Dawn Cusick, author
Dawn Cusick enjoys making science education fun for both kids and adults. Dawn writes award-winning children's nature nonfiction books. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, a certificate of post-Baccalaureate Major in Biology from the University of North Carolina-Asheville, and a Masters of Science in Biology from Western Carolina University. Her research work involves species' recognition and speciation in cryptic katydids. She teaches general biology and zoology courses at Haywood Community College.
Read more about Dawn.
- An NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12
- IRA/CBC Children's Choices list
- Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year
From bluebird and alpaca droppings to buffalo dung and termite frass, an upbeat guide to coprology, the study of feces.
Who knew that possums release a sticky green anal liquid when threatened, that some animals use defensive defecation to frighten predators, that moose poo makes good jewelry or that some animals practice coprophagia, or feces eating? If it’s possible for a nonfiction work to have too much information, this volume may be the case. But Cusick affects a compensatory subversive tone: This isn’t a work for squeamish adults; it’s for kids who supposedly delight in all things scatological, and they’re encouraged to "[j]ust hide the book in your backpack or your sock drawer and make sure [adults] don’t catch you grinning after you’ve been looking at it." Who wouldn’t be grinning after reading about dung spiders that look like "a pile of poop," plankton poo or the variations in color of Adélie penguin droppings? Rooted in a tremendous amount of research, as indicated by the two-page list of acknowledgments, this is a bright and inviting treatment of an unusual subject. Every page is packed with colorful photographs, and the text is an accumulation of snippets, a few sentences about each of the hundreds of topics. A browser’s delight.
So much information presented that readers may well be pooped when they finish.
As a natural by-product of her Bug Butts (2009), Cusick drops compact pellets of general scientific information about the appearance, composition, and uses of poop around lots of big color photos and micro-photos of animals and animal waste. Her disquisition on dung won't sit atop a pile of similar outpourings, however, because a fuzzy claim that pinworms propagate via eggs that travel from the anus to the mouth of the same host (instead of a new host) joins a disingenuous refusal to include certain synonyms in a glossary because they "will make adult eyebrows go up and get you in trouble," and a later discussion of poop's use in self-defense that contains a clumsily phrased invitation to check another page "to learn more about animals that do this behavior." Still, the topic is endlessly fascinating to some, and emerging coprologists will enjoy sitting down with this digestible survey.
This is a book that is sure to attract the attention of all who encounter it, and one that will surely be read by those who are curious to find out whether a usually taboo subject is really being addressed. The ways in which living things get rid of food waste is thoroughly addressed in every possible way, and reading this book can answer any question the reader might have about fecal material. Most adults who are not biologists will find the subject material gross but fascinating, and biologists themselves might find some of the information new and interesting as well.
Only those who study coprology (the study of feces) would probably be thoroughly knowledgeable about the information described in this book. There is a vocabulary list of terms used in the first part of the book that introduces the terminology used. In the sections throughout the book, the various ways animals use fecal material, including use as food, territorial marking, protection, camouflage, decoration, and nesting, are all explored. Photos of a variety of animals and their feces are found next to the descriptive text. The ecological impact of fecal material and how it fits into the cycles of life are discussed, including the use of manure as fertilizer and as fuel in many cultures. The way that the digestion of seeds often gets them ready to germinate is illustrated. Parasites and spread of disease through poor sanitation are described as well; many readers might be more likely to wash their hands after reading this frank discussion.
There are extra activities proposed at the end of the book for interested students, a glossary, and index, and a large list of contributors. This book would be of interest to readers from middle grades up. Teachers should be aware that there may be some reservations on the part of parents and administrators about the use of this book in the classroom, and teachers should read it themselves before deciding to use it. However, it is bound to get even the most reluctant reader to actually read a book.
School Library Journal
With its glossy full-color illustrations and bubbly conspiratorial tone (that always seems to be saying, "Isn't poo icky? Don't tell the grownups!"), this loosely organized collection of scatological facts will appeal to the gross-out instincts of young readers. The pleasing graphic design and the scattering of items on each page give the book a hyperlinked feel; unfortunately, that also means lost opportunities for connections and context, and more complicated concepts going unexplained. Some attempts are made to provide cross-references to other items in the book; however that space might have been better used to clarify the text instead. Topics covered include digestive systems of various animals, parasites, animals that eat feces, and bathroom habits. Back matter includes a guide to identify types of animal feces, a "poo interview" with a veterinarian, activity ideas, a glossary and reading list (adults may be taken aback to find Matt Pagett's What Shat That? among the titles recommended), a subject index, and an index by organism.
In this extensive and wide-ranging guide to animal feces, Cusick discusses types of animal droppings, terminology, the logistics of defecation for aquatic species, the ways in which poop contributes to ecosystems and food chains, how animals communicate using feces, and more. The overall design is a bit cluttered and dated-looking: photographs depict numerous animals—including opossums, sloths, penguins, and the viceroy and white admiral caterpillars (which camouflage themselves as bird droppings)—and their waste products, while sidebars explain unusual uses for poop, such as a "Geisha facial" made from nightingale feces. An interview with a veterinarian and ideas for poop-related learning activities (a scavenger hunt for worm castings, anyone?) urge readers to explore the science behind the giggle-inducing topic.
Library Media Connection
The subtitle of this book, 251 Cool Facts about Scat, Frass, Dung, and More! really summarizes its contents. Whether scientists are studying an animal's feces to discover its diet or people are using yak dung as a heating source, this book is a real tell-all about poop. Each page has several colorful photographs and a short paragraph or two describing an interesting fact about animal feces. The reader discovers the ways animal feces are essential to other animal life and extremely important to humans as well. At the end of the book there is a short interview with a vet, and a "learn more" section with great ideas for those young scientists eager to pursue the topic. Some young readers may turn up their noses at this book but the nature of this topic and its easy-to-read style are sure to attract a crowd. Bibliography. Glossary.
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Page count: 80
8 x 10