About the Holiday
Today we honor that happiest of expressions—the smile! Celebrating its 41st anniversary this year, National Smile Month was established as a weekly event in 1977 by the British Dental Health Foundation (now known as the Oral Health Foundation) to focus on good dental health practices. Over the years the initiative has grown in length and now includes countries worldwide. With the introduction of the Smiley—a bright smile on a stick—and the Smiley Photo campaign on social media in 2012, everyone now has an opportunity to join in the fun, spread the message, and become the face of National Smile Month. National Smile Month runs from May 15 to June 15. If you’d like to participate, visit nationalsmilemonth.org.
Tooth By Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers
Written by Sara Levine | Illustrated by T. S. Spookytooth
“Open wide!” a little girl with a good set of teeth herself encourages readers on the first page of this fun nonfiction book. “Look at all the chompers in there.” Mirror in hand she proceeds to reveal that human teeth are unusual because we are mammals, and mammal teeth come in different shapes and sizes. In fact there are three distinct types. A little boy takes over to describe them. Incisors are the four flat teeth in a person’s mouth—two on the top and two on the bottom right in front.
The four pointy teeth next to the incisors are canines, and the rest of the teeth are molars. Other mammals also have these teeth, and you can tell what an animal eats by which type is largest. For example, say your incisors were bigger than all your other teeth and they were so big they stuck out of your mouth even when it was closed, then you would be a beaver…or a squirrel…or a rabbit. These animals are herbivores and their oversized incisors help them break into nuts and scrape bark from trees.
From here on Tooth by Tooth offers up amusing illustrations and “what kind of animal would you be if…” questions to spark kids’ powers of recognition. How about if your canines were so long they poked out of your mouth? Well, then you could be a “seal or a cat or a dog or a bear!” All these animals eat meat and need the sharp teeth to do it.
What if you had really tall molars? Then you’d be a “horse or a cow or a giraffe!” These guys use their molars to grind up grass. And if all your teeth were the same height? Come on…you know! You’d be you! Because humans eat plants and meat, we “need teeth that do many different jobs.”
But there are a lot more wacky teeth out there waiting for us to brush up on. So let’s get started. What if “two of your top incisors were so long that they grew out of your mouth and pointed to the sky? What if they were so long you could use them to carry your school bag?” You’ve probably guessed this one—you’d be an elephant. While an elephant’s tusks aren’t used for eating, they are used to procure the bark, roots, and other plant material that make up the elephant’s diet.
What if you could almost trip over your canine teeth? Yep, you’d be a walrus, and you would use those sharp bad boys to poke holes in the ice to grab your favorite oysters and clams. But after eating they’re not done using their teeth. “After diving down for a meal, walruses can use their tusks to pull themselves back up onto the ice for a nap. Imagine if “your top and bottom canine teeth curled up out of your mouth so you had two pairs of tusks?” Or if your one upper canine grew through your upper lip and kept on growing? Or if you had no teeth at all? Yikes! The remarkable answers are just a read away!
Fish, amphibians, and reptiles also have teeth of a sort, but because they are all the same shape and size, they don’t get special names—that doesn’t mean you can ignore them, though, because sharks are among this group, and you know what they can do!
More information about mammals, mammal teeth, a glossary, and a list of online and print references follow the text.
There’s nothing like the Wow! factor to capture kids’ attention, and Sara Levine uses it to humorous and fascinating effect in Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers. After giving a solid description of each kind of tooth and what it is used for in language that kids use and will relate to, Levine begins her guessing game that leads to even more discovery. We’ve all seen elephants and walruses with their mighty tusks, but how many know what they are really used for? And what about warthogs and narwhals? It’s all here in this creative nonfiction title.
T. S. Spookytooth took a big bite out of the “how to make kids laugh” manual in illustrating each question and type of tooth. Pictures of girls and boys with enormous teeth jutting this way and that will make readers glad to be human. And while the animals that belong to each molar, incisor, or canine sport the scarf, bow, or head band of its human counterpart, they are clearly and scientifically drawn to provide full understanding. Animal skulls also demonstrate the placement of teeth. The cover, with its close-enough-to-eat-you view of a very scary mouth is a show stopper and will attract kids as soon as they see it.
Ages 5 – 9
Millbrook Press, Lerner Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1467752152
Check out Sara Levine’s website for more books, stuff for kids, teachers’ resources, and more!
View a gallery of T. S. Spookytooth’s art and read his biography (?!) on his website!
National Smile Month Activity
Brush Up On Your Smile! Maze
You can find Tooth by Tooth: Comparing Fangs, Tusks, and Chompers at these booksellers
Picture Book Review