Reviewed by Ben Harris
The Germ Hotel is a lively information book in which the young reader gets to ‘meet their body’s marvellous microbes’ as scientific fact meets humorous engaging visuals.
Imagining the human body as one gigantic ‘hotel’, the book introduces ‘residents’ (such as Mr Streptococcus salivarius and Ms Corynebacterium) while ‘intruder-baddies’ (such as the bang-up-to-date mention of Covid-19) fight against immune cells, who are shown replete with spears and bulging muscles. There are parts of the text dealing with digestion, antibiotics and getting sick and the text is not shy of introducing complex ideas and vocabulary at an age-appropriate level.
The immediacy and humour of the book is unquestioned: many children will pick up this book and be very much engaged by both visuals and accompanying text, right up to the very last – (perhaps a bit too indulgent?) full-page spread of a poo being flushed away! In this way, it is bound to be a winner with the intended audience of Year 5 and 6 children. The informal style is a big contributor to this too, having the feel more of read-straight-through narrative than information text. However, more traditional layouts do present the factual content clearly and develop a young reader’s sense of navigating information, plus there is also a useful glossary and index to help locate subjects again once the reader has enjoyed the main narrative.
One page I feel I need to draw attention to, though, focuses on how microbiologists study bacteria. In this section, the text describes how scientists experimented on a mouse, exposing the animal to a higher degree of bad bacteria than it had been used to before. First, the mouse is described as ‘all alone’, separated from other mice; then it is described as becoming ‘really sick’ and the pictures show the creature seemingly very ill amongst its more healthy mouse-friends. In the book, there is no qualification about the place of animal testing like this and, apart from this moment being potentially distressing for some children, I felt uncomfortable than an opportunity was missed to address the place of animals in medicine. I know from my own teaching that this is a particularly emotive subject among children.
Overall, The Germ Hotel is a solid ‘read-for-pleasure’ book which will introduce many children to the fascinating world of microbiology and develop their knowledge of that perennial source of fascination to us all – the human body. I would ensure that children had access to Katie Brosnan’s outstanding Gut Garden alongside to help develop interest further.