Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Story Behind Toilets

I just discovered a wonderful series of non-fiction books that tackles all sorts of really interesting and diverse subjects. Kids who love learning facts about different topics (and being able to spew them out later) will love the True Stories series. It covers everything you might want to know about the fascinating history of everyday things. A quick look at their website, reveals twelve topics from The Story Behind Bread to The Story Behind Gravity. My local library had four of their books in their newly arrived section, and I just had to pull the one I thought kids would be the most drawn to.

The Story Behind Toilets (True Stories)
Written by: Elizabeth Raum
Recommended Ages: 8-12

While kids may initially be drawn to the potty humor of the title (and clever cover), this book is actually chock-full of fascinating facts about toilets. So let them snicker at first, you will soon find them learning lots of facts about toilets past, present and future.

The Story Behind Toilets starts off with a short history of toilets. Did you know that the palace of Knossos on the island of Crete had the first toilets that flushed (4000 years ago)? Or that chamber pots in the 1700's and 1800's often had the face of an unpopular leader painted on the bottom? During the American Revolution, Britain's King George III's face was used.

But the book goes on to deliver many more facts than just toilets. Kids will learn about how moats were often used as dumping grounds for sewage and hence smelled terrible. They'll also learn about early sewage and septic systems. One part I found particularly fascinating was how NASA scientists began using flowering water plants like hyacinths and lilies to clean wastewater. These flowering plants take in waste gases and give off clean air. Later on, the scientists would crush the plants and use them as fertilizer.

The use of toilet paper is also addressed. As early as 1400 CE, the Chinese were using soft toilet paper. Later on, in Europe in the 1500's, wealthy people ripped out pages of books to use for cleaning themselves. And in 2005, $5.7 billion worth of toilet paper was sold in the United States.

Toward the end of the book, toilets of tomorrow are addressed. In the "toilet-to-tap" system, wastewater is turned into drinking water. There are currently about 15 cities and towns in the U.S. using this system. The health dangers of not having toilets and sewer systems are also discussed, and a world map shows how many parts of the world do not have acceptable levels of sanitation. For kids in the U.S., this will be an eye-opening experience.

The True Stories series would be a wonderful addition to a third or fourth grade classroom. Whether a child needs to choose a topic to report on, or just wants to find out a little more information about something like salt, there is a lot of information packed into these slim volumes. Here's a list of the titles currently available:

The Story Behind Bread

The Story Behind Chocolate

The Story Behind Cotton

The Story Behind Diamonds
The Story Behind Electricity

The Story Behind Gold

The Story Behind Gravity

The Story Behind Oil

The Story Behind Salt

The Story Behind Skyscrapers
The Story Behind Time

The Story Behind Toilets


shelf-employed said...

I can think of many children who will enjoy this series! Unfortunately, my library does not have any of these titles. Perhaps they are more of a school library purchase than a public library purchase? In any case, thanks for putting them on my radar screen.

Robin Gaphni said...

I found them at our public library. Perhaps you can convince the powers that be to buy a few of the titles ;-).

Lubna said...

Hi Robin
Yesterday I picked up: Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood, founder of Room to Read. His life transformation began when he collected story books for a school in Nepal. I could not but help, remember you and all the other story book contributors of my similar initiative last year. Just wanted to say: Thank you, once again.
Have a nice day.