Wednesday, October 5, 2016

WILD & WONDERFUL WEDNESDAY: To Burp or Not to Burp by Dr. Dave Williams and Loredana Cunti


Of all the questions astronauts are asked by kids, the most frequent one is “How do you go to the toilet in space?”

This book not only answers that question, but many others about the effect of zero gravity on the human body: How do you brush your hair in space? What happens when you sweat? What does food taste like? The best thing is that the answers are provided by Dr. Dave Williams, a NASA astronaut who speaks from first-hand experience. Written for kids ages 7 to 10, this book uses age-appropriate language to explain the different phenomena that astronauts encounter during a mission. The bright, colorful pages, short blocks of text accompanied by photos and humorous illustrations make this a very attractive choice for young readers. The opening message from Dr. Dave empowers kids to follow his example by believing in themselves and following their dreams.


Dr. Dave Williams is a Canadian astronaut who participated in spaceflights aboard two NASA space shuttles; he also became an aquanaut at the world's only underwater research laboratory.  Dr. Williams is currently the CEO of a hospital near Toronto.

Loredana Cunti is a specialist in children's entertainment and a former Senior Vice President of Children's Programming at Universal Pictures.  She has developed a number of book-based characters for television including Geronimo Stilton, Pink Panther, and most recently George Green by Stephen and Lucy Hawking.  To Burp or Not to Burp is her first book.  She lives in Toronto.


I picked up this book because it sounded interesting to me being about what happens to the human body in space.  I ended up learning an awful lot of fascinating things, real things, about life in space both the good, and the bad.  I found it intriguing to read about toilets and bathing and eating on the space station.  There is also information on wearing space suits, sleeping, and exercising in space.  Exercising in a harness sounds like an interesting challenge.  The combination of illustrations, short sections of information, and photographs makes for an appealing book design that even browsers will find attractive.  I was also impressed with the language.  Books written by those who are experts in their field sometimes tend to be vocabulary heavy, but this was very readable for the age it's aimed at, informative but not overwhelming.  While some of the information in the book is gross by it's nature (toileting), it's realistic in the sense that these are real issues that all astronauts have to learn to deal with before leaving the planet.  I think only bathing with a towel every other day would be tough for me, I love my showers.  This is the sort of science book that children love because it addresses real questions that they have and the kind of facts that they love to share with their friends.  A great book to add to your collection if you have space lovers on hand.

INTERVIEW w/ Dr. Dave Williams

1.      What is the 'story behind your book'? What made you decide to write a book for young people?

A few years ago, I was giving a presentation to students from grades 1 to 8 about what it’s like to be in space.  After the talk, an eight-year-old boy got up to ask a question. He wondered whether gravity is required for food to go to your stomach.  Before I could answer, he went on to say that he had done an experiment to try and find out: he had gone to the playground and hung upside down from the monkey bars to see if he could swallow his apple juice or whether he would “hork it out my nose.” Needless to say, he was very excited when he discovered that he was able to swallow the juice while upside down.

Young people are naturally curious. This student was not only curious; he developed a hypothesis, tested it, and discovered something he did not know. A true scientist in the making! Our goal was to write a book that would excite young readers, encourage them to ask more questions, and to think about what would happen if they were able to go to space.

 2.      What is your best/worst memory of being in space?

Going outside the International Space Station to do a spacewalk is a truly amazing experience. The Earth from space is a beautiful blue oasis, a 4.5 billion year old planet upon which our entire history has unfolded. There are no lines separating countries from one another, just one beautiful planet where we all live together.

Half-way through my third spacewalk, the mission control team in Houston suggested to my spacewalking partner Clay Anderson and me, that we take a moment and enjoy the view of Hurricane Dean in the Gulf of Mexico as we orbited over the Southern U.S. We went right over the eye of the storm. Clay and I were floating freely beside the space station and saw Hurricane Dean from a perspective that no other human had. It was absolutely incredible!

I don’t really have any bad memories of being in space. It is such an incredible experience that whatever one might think of as a bad memory is overshadowed by all of the positive experiences that astronauts have. There are however, those moments that get your attention, like the space station fire alarm that went off early in my third spacewalk when I was outside with Clay. It turned out to be a false alarm but it certainly got our attention!

3.      What did you work on while you were in space?

My first spaceflight was a research mission dedicated to understanding how the brain and body adapt to being in space. The mission was called Neurolab and helped scientists gain important insights into how the brain functions. Using animals that flew in space with us, we answered questions such as: would a young rat that learns to move around in space be able to later learn to walk normally when it returns to Earth? While these animals were subsequently able to learn to walk in a world with gravity, their righting reflex, the ability to roll over from their back to their stomach was abnormal. This suggests that while the nervous system is adaptable, once certain critical windows of development have closed, the brain may not be able to further adapt.

My second spaceflight was a space station construction mission. I spent 17 hours and 47 minutes working outside the space station installing new components and performing maintenance tasks. It was quite a different experience from being a scientist on my first spaceflight to helping build the space station on my second one, but both missions were amazing.   

4.      What do you hope readers take away from your book?

I hope that readers will be excited to learn about all the changes that take place in the human body when astronauts explore space. Science is fun and doesn’t take place only in research laboratories on Earth. As a physician/scientist, my journey has taken me from traditional research laboratories to performing experiments in space and under the ocean. We hope this book will fuel the passion of young readers to ask more questions, and to continue to be curious about the world in which we live and about space exploration.


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