Sunday, January 12, 2014

Amoebas Galore!!!! And Tons of Fun...

“Earth. Our planet hosts a rich diversity of life…from lush rain forests to dry deserts. Bun underneath this world lies another one. A microscopic world. This is the home of the amoeba...” - Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Squish (Random House) pp.7-9
So begins the adventures of Squish and his friends, Pod and Peggy (two amoebas and a paramecium) in their microscopic world of Small Pond. This month, at Using Graphic Novels In Education, I take a closer look at Squish, written by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, (Random House), reviewing it and making suggestions for the first four books.  Here are some of the highlights:
Squish by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Random House
Squish is a comic book-loving, Twinkie-eating, blubbery, super-swell amoeba “kid” who wrestles with good and evil in life around him, and learns about life’s responsibilities. He faces all sorts of challenges with his friends Pod (a nerdy, mooching amoeba who’s always working on some lay-brained science scheme to help him tame his world), and Peggy (a clueless, huge-hearted, super-sweet, happy-go-lucky loving paramecium). In the first four books they face challenges in school, summer camp, soccer games, and much more. While Squish is a beloved series in its own right, he was first brought to life and introduced in Babymouse #14: Mad Scientist  (another award-winning series by Jennifer and Matthew Holm about a spunky young mouse).
We highlight Squish this month because it’s a WONDERFUL series full of fun, humor, and real-life problems facing middle school “microorganism kids.” And while each volume is under 100 pages and geared for kids ages 7-12, they will be enjoyed by older readers as well with their compelling themes and sharp sophisticated humor. These endearing pond-dwelling microorganisms deal with issues of friendship, bullies, overcoming fears, and learning that doing the right thing is one of life’s greatest challenges (and rewards)- whether you’re a superhero like Super Amoeba, or a plain kid like Squish.


Squish’s volumes are packed with puns, alliteration, wordplay, humor, and hyperbole. In each book, Squish and his friends deal with real-life conflicts (handled with insight and compassion), issues of right and wrong, and the power and value of friendship. Furthermore, as Squish is an avid Super-Amoeba comic book fan, each issue contains a parallel Super Amoeba comic book story, adding greater depth, humor, and insight. As an added bonus, at the end of each book there’s a cool “Fun Science Project with Pod” along with guidelines on how to draw one of the characters.  Finally, the visually literate and the visually challenged can all have fun following the many faces on Squish’s baseball cap that change with his mood and given situation.

Squish #1: Super Amoeba introduces Squish, his (supportive but seemingly useless) dad, and Squish’s favorite comic book character, Super Amoeba.  In this volume, we also meet Squish’s best friends Pod and Peggy, the principle of their school, Principle Planarian, and Peggy’s pet “Fluffy” an ever-growing slime mold. 

Squish by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Random House
Pod is a science genius who mooches off of Squish – getting Squish to give him his lunch money for Tacos (or his Twinkies) while Squish ends up with Pod’s vile lunch. Peggy is a super-cute, super-clueless, super-sweet, supportive friend who unwittingly gets Squish into trouble. 

In this volume, Squish, Peggy, and Pod have to deal with the school bully Lynwood who threatens to devour Peggy if Squish doesn’t let him cheat off of his science test.  As squish wrestles with this moral dilemma, Super Amoeba’s poster stares back at him as Super Amoeba says, “Have the courage to do what’s right!” Thanks to conviction and sheer luck, Lynwood is taken care of by the end of the book. The “Fun Science Project with Pod” is how to grow mold, and after that have some fun learning how to draw Squish.

Squish by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Random House
Squish #2: Brave New Pond begins with Super Amoeba reading his Small Pond Gazette with the headline “A Hero is Born” (with some nice foreshadowing) and introduces a brand new school year for Squish. Squish is hoping for a “fresh start” and has made a list of what he wants to accomplish: no trading food with Pod, no detention, not letting Peggy embarrass him, getting picked for kickball, sitting with the cool kids at lunch, and simply being cool. While things, unfortunately, start off a bit rocky for Squish (he gives in to Pod’s mooches for starters), he does get to sit with the “cool Algae Brothers.” Super Amoeba is also starting the year with some “friends” in the Big City as they battle LEECHES, but things rarely turn out the way you think! This book is all about what makes a real hero, and how the pressure to be cool might make you do things that really aren’t cool at all. The “Fun Science Project with Pod” is how to make slime, and after that, have some fun learning how to draw the Algae Brothers.

