Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 18 Jan 2024

Unseen Jungle by Eleanor Spicer Rice, illustrated by Rob Wilson

We live in a time and place that gives tremendous value to the notion of hygiene. You only have to watch television commercials or take a look around the supermarket aisles dedicated to ‘household products’ to see just how much time and money is spent on trying to eradicate every last germ or bacteria in our houses. But, as Eleanor Spicer Rice’s Unseen Jungle reminds us, it’s all in vain. Like it or not, every minute of every day is spent surrounded by microbes of one kind or another.

So, what is a microbe?

“A microbe is any living creature that’s too small to see…That includes most bacteria…fungi, protozoa, archaea, algae, and some tiny animals.”

Just for completeness, the author tells us that she’s including one or two viruses – there is, it seems dissent amongst the scientists as to whether viruses count as microbes or not…

After getting the definitions out of the way, the author takes us on a comprehensive tour of our living spaces – homes, yards, the food we eat and those pesky microbes that actually see us as desirable hosts. There’s plenty of science here but it’s been translated into easily understandable – and often very funny – prose that focuses heavily on the yuk-factor.

It might just be that you have pets – maybe a cat or dog? Well, they are also covered in microbes. In fact, they can’t really be the animals we know and love without their microbes. When cats mark out their territory, they leave their own specific microbes behind and when you get dog splother on you, you’re sharing the animal’s microbes. And then of course there’s their toileting habits – but let’s not get into that!

Having read that you might be inclined to think that you’d better get these creatures out of your house. But maybe that would be too precipitous: they could actually be doing you good. How do I know that? Well, this book includes separate special sections given over to interviews with experts who put all this gross-out information into context. Hein Min Tun’s interview tells us that children who share their microbes with puppies may well grow up to have fewer allergies than those who live dogless.

Go outside and the world of nature – plants and animals – are positively smothered in microbes. Some of these are perfectly fine and some of them are ones you’ll certainly want to avoid. But one thing all of these microbes have in common is that they have plenty to teach us.

And now look at yourself. You are positively crawling in microscopic life from head to toe. And, mostly, what lives on you is doing you good – although there will be occasions (enter the virus) when a microbe wants to live in you and gets up to no good.

This is a book that would be an absolutely perfect addition to any school library because children will find it easy to navigate, easy to understand and full of those ‘did you know…’ facts that so many children love to sprinkle into their playground chats.

Published by Mit Kid Press ( and distributed through Walker Books in the UK) you can get this book from your local independent bookshop – who will be happy to order it for you if they don’t have it on the shelf.


Terry Potter

January 2024