Friday, January 18, 2013

How Do you Take a Bath in the Desert?

Desert Baths
By Darcy Pattison; illus. by Kathleen Rietz
32 pages, ages 4 – 8
Sylvan Dell Publishing, 2012

Deserts are dry places – so how do the animals living there clean themselves off? After all, everyone needs a bath now and then.

Darcy Pattison shows how twelve different animals get rid of dirt, dust, grime and parasites – and takes us on a tour of the desert habitat through a typical day. She opens with a turkey vulture awaiting dawn so it can begin the day with a sunbath. Tiny hummingbirds preen with dewdrops, while roadrunners shake off after a dust bath. Some moms use their tongues to groom their young, while others make do with a spit bath. All accompanied by Kathleen Rietz’s gorgeous paintings.

Pattison includes six pages of activities and desert details in the “creative minds” section at the back. There are fun facts – did you know that parts of the Atacama Desert in South America haven’t had any rain in 100 years? There’s a matching game, learning to tell time by the sun, and some “food for thought” questions. Taken altogether, it’s no mystery that this book was listed by the National Science Teacher Association as one of 2013’s “Outstanding Science Trade Books”.

The other week I caught up with Darcy long enough to ask her Three Questions about her book.

What inspired you to write about how animals take baths on the desert?

Darcy: When I learned about “Anting” – it’s such a bizarre way of cleaning feathers. Scientists say that the formic acid from the crushed ants will help control parasites. Also, several years ago while camping in the Boston Mountains of Arkansas, I headed out on an early morning walk. It was chilly and a group of vultures sat in the tiptop of trees, spreading their wings to warm up.
What sort of research did you do for this book?
Darcy: I wanted to balance the types of animals – those active in the daytime as well as those active at night. I really wanted to add a spider, but they just don't have skin that needs to be cleaned. The tarantula, a great desert species, molts – it sheds off its old exoskeleton for a new one as it grows. But that didn't seem quite right for a book on baths. With the hummingbird, I’d read a study mentioning how they take dew baths, and then verified that with a couple of scientists.

How exactly does an animal get clean with a mud or dust-bath? And have you tried one?
Darcy: We think of baths as something that keeps us dirt-free. But at one time, humans were plagues with fleas, lice (in the hair) and other parasites, the likes of which still plague wild animals. Dirt baths can take care of those parasites.
Darcy hasn’t taken a dust bath or wallowed in the mud, but she says she’ll try it… some day. Drop by Darcy’s website to learn more about desert baths and see a video that children helped make about their take on the book. And head over to STEM Friday to check out more great science/tech/math resources.  Review copy provided by publisher.


  1. Baths! What a strange idea for a whole book! I thought everybody knew that the best way to get clean is to roll around in the dirt! I need to check out this book and see what Ms Darcy has to say!

  2. Oh, I will definitely check this out. What a fabulous idea for a book!