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Itch! Everything You Didn’t Want to Know about What Makes You Scratch

Itch!: Everything You Didn’t Want to Know about What Makes You Scratch

Anita Sanchez, Illustrated by Gilbert Ford
HMH Books for Young Readers
80 pp.
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In this delightful—if slightly disquieting—work, Anita Sanchez artfully describes the ways in which a variety of organisms make us itch. Much attention is directed toward familiar insects and arachnids that cause humans discomfort. In addition, Sanchez elucidates the various ways that fungi (such as those that cause athlete’s foot) and plants (such as nettle, poison ivy, cacti, and prickly pears) can induce the urge to scratch.

These pruritogenic pests also allow the author to pivot onto various historical topics in a fun and appealing manner. Lice, for example, serve as a jumping-off point to describe the unhygienic conditions experienced by soldiers during World War I, whereas fleas are introduced in the context of the hugely popular flea circuses of the 19th century.

Along the way, Sanchez offers a whole host of useful tips for preventing or relieving itchiness. After reading this book, you should be able to remove embedded caterpillar bristles, soothe a nettle’s sting, avoid mosquito bites, and deodorize a pet that has encountered a skunk. This wealth of information is reinforced with approachable, humorous, and eye-catching illustrations by Gilbert Ford.

The book concludes with a thought-provoking discussion of the neurological and immunological origins of itch. In addition, Sanchez discusses how scratching can (at least temporarily) allay irritation as well as other benefits it can provide. This author/illustrator team is to be commended for conveying a cornucopia of data in an enjoyable and engaging way.

About the author

The reviewer is an associate editor at Science.