Monday, April 21, 2014

Toilet: How it Works by David Macaulay

Toilet: How it Works by David Macaulay

Rating: 5 stars

Yes, that's right.  A book about toilets.  Random, right?  But more than so many other books, I think this one does what children's books ought to do: take the ordinary and make it extraordinarily fascinating!

The book and toilets really are fascinating--and fantastic.

We all have toilets.  We know how they are used.  But how do they work? Macaulay invites us to be curious about something we (hopefully) see and use a few times a day.  And then, he dives in to answer that question with the illustrative details that he's know for.

After humorously pointing out what a toilet is for--a dog watering bowl, a goldfish burial site, a spring garden (when the toilet is being recycled for a new use)--he gets down to the nitty gritty: they're for removing the waste our bodies make.  He spends a useful two-page spread (again, with humor) showing how waste is formed inside our bodies, and then--turn the page--he gets into the toilet mechanism that we all use to flush.

(I might or might not have referred to this page to figure out what was wrong with our toilet a month ago…)

Macaulay illustrates how, when the stopper goes up, the water goes out and forces the water (and waste) that you see in the bowl to leave the bowl and go up the pile.  Once it spills down to the other side of the steep pipe, gravity takes over and the weight of the air (kids thought that was cool) pushes that stuff down the pipe.
Bye, bye bone...

From there it could go to one of two places.  For us non-city folks, it goes to a septic tank.  Lorelei and Ben have known that we have a septic tank, and I've done a C+ job of explaining it to them, I think.  Thankfully, Macaulay picks up where I left off; he illustrates the answer to show that every time the wastewater flows down into the septic tank, it pushes up the water level.  As that water leaves the tank, nutrients in the water help the grass to be a little happier, a little richer.

For city folks, the wastewater gets pushed through pipes buried deep under the city streets, pipes that go to wastewater treatment plants.  He illustrates the process of filtering the waste through many different tanks, each one aimed to get the water that much cleaner.  Around and around it gets cycled, so it gets cleaner and cleaner.

Lorelei and Ben wanted to know why--why spend all this time getting the wastewater clean?  Macaulay answers, again with a heavy dose of humor:
Finally, the water is clean enough to join the river.
Some of the clean water will evaporate and form clouds.
Some of these clouds will produce rain.
Some of the rain will end up in reservoirs as drinking water. 
Now you know why we go to all the trouble!
Yes, please--clean water falling down on me as rain (rather than poopy water)!

This book, and the others that Macaulay has written for kids of this age group and reading level (including Jet Plane, Castle, and maybe more) are gifts of books that show the mechanics of ordinary things.  Okay, well maybe castles are ordinary to you.  Not quite to us.  Much to Lorelei's dismay…

This book is fun and great and informative.  What's not to love?  Oops, gotta go use one...


  1. my list of books to request at the library was running a little thin this morning so i thought i'd pop over and catch up on your blog. this one is at the top of our queue - looks FANTASTIC! thanks kate

    1. you're most welcome! and did you see my FB post about how to request titles at the library--how to nudge them to purchase titles? If not I'll send it your way… They should get Jet Plane!