Squish by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Random House
Squish #3: The Power of the Parasite takes place in the summer.  Squish’s mom signs him up for swim lessons in the hope that he’ll overcome his fear of swimming, while Pod and Peggy go to ballet camp. At the pool, Squish meets a new friend, Basil, a hydra whose tentacles can paralyze living things, and Super Amoeba finds himself a sidekick named Parasite…or does he? Squish and Basil both find ways to not get into the water and still have fun, but in doing so things get out of hand. In this issue, both Super Amoeba and Squish have to figure out how far they will let a friend go, when they know that the friend is wrong. The “Fun Science Project with Pod” is all about how to “teach” an egg to swim, and after that, have some fun learning how to draw Basil.

Squish #4: Captain Disaster is all about what being a leader means.  In this particular issue, Squish must learn what it means to be the Captain of his soccer team (trying to observe his players and help them play to their strengths), and how to balance the thrill of winning with the need to keep the game fun.  Meanwhile, Super Amoeba has to find more effective ways of fighting Worms and tries the enlist the help of an old friend while teaching his fans that “Small Pond needs to remember that every hero has a part to play.” The “Fun Science Project with Pod” is an experiment on air pressure, and after that, have some fun learning how to draw Pod.

Squish #5: Game On - Squish becomes soccer captain and has to balance the responsibility of bringing in wins with having fun and allowing all kids to play and enjoy the game.
Squish #6: Fear the Amoeba (Going on Sale July, 2014)

Throughout the Squish series, Jennifer and Matthew Holm relate:
·      What it takes to be a hero;
·      How to juggle your dreams with the realities facing you;
·      How to overcome and face your fears;
·      The importance of friendship and of standing up for your friends;
·      The struggle of trying to fit into social groups;
·      The struggle of knowing and doing what is right;
FUN SCIENCE FACTS PACKED IN ISSUES 1-4: While these books are pure fiction and tons of fun, there is some science packed into them.  Part of the fun is learning to distinguish the fact from the fiction, which I discuss in greater detail below. I want to relay here, however, what students will learn about the intriguing world of microscopic organisms.
In Squish #1: Super Amoeba readers learn:
·      That amoebas belong to the Protista kingdom, are single-cells, microscopic, reproduce by splitting, come in all shapes and sizes, and move using pseudopods;
·      That planaria are flatworms;
·      That photosynthesis is the process by which plants turn sunlight into sugar;
·      That E. Coli, bacteria, slime mold, and algae are also microorganisms found in a pond;
Squish by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Random House
In Squish #2: Brave New Pond readers learn:
·      That paramecia don’t like negative stimuli;
·      That planaria can regenerate when cut in half;
·      That protozoans are single-celled microscopic organisms that live in water; and
·      That algae live in ponds and are “the coolest microorganisms in the pond” because they produce oxygen;

In Squish #3: The Power of the Parasite readers learn:
·      That hydras are also microorganisms found in ponds;
·      That hydra have tentacles that can paralyze living things and can grow/regenerate body parts;

In Squish #4: Captain Disaster readers learn:
·      That a cyclops is a crustacean (related to shrimp and lobster), and that they have one eye;
·      That instead of hands and feet, paramecia use cilia to move;

Plot, Themes, and Values Related: Chart and discuss the different themes relayed (i.e. friendship, identity, popularity, being a "winner" see above) in each of the books.
Science in Squish
·      Read about and discuss the microorganisms found in ponds.
·      The insides of Pod, Peggy and Squish are green (indicating nuclei and other cell structures). Talk about what is really found inside amoebas - see links below for resources.
·      Evaluate and analyze science facts from science fictions.
·      Assign a creative writing project where kids can take “Something to Research Further” from the table above, and create their own stories around it.  Discuss their use and balancing of fact and fiction in their stories. You may also want to brainstorm and have them create their own sequels integrating science facts and fictions.
·      You may want to discuss and focus on the following science topics  found in the Squish series: global warming, photosynthesis, regeneration, role of slime in ponds, and different microorganisms found in ponds.

