Attack of the Septapus -or- Why are you doing this to my kid?

Fuel

Lately, my students and I have been studying not only the effectiveness of biological illustrations, but also the efficacy of their own illustrations to personally enhance the knowledge of abstract concepts.  As well, I have been engaged in some short but interesting discussions with Dr. Mishra at MSU concerning the validity of visualizations.  None of these interesting interactions, however, hold a candle to those between my eldest daughter and I.  Big surprise, huh?

dumb numbers book

She has shelves upon shelves of amazing books that have come from her mom and I, gifts from others, or direct picks from Delaney herself.  One of these books is the subject of this post.  I had noticed the scientific inaccuracies on “number seven” before today.  Yet-  I hadn’t really looked seriously at what was going on because I generally hate this book, and usually try to get mommy to read this one when it comes up.  Yes, this one was a gift.  No biology instructor would ever purposefully unleash this one upon their progeny.

Details?  Who cares?

I understand where you are coming from if you tell me the content details that are so fouled up here aren’t important at age two.  I get that.  However, this kid can tell the difference between a barracuda and a salmon in one book, and then be able to transfer what a barracuda looks like and “does” when seeing a photograph of mine flash across my laptop’s screen saver:

barracuda!

I don’t know.  As I’ve said before, I’m no early childhood expert.  My learning about EC education occurs as we experience it through our lovely daughters.  However, I have to at least give myself props for keen observation skills and an active framework for constructivist learning (as well as other approaches).

However, page seven of this book is just… well…  dumb.  Page seven features an octopus as a painter with tubes of paint in all tentacles.  Not only is this the representative creature for the number seven, it has seven tentacles.  Yes-  count them.  Seven tentacles.  One tube of paint in each.  Not to menton the fact that the page goes on to suggest that seven rainbow paints can “…make a world of make-believe or Never Never Land.”  Wow. Ok.

page seven in a dumb book

All silliness aside…  are you kidding me?  Page seven?  The octopus sits on page seven in this book?  I mean, this creature isn’t named “tentacle-critter.”  It is named “OCTO-pus” as in:  eight.  Eight of something-  you don’t even need to know what.  But ask someone before you put the brush into the paint can next time.  Seriously.  Or wait-  perhaps the illustrator simply applied color to the author’s words?  Regardless, there you have it in the end, a seven-tentacled beast staring gleefully back at you.  Am I saying that a children’s author needs to hold a degree in biology?  Not remotely.  Though I would argue that if you wish to publish, take note of basic prefixes.

What I thought a few weeks ago was a glaring error, just tonight became a full-on dumbfest.  A silly soiree.  When skipping to page ten, we see ten terrific sea turtles.  Actually, according to the book, we see “ten tiny tortoises swimming in the sea.”  Yeah-  no.  No we don’t.  I am willing to bet no one has seen tortoises swimming in the sea.  Considering the general common language surrounding the taxonomic order Chelonia is that all are turtles.  Those spending their lives near water (and especially those spending it in water) are always referred to as turtles.  Only those living the most terrestrial of lives get to be called tortoises.  Even those in the middle, who spend some of their lives near water are often referred to as terrapins…  but never tortoises.  A book depicting “tortoises” doing loop-de-loops in the sea, is not for me.

page ten of a dumb book.

What is this-  a conspiracy?

I have no author to blame here.  Honestly, I can’t.  This book hasn’t an author listed, an illustrator credited, etc.  The front and back covers depict a series of books called “Animal Crackers” to which this particular volume belongs, although there is no other information to be found.  I would chalk this up to the nature of a children’s book, though all of our others seemingly have a plethora of documentation and credits.  I do suspect that it makes some sick sense to not want any sort of “credit” for this remarkable work to be placed upon your resume.  The only thing I can find on the back cover is “Copyright 2005 Edicart – Printed in China for Books Are Fun Ltd., 1680 Highway 1 North, Fairfield, Iowa.”

My wife is from Iowa.  Smart people hail from Iowa.  So tell me readers…  why am I crazy here?  Why is this really no big deal at all?  Why is it not embarrasingly funny and sad all in one icky-literacy-burrito?

Sean Nash

District Online Learning Coordinator (eCampus) in a large public district of over thirty individual schools. Most recently, a district instruction coordinator. Biology instructor since 1993. Find more about my passions and my work at http://nashworld.me

34 Comments

  1. Recycle that sucka. Seriously. It is MORE, not less, important that those producing books for children be careful about the details. Number 7 is failblog material. Number 10 drives me particularly crazy as a Brit, since we always distinguish between land-dwelling chelonians as tortoises and their aquatic cousins as turtles.

