TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER: ‘Screaming Hairy Armadillo’ teaches children about adult-level science | News

How many names do you have?

Like most people, you probably have three or four that you got when you were born. Your mom calls you “Honey,” Dad calls you “Kiddo,” Grandma calls you “Sweetheart,” your friends call you one thing, your coach calls you something else. So you’re a kid with a lot of names but things could be a lot worse, as you’ll see in “The Screaming Hairy Armadillo” by Matthew Murrie and Steve Murrie, illustrated by Julie Benbassat.

Like every kid in the world, say the authors, every animal needs a name. It has to be more than just Fluffy or Max, though; animals need a species name to allow scientists to “refer to [them] accurately … ” Because of science, every animal gets a “scientific name” that might be hard to say, most get a “common name” that’s easier to pronounce; and there are times when the naming gets a little crazy.

Take, for instance, the Yeti crab.

Yes, it’s a crab but it looks like the Abominable Snowman (a Yeti), due to its size and its hairy body. You won’t want to shave it, though: the Yeti crab relies on that hair for the bacteria it eats for its dinner.

Some creatures are named to reflect their appearance, which is the case with the naked mole rat, which has no fur, just skin and long teeth, and a body that contains a chemical that keeps cancer away. Even so, the naked mole rat doesn’t make a good pet, nor does a smooth-headed blobfish, a very, very ugly fish that lives very, very deep in the ocean.

And just to prove, once and for all, that scientists aren’t super-strict folks with no sense of humor, check this out: there’s a Heerz lukenatcha wasp and a Pieza pi fly (say them out loud). There’s the sparkle-muffin peacock spider, whose “muffin” … sparkles. There’s the blue-footed booby (its name is explained in the book). And then there’s the “striped pyjama squid,” a creature you absolutely do not want to take to bed with you.

Who says that non-fiction, “true story” books have to be stuffy? Not Matthew Murrie or Steve Murrie or Julie Benbassat. Nope, their information is serious and seriously silly fun, which is why your child is going to love “The Screaming Hairy Armadillo.”

Don’t discount this book as all laughs, though. The authors are careful to explain to kids how science works when it comes to assigning taxonomic monikers, and why it’s important. This is done in kid-friendly terms that will inform a science-minded child but won’t frustrate a kid who’s not, which accomplishes two things: it teaches children about adult-level science, the environment, and the habitats and habits of various kinds of animals and insects; and it’s done without making it seem like any kind of instruction happened at all.

For parents and teachers, that’s a double-win. For kids ages 7-to-14, “weird, wild” is the appeal, so get “The Screaming Hairy Armadillo.” Yep, fun learning is the name of the game.

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