 Modes of Storytelling and Visual Literacy
In graphic novels, images are used to relay messages with and without accompanying text, adding additional dimension to the story. Compare and contrast the authors’ use of verbal versus visual imagery. Discuss with students how images can be used to relay complex messages. For example:
·      As noted above, there are various voices telling the Squish story.  Discuss how the authors use art and text to help distinguish between the different voices and stories.
·      Evaluate and discuss how the authors relay scientific information versus while keeping the story light, interesting and funny.
·      Squish’s hat has awesome ‘powers’ – the face on the front changes with Squish’s moods and obstacles.  Discuss how this helps relay information and cues for the reader.  Is it helpful or distracting?  Why/why not?
Squish by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, Random House
·      Discuss the power of an image and how much it can relay and foreshadow. For example, in Squish #3: The Power of the Parasite, p. 12, evaluate and discuss how Parasite is relayed in the top image versus how he is relayed in the bottom one.  Are the authors trying to tell us something?  If so, what?

Suggested Prose and Graphic Novel Pairings
For greater discussion of literary style, and non-fiction texts you may want to read the following suggestions with Squish:
·      Babymouse by Jennifer and Matthew Holm: a series about a spunky young mouse who, like Squish deals with real-life issues such as friendship, following one’s dreams, dealing with defeat and challenges in and out of school, and about embracing one’s strengths and weaknesses.
·      Protozoans, Algae & Other Portists by Steve Parker – a great nonfiction book for kids with fascinating images and details.
·      Astronaut Academy by Dave Roman: a graphic novel series about kids who go to school in space. When pairing this with Squish you may compare and contrast the author’s incorporation of science (space) facts and fictions. You may also want to compare/contrast their use of image and text, character development, and themes.
·      Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney: a series about life for Greg Heffley and his friends in middle school as told by him and his journal entries. You may want to compare/contrast the story telling in his illustrated prose book with its movie and/or with the graphic novels suggested above.
·      Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren: about Timmy, his sister Annika and the adventures they take with Pippi. Their stories feel like exaggerated tales, much like Squish’s and can be excellent pairings regarding storytelling and character development.
·      Charlottes Web by E.B. White: a classic about a talking pig who befriends a literate spider.  Here too, there are some animal facts and fictions to compare and contras

·      Guide to identification of fresh water microorganisms – a wonderful chart with images, characteristics, and taxonomies for fresh water organisms including algae, protozoa, plankton, and arthropods.  Excellent resource to use when reading Squish.
·      Growing with Science blog post “Exploring the Protists with Squish: Super Amoeba” with a slew of wonderful images and facts about amoebozoans, slime molds, ciliates (paramecium), and planaria; videos highlighting these microscopic organisms; and related science activities (“grow bread mold,” “hay infusion,” and “purchase protozoan cultures,”
· Water Critters and what they look like with a microscope; with additional links.
·      Science games for kids: microorganisms – information on microorganisms and games to see them at work under a ‘microscope’.
·      Microorganisms for Kids (from NeoK12) – explains what microorganisms are, how they are classified, where they are found/ has pictures and suggestions for school presentations; has videos and Lesson plans; and lots of games.
· plans for teachers on pond life, pond scum, biodiversity of ponds, along with games for kids.
·      Kid’s Biology: Amoebas – animal facts and links all about amoebas
·      Britannica Kids: Hydra – excellent information and links.
· - all about planaria
Well, that's it for this week.  Please tell me what you think of amoebas, Squish or pond scum (one of my son's favorite topics a few years back....)
And, as always, thanks for your visit.


  1. Sounds like a great series for my "reading hater" grandson, age 10, and I think I'll see if I can find it for him.

    abcw team

  2. It sounds good for adults - some key issues there!

    Denise ABC Team

  3. I love the combination of fact and fantasy.
    Any way kids and people in general, can be enticed to read is fine with me.
    The book series sounds delightful.

  4. I am a former Special Ed teacher so I'm still very much into keeping abreast of new learning tools and resources, I guess it's a force of habit!

    Hopping over from the Wordless Wednesday Hop!

    Here is my post this week:

    Tracy @ Ascending Butterfly