    In parental and educational solidarity, Ed

    • @Ed Webb, Ahhhhhhhh yes, the failblog! What a fantastic suggestion. Redo of that image coming up for sure. Same here on #10, though several people have told me face to face today that they wouldn’t have noticed that one if I hadn’t said anything. Yes. I do work in a school. A bit creepy. I will give most people #10. But seven? Please…

      • @nashworld, Being that I do invertebrate bio I would NOT be surprised. I always hope though that the language connection works it’s magic…”oh, octo- yeah eight!”

  2. @Ed,
    Thank you for the advice- I will recycle that “sucka” as soon as the little one goes to bed tonight.

    Another thing that always bothered me about this book is the fact that the numbers are doubled, as in, a set of ten, or nine, or eight for each page. So, if your little one is counting, she actually counts twenty tiny turtles rather than ten. Just one more reason to get rid of the book in my opinion.

    Unfortunately, she just saw the pictures while I was writing this, and now she wants me to read it to her. Sigh.

    • @Erin, You can’t toss it now. This is just too much fun at this point. Sick, sad, fun in fact. I need to bring this one to school and prop it prominently on a bookcase for kicks from time to time.

      • @nashworld,

        You could always bring it to class and have the students find the errors, though that would be more effective with elementary students. I suggest you consider some books published by Charlesbridge Press. They do a great job of incorporating science into picture books in an imaginative way. They are great with alphabet and counting books, many of which are on my web site on the page I linked to on picture books. Most have gorgeous illustrations and are great introductions to the world of nature.

  3. Ouch!! That #7 would have flipped me right out!
    I agree with Ed, compost or recyle that puppy.

    • @Eric, interesting blog there, for sure. (same to @Ed up above) Just read your “About” page and, hey… what is it about the eclectic set here on this blog? I love it. Thanks for weighing in. 😉

  4. I knew it when I saw the book—if is from the company that sells books in teacher’s lounges and mall kiosks. We have books in our lounge from a company called Imagine Nation (Books Are Fun are now part of that company)–they look like stuff that a book store like Borders might have in their bargain bins outside the store. For some reason a lot of their children’s books have fur on them, did a school give the ook as a gift? Yuk.

    • @Nancy, Yep- that’s the one. That’s the company that prompts the periodic e-mail from the librarian about “last chance to get your order in for Books Are Fun.” Yum.

      “With fur on them…” That seriously cracked me up the moment I read it. Why? Because it is so true. Perhaps they also deal in velvet Elvii? Can I say it that way?

      But no- not given by a school teacher.

    • @Punya, yeah- I totally agree on the value of the book. It is quite valuable. (and not just because it is amusing)

      And wow- nice addition there to our growing vortex of visualization. That is a seriously interesting website highlighted within the post. I am impressed by the focused attention in preserving the metaphor. I love it. I am 1/2 down the page and I will have to come back.

      Thanks a ton…

  5. Hope you don’t mind a little and copy and paste of my reply on your same topic on the Synapse. Just was lazy and didn’t want to retype!

    Great post about a terrible book. 🙂 I will now know not to buy that for my nieces and nephew!

    It actually reminds me of a couple of problems I always have with science books in general
    1. Finding decent books to buy them that have to do with science (as well as other things). My sis and I have talked about this a lot to the point where I have contemplated writing childrens’ books with science themes and she would be the illustrator (I can’t draw- she can!) I promise I won’t have as my typos as compared to here if that happens!
    2. Misconceptions, misconceptions, misconceptions- they are so hard to reverse! For example I get annoyed with the blue blood in circulatory diagrams b/c I always get the question of “isn’t blood really blue until it hits the air?” I know text illustrators use it to differentiate blood with less oxygen but this misconception starts w/kids books back in elementary school. Even w/photosynthesis- there is a misconception that oxygen that plants release comes from from the CO2 that plants take in when oxygen comes from the splitting of water. (My HS bio kids were driving me crazy with this.) Any others? I know there are many.
    3. And don’t even get me started w/movies! In fact that is one area my seniors look into- what is the biology or science behind books, movies, TV, and simply the news.

    PS And I am showing your blog to my seniors tomorrow.

    • @Debar Garcia, 1) I agree. In fact, you (and Dean Shareski in a web conference tonight) have inspired an upcoming post highlighting a really wonderful children’s book. In fact, I have just the book in mind. It even has a “nature” theme. Go figure, huh?

      2) You are absolutely right. Without confronting misconceptions when first introducing new learning to our students… we are fighting a losing battle. Brains are far too smart to easily give up something that “makes sense.”

      3) I won’t get you started. If we get into film, we won’t get anything else done, and my entire blog will take on a new theme.

      ps- Students, eh? It’s about time we brought some real critics into the conversation. Good idea. I’m assuming your bio topics class? I hope that turns our interesting for you… you’ll have to let me know how it goes.

      • @nashworld, Didn’t get to see the conference but would love to hear about this book! Can I still see the web conference somewhere?

