Friday, January 29, 2021

Death Eaters: Meet Nature's Scavengers by Kelly Milner Halls

[Originally published in 2018]

Ok, I understand that not everyone will want to read further after seeing that cover, but this is a truly fascinating and compassionate look at death, the cycle of life, and decomposition. Halls addresses the science of decomposition - what happens to skin, blood, and the body after death? - and then jumps right into a description of the various creatures involved in the breakdown of the body. First are blowflies, whose life cycle includes maggots, and other bugs (did you know roly-polys eat dead bodies as well as dead plants? I did not!). The next chapter focuses on furry, or mammalian death eaters - raccoons, skunks, wolves, and yes, humans. There are also additional sections on research regarding dinosaurs as well as modern-day reptiles like monitor lizards.

The next chapter features scavengers we're all familiar with - crows and vultures - and some not-so-familiar death eaters like the bald eagle and seagulls. This chapter also delves into how humans have changed the environment, and not for the better, by killing or otherwise altering the habits of these creatures. Next we visit a whole different scene of death - the ocean. Who - or what - eats dead creatures in the ocean? Is being buried at sea a more environmentally-conscious choice? What happens to bones in the ocean?

Halls concludes the book with a thoughtful memory from her youth and a reflection on the sometimes scary and gross but always interesting processes of death. Source notes, glossary, bibliography, further reading, and photo acknowledgements are also included.

Revisited: This is still as relevant, fascinating, and delightfully gross as when I first read it. It's once of the choices for our 7th grade info unit this year and I frequently booktalk it.

Verdict: While not a topic frequently seen, this is an important subject both in science and life. Kids who are exploring science need to see the sometimes gross and scary side as well as the cute animals and exciting experiments and realize how seemingly small changes, like eliminating apparently useless creatures like vultures, can have a huge impact on the world. Recommended (but not for the weak of stomach).

ISBN: 9781512482003; Published August 2018 by Milbrook; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Purchased for the library

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