Monday, September 30, 2013

'Tis the Season for Skeletons

At my daughter's request, this was the weekend of getting the pumpkins, spiders, ghosts, and skeletons out of the plastic crates where they reside and scattering them around the house Her favorite is always the peel-and-stick glow-in-the-dark skeleton that typically spends the  month of October in the middle of our powder room mirror. (Yes--it takes maneuvering to actually use the mirror, but all three kids say, "We have to put the skeleton there...It's tradition!") The combination of the skeleton staring me in the face every time I wash my hands and the release of Cut to the Bone, the newest book written by UT's renowned forensic anthropologist, Dr. Bill Bass, and his writing partner, Jon Jefferson (I got my signed copy Saturday!) made me decide skeletons & bones would be the topic of choice for this week's blog. 

One of our favorite skeleton books is, You Can't See Your Bones with Binoculars, by Harriet Ziefert. Each page (or 2-page spread) is headed by a slightly-adapted line from the African American spiritual Dry Bones ("The foot bones are connected to the toe bones..." and the playful illustrations integrate actual x-rays as a means of showing the bones in their proper place and form. The text contains information about key bones, including their general ("shoulder") and more technical ("clavicle" and "scapula") terms, in addition to a description of their purpose ("...the main task of the backbone is to protect your spinal cord.") or how they function ("The 'ball' at the top of another bone called the humerus rotates so that you can move your arm in all directions!). Most two page spreads also contain an interesting fact or two related to the bone being discussed--like people who wear knee pads since kneecaps don't have much padding. The book draws to a close with a solid page of information about broken bones and a drawing of a skeleton with all the previously mentioned bones clearly labeled. This book makes a perfect read-aloud for 2nd grade and up, but 4th and 5th graders will also enjoy reading this non-fiction text independently.

Bob Barner has another skeleton book, straightforwardly called Dem Bones. It, too, includes a line from the traditional song on each page, supported by a short, 3-4 sentence paragraph with details about the identified bone. For example, on the "leg bone" page, Barner delineates that the leg bone is actually two bones and the location of each, along with a note that it is the tibia that hurts if you get kicked in the shin! These big bold illustrations are actually of whimsical skeletons and not as clearly marked as those in Zeifert's book. However, this one too, closes with a labeled skeleton, and the more compact nature of the text makes it  more appropriate for a K-1 read aloud, and the less technical language makes it a more independent read for those in 2nd grade and up. (And, there is a YouTube video reading of this book done by some college students that could be used in a listening center!)

October is the perfect time to use easy access to skeletons of all sorts to your students' learning advantage! If you really want to help them learn the bone-associated vocabulary, make it interactive. Buy a cardboard skeleton, and use adhesive Velcro dots to attach labels. The kids should be able to pull all the labels off and then show what they know!


  1. Dr. B and Dr. R, my name is Raymond and I am 11 years old and I have a recommendation called "How They Croaked" by Georgia Bragg. It tells about how famous people died: King Tut, Julius Caesar, Christopher Columbus, etc.........

  2. Hey Raymond! Thanks for telling is about sounds like a great book loaded with science and social studies both! We are definitely going to have to take a look!