  6. FYI everyone…

    I’m in Mrs. Garcia’s class. She misspelled her name. It’s Debra. 😛

    This isn’t the first time she’s done this…

    For a Grad school application she filled out, she had edited it over and over, finally asked her husband to proofread it, and then sent it in. Later after looking over the application she realized she had spelled her name “Debar Garlic”. She got in, but I guess auto-correct isn’t so helpful after all… hehe

    • @Carmen, Thanks for remembering that and for telling the world that story Carmen. Don’t mention the university so that we don’t ruin its reputation.

  7. I think that this is really interesting, but I in no way am upset/freaked out by this. Kids are not going to be forever wronged because of a silly picture book like this. If you want to go down this road, why not comment on how the “octopus” is pink and is painting..those are fallacies too.

    • @Jamie, honestly… many really do assume a rather “pink” hue in nature. However, what is far more interesting is the fact that they can so rapidly change color depending on their surroundings, the “mood,” etc.

      And you’re right… if she was “wronged,” then it is too late by now. 😉 I doubt it is that crucial. However, look back at the cover of the book. Here we see a panda in front of a monitor… with a keyboard… and a MOUSE! yes, a mouse. Get it? See my point. This artist gets nuance. This artist appreciates small details that creatively deliver a message beyond the obvious. What they don’t get is biology. At all. 😉

  8. This same problem is true for children’s books (and textbooks) about the Pilgrims and the Indians…they all sat down to have a nice meal and then lived happily ever after… NOT. More like land disputes erupted everywhere and Indians were shoved off land that was rightfully theirs. Yet children’s books give the impression of peaceful, loving, hand-holding pilgrims and Indians. The Disney movie Pocahontas is also pretty skewed and false.

    • @Carley, hmmmm… now you’ve taken the discussion into more serious territory, haven’t you? That is far deeper than the facts of the appendage count of an invertebrate being misrepresented.

      I like how you connected this little nugget that I have successfully blown up here on the blog, into the much larger issue of media literacy. “Media literacy” is a term that is currently gaining strength as people begin to find the value in being critical consumers of information.

      What is interesting to me is that it took the Internet to raise this issue to the forefront, when there have been issues with print media for as long as we have had print media. A “book” doesn’t assume some sort of godlike status the moment it becomes printed. An information source is only as solid as the accuracy and effectiveness of its presented ideas.

      I think this is a good thing. The rapid expansion of so many people creating so much content on so many subjects for so many others on the web- is finally forcing us to look more critically at all sources of information. This is an excellent problem to have. It is truly an interesting time to be alive.

    • @Punya, excellent… thanks for the addition, and thanks for posting it inline here for all of the others reading to follow along. It’s funny how you really don’t have to look for these things. I think to the uncritical eye, a first experience with such a critical analysis such as these we have been volleying to and fro, this might seem frivolous.

      However, there is no denying that once you look critically at any source of information, it is really tough to turn a blind eye from that day forth. It is sort of like pulling the curtain on the Wizard of Oz. Once you have passed through the plane of blissful ignorance on any topic, life in that area is beautifully less “black and white” from that point on.

  9. Right, so, the artist didn’t even create a proper rendition of the color wheel. In the media color wheel there are 6 “basic” colors; 3 primary: red, yellow, blue; and 3 secondary/intermediate: green, orange, violet. It doesn’t even really relate to the light spectrum’s colors. ROYGBIV. That’s seven, but, pink is not a color of the spectrum.

    Page 8 creeps me out and I went to art school. lol

    • @Jeremy, Thanks for the “art world” take on this post. I didn’t see that, but I certainly do now. Thanks much for adding this to the discussion.

  10. Hi Sean,
    What a great, fun discussion here on your blog. I showed the pictures of the book at school to some colleagues. They got a laugh, but then their faces dropped. It seemed sad, somehow, that that’s the kind of junk that gets made for kids.
    I do love the idea of having the students find the errors, as Barbara suggested. That’s reminds me of having students look for punctuation and spelling errors on signs and advertising in the world around them. Also, sometimes I’ve been known to bring a tabloid magazine to class, for debunking. We had so much fun with an article called “Martian Cats,” about the discovery of felines who live on Mars.

    • @connie weber, I think I would have enjoyed your class. Literary critique of Shakespeare is rich and worthwhile. However, the tripe that we are flooded with as Americans while checking out at the grocery store is sadly what we will confront the majority of our “normal lives.” I would have appreciated and enjoyed any discussion of “fast food” literature as you describe. Thanks much for your contribution!

  11. I enjoyed your post. There are a lot of books out there that are probably not that good for children. The ones that amuse me are the older books where the boys are playing cowboys, and the mom is dressed up in the kitchen. They make for great conversation about the “good old” days. Books with incorrect information are just wrong!

    • @Betty, I love how your comment here not only adds to the discussion, but taps into the bigger picture of the accuracy of our history. Your post highlights the importance of helping our children acquire the tools to be smart critics of information… regardless of the form it takes.

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