Book Reviews: Photo Essay

Guts; Our Digestive System

Cover art for GUTS

Simon, Seymour. 2005. Guts; Our Digestive System. New York: HarperCollins Publisher. ISBN

Seymour Simon describes the human digestive system using everyday language in this stunning photo essay.

Critical Analysis:
In this photo essay, the artwork consists of an authentic collection of photographs, drawings, and color enhanced x-rays Simon obtained from a variety of research organizations.  The essays alternate between white text on black pages, and black text on white pages.  The simple layout featuring full page photographs opposite one full page of text per topic holds the reader’s interest.  Each essay introduces key terms, followed by their descriptions in everyday language.  The easy to read paragraphs prevent the vocabulary of scientific terms from becoming overwhelming.  These essays assume the reader is interested enough in the topic to either learn how to pronounce the large words or ask for help.  There are no parenthetical pronunciations in the text.  Each organ is carefully described including the location and its function within the human body.  The beautifully published work, full of colorful photographs, would be an excellent addition to a children’s non-fiction collection.

“Guts takes the mystery out of something that happens to everyone, every day, while at the same time sharing a sense of wonder about the human body.”
Book Verdict/School Library Journal

Guts has a lot going for it. In addition to its charmingly pithy title, it’s decorated with any number of computer-enhanced Technicolor photographs of innards and bears the predominantly white-on-black design that is Simon’s trademark. It’s also written in standard Simon prose: By now, the author has perfected the art of boiling down the complexities of science into a simple, declarative sequence that, in this case, leads readers from the mouth to the anus. Along the way, they will learn of the dizzying variety of glands and goos that go into the digestive process, as well as the many organs from the epiglottis to the appendix. While the text would almost certainly have been improved by a pronunciation guide (how many child readers will know exactly what to do with “chyme”?) and would definitely have been improved by a bibliography or list of added resources, it does its job as efficiently as its subject does. Simon’s books remain blessedly free of distracting sidebars and other trendy bells and whistles, and that simplicity in itself may be one of the keys to his enduring success.”
Kirkus Reviews

Connections:Read out loud activity: Read this book out loud to the class, then pass out 3 x 5 cards, each listing a vocabulary word that was described in the book.  Working alone or in groups, have the student(s) write down what they remember hearing about the word.  Then have the student go to a dictionary or textbook and look up the word, write down the definition and practice pronouncing it.  Then each student or group can share something new they learned about the word with the class.

For young students: Without reading the text, show the photos to the group and ask the students what they think the picture is about.  After letting them offer suggestions, you could tell them about the picture by taking excerpts from the essay.  Have the students perform the actions, such as chewing and swallowing, or point to the organ’s location on their own bodies.