Book Thoughts: MicroAliens: Dazzling Journeys with an Electron Microscope

MicroAliens: Dazzling Journeys with an Electron Microscope was a 1993 children’s educational book written by Howard Tomb with photomicrographs from Dennis Kunkel, Ph.D. I got this book at my old elementary school. For a few years while I went there, they had a small book sale once a month for the students. My mom gave me some money one day to buy a book, and I picked this one. I always liked books about animals growing up. MicroAliens was an interesting take on animals because it showed hugely magnified images of various animals or parts of animals. The school later stopped the monthly book sale in favor of the Scholastic Book Club program.

I read MicroAliens way back in the early ‘90s, but then didn’t touch it again. That’s kind of how I was as a kid. I didn’t really value the things I had, so I tended to consume and toss aside everything I had. Only video games kept me longer because they usually had built in options to tweak the gameplay. Rereading books again required a little more creativity in the mind, and kids always go towards the easiest entertainment.

Anyways, I recently read MicroAliens again so I could write these thoughts. On the cover was a big image of an ant’s head. This reminded me of the movie Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The prop used in the movie looked almost the same as the image here. They did a good job with their research. After a short intro on what an electron microscope is, the book split the micrographs into six categories: The Air, The Water, The Yard, The Home, On You, and Inside You. Pretty much all of them focused on insects except for On You and Inside You. Those two parts featured parts of the human body up close like skin and blood. In addition to the images, there was text to describe them and explain how the various subjects fit into the larger world.

I’m not sure how long it took for me as a kid, but I finished reading the whole thing within an hour recently. It was somewhat refreshing though since so much of what I read these days is very long. Reading MicroAliens would fit into anyone’s busy schedule. However, most adults would probably know everything in the book. It really was a children’s book. I found it interesting still to see these things zoomed in so much because even adults don’t usually see things like that.

The one downside to the book was that most of the images were in black and white. I don’t think there was anything they could do about this, however. Electron microscopes use electrons to create the image, not light. The data they collect is based on how the electrons bounce off the image subject. Since no light is used, the visual spectrum doesn’t even play a factor. Some of the images were colored, but they only had one color plus the black and white.

I think the book would have been even better if they could get an artist to go over all the images and manually color them based on what the objects really look like. This wouldn’t be possible for everything since some of them were so small it is impossible to ever see them without the electron microscope, but many of the images came from larger things that the human eye can see.


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