Poo from top to bottom

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Poo (A Natural History of the Unmentionable); By Nicola Davies , illustrated by Neal Layton Walker pound;7.99; www.walkerbooks.co.uk

Children's innate fascination with all things lavatorial will ensure Nicola Davies's Natural History of the Unmentionable is of immediate interest to young readers aged five and over.

Not only will they be captivated by the subject matter, but this clever book will also - almost without them realising - reinforce their scientific knowledge and understanding in a number of key areas. Beginning with unsavoury details on the size and consistency of a variety of animal poos, links between poo and digestion, excretion (obviously), food chains, habitats, microbes and seed dispersal are all clearly explained in an engaging style that does not shy away from science.

The book is peppered with fascinating facts, ranging from how animals - including humans - have used poo as a building material, to why people in a remote Australian town acknowledge the dung beetle's importance with a six-storey-high model.

Moreover, the utterly revolting phenomenon of poo-eating, it transpires, is actually a practical way for animals to disguise their own smell when hunting, or to ensure the transfer of vital intestinal microbes from one generation to the next.

From topic headings such as Sloppy or Ploppy? to a glossary that includes not just faeces and coprophage, but also "number twos", the pervading tone is a lively mixture of toilet humour and fact. The jubilant handling of such delicate material is perfectly complemented by Neal Layton's hilarious illustrations. This book has child appeal by the bucketful and (let's be honest here) will probably inform and amuse no end of adults too.

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