand dryers, and the dangers of double dipping (don’t do it). Each food myth is investigated with an experiment done by the authors, which the experiment laid out like a scientific study. While the book in its entirety may be a lot for high schoolers to read on their own, sections would be great supplemental texts for AP or honors biology courses. An epilogue about food safety and foodborne illnesses includes tips on how to reduce the risk of food poisoning, ranging from making sure certain foods are refrigerated to the all-important task of washing your hands before dealing with food.