The Human Brain – Review

Michael M. Abrams

The Human Brain. Marcus Barbor. Running Press, 1999, $19.95.

If you’ve ever wanted to show your kids a brain or a gallbladder but couldn’t get your hands on a cadaver, you should check out the Science Action Books. These educational kits for children include titles such as The Human Brain, The Human Body,and Dinosaur/Each contains a booklet and a 3-D model for hands-on learning.

The pop-together brain comes in seven durable plastic parts. Judging by the smell, they’re probably made of the same stuff as Resusci-Annie, that delectable dummy familiar to anyone who’s completed a CPR class. Step-by-step instructions show where to stick the hemispheres of the cerebrum (home of conscious thought), the cerebellum (the muscle command center), the thalamus and the brain stem (in charge of breathing, heartbeat, and other vital functions), the pea-size pituitary gland (director of hormones), and the optic nerves. After the final joy of popping on the blank white eyeballs and decorating them with iris stickers supplied in the book’s front pouch, you can display your new brain on the included stand. Now you’ll know where to look when you read about how poor Henry M. lost his hippocampus, the seat of short-term memory. Surgeons trying to cure his epilepsy ended up destroying his life: after the surgery, Henry couldn’t remember any new event for more than two minutes.

The Human Brain includes a grab bag of devices to demonstrate brain phenomena: 3-D glasses with a 3-D maze, a stereogram, and cards to test for color blindness or find the blind spot where the optic nerve meets the retina. The booklet covers brain basics, with up-to-date MRI and CT scans and tons of facts and pictures. It also offers entertaining suggestions about how to play tricks on the body. For example, put two pins in a cork, blindfold your little sister, push the pinheads against various parts her body, and ask her how many pins she feels. When you poke her on the tip of her finger, where nerve endings abound, she’ll identify both pins; in less nerve-rich areas, such as the elbow, she’ll swear it’s a single point.

Two other recent kits in the series, The Human Body and Dinosaur!, come with fragile skeletons–fun to play with but a pain to put back together. Putty-colored organs and paper muscles fit into a brittle tray meant to be the guy’s skin (he seems to be male, judging by the pelvic bones). The top of skull pops off to reveal a removable brain. The triceratops of Dinosaur! also has an assortment of organs (which are probably less accurate than the bones, since soft tissue rarely fossilized), including a brain the size of a BB. If you owned both kits, you could, toss the dino’s brain into the human head, rattle it around, and make him act like a lumbering Mesozoic plant eater.

The Human Body gives an overview of the skeletal, muscular, and cardiovascular systems, with descriptions of the major organs, including the sorts of statistics that eight-year-olds like to impress each other with. Readers will learn, for instance, that “there are 47 miles of nerves in the human body, carrying about 3 million messages a second,” and that the heart beats about 40 million times a year. In Dinosaur!, the chapters “Excretion and Reproduction” and “Skin, Scales, and Feathers” make good starting places for any child with a budding interest in ancient earthshakers. But chances are the booklets will be put aside and the brain, human figure, and dinosaur will end up attacking each other in a violent battle under the dining room table.

COPYRIGHT 1999 Discover

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group

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