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This Is a Book to Read with a Worm

This Is a Book to Read with a Worm

Jodi Wheeler-Toppen, Illustrated by Margaret McCartney
32 pp.
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Charles Darwin’s final book was dedicated to the gradual way in which earthworms change the world by turning over soil (1). He was not the only early naturalist to appreciate this diminutive invertebrate. In the 18th century, Gilbert White acknowledged the “lamentable chasm” that would be left without the “small and despicable” worm to help make soil (2).

This Is a Book to Read with a Worm is a colorful delight and an important little book that follows in White and Darwin’s footsteps, promising to help nurture a new generation of naturalists. It offers a mix of activities and facts about earthworms that a curious child could do independently (or, to be more precise, with an earthworm). The book starts with guidance for how to catch a worm and how to care for it in a simple homemade terrarium. Several suggested experiments reveal information about worms’ sensory responses and anatomy. For instance, by crafting a listening tube made from paper, you can hear them crawling thanks to the scratching of their barely visible setae.

Readers learn that in the United States, imported worm species are eating all the leaves that make up native earthworms’ diet, to the detriment of native species. This could have profound consequences, not only for life underground but also for the viability of the forests that rely on the leaf consumption and soil churning capacity of native worms.

References and Notes:
1. C. Darwin, The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms, with Observations on their Habits (John Murray, 1881).
2. G. White, The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne (Benjamin White, 1789).

About the author

The reviewer is a senior editor at Science.