Book Review: Rotten! Vultures, Beetles, Slime, and Nature’s Other Decomposers by Anita Sanchez, illus by Gilbert Ford


Review by Emily Aguiló-Pérez

DESCRIPTION OF THE BOOK: What’s that terrible smell? Plug your nose! Run! Something smells…rotten! But rotten isn’t always bad. If nothing ever rotted, nothing could live. Decomposition seems like the last stop on the food chain, but it’s just the beginning. When dead things rot, they give life to a host of other creatures. So who are these decomposers? Sharks and vultures feast on animal carcasses. Worms, maggots, and dung beetles devour decaying plant and animal matter. Decomposition is happening everywhere: oceans, forests, in your backyard—even between your teeth! It’s nature’s way of creating energy for all living things. So unplug your nose! Open this book to uncover the dirty rotten truth about one of nature’s most fascinating processes.

MY TWO CENTS: Who knew learning about dung beetles, worms, vultures, mummies, and numerous other “rotten” things could be so much fun?! In this informative book, Anita Sanchez provides so many facts about decomposition. I learned, for instance, about the different kinds of dung beetles and how they create their homes out of dung. It’s fascinating! I also learned about the decomposition process of a tree log and why it doesn’t smell terrible (even though one would think anything rotten would smell badly). The book also touches on items that do not decompose and the dangers they pose for nature. Speaking about plastic, it explains that “landfills are overflowing with plastic that’s sitting there, not decomposing. But even worse is the plastic that doesn’t make it into a landfill” (65).

Eighty-three pages of information can seem like a lot for a young reader, but Sanchez’s writing paired with the engaging and colorful illustrations by Gilbert Ford truly provide a fun learning experience. The book is divided into eight chapters, each one focusing on a different decomposer. Each chapter has a variety of sections that provide focused information on the specific topic, using stories, humorous snapshots, and creative illustrations. Some of my favorite recurring sections were “Decomposer Selfie,” which provides short bits of information about an animal or organism, and “Rot It Yourself,” which offers brief experiment directions. There is much to enjoy in this book! It would make a great addition to any library.

TEACHING TIPS: The book naturally lends itself to a science classroom (especially upper elementary and middle grades). There are experiments students can perform and which do not require too many materials. In addition, students can use the bibliography that is included at the end of the book to perform further research on a specific topic, animal, organism, etc. presented in the book.

In addition, this book is a wonderful model for various approaches to informational or non-fiction writing. Because it uses narratives, short blurbs, longer texts, descriptions, comparisons, process analysis, and images, among others, students can learn about and develop their own skills for writing non-fiction.


Anita Sanchez--author photoABOUT THE AUTHOR: (from the dust jacket) Anita Sanchez loves to explore nature, even the stinky, slimy parts of it. She dug into the world of rot by creating a compost pile, viewing vultures, watching worms, and even swimming with (very small) sharks. Check out her blog about unloved plants and animals at




ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR: (from the dust jacket) Gilbert Ford feels spoiled rotten for getting to spend all his time drawing. He is the author and illustrator of The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring and How the Cookie Crumbled. He has also illustrated the award-winning Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, Soldier Song, Itch!, and many middle grade novels. He lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Learn more about his work at





headshotABOUT THE REVIEWER: Emily R. Aguiló-Pérez is an Assistant Professor of English (Children’s Literature) at West Chester University of Pennsylvania.  Her teaching and research are in the areas of children’s literature (particularly Latinx literature), girlhood studies, and children’s cultures. Her published work has focused on girlhood as represented in literature and Puerto Rican girls’ identity formation with Barbie dolls. She has presented research on Latinx children’s books at various conferences and has served on children’s book award committees such as the 2017 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award and the 2018 Pura Belpré Award. Currently, she is part of the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s “A Baker’s Dozen” committee.

Guest Post by Elena Foulis: Latin@ Stories Across Ohio


By Elena Foulis

Over the past year, I have collected 65 video-narratives of Latinos/as in Ohio. Working in English and Spanish, I traveled around the state to interview women and men, older and younger people, artists, students, activists, and educators. While some oral historians have stored their field work in libraries across universities or created an internet collection, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio enters the digital world with historias that highlight the experiences of Latinos and invite the reader to engage further by “clicking” on the different interactive cultural components, which include maps, videos, links, and glossaries for every chapter.

Latin@ Stories Across Ohio highlights the presence of Latinos in the Midwest and opens up a window for conversation and understanding of a culture that has shaped this part of the country for generations. The book combines language and cultural studies perspectives. Latin@ Stories draws on the traditional elements of oral history methodology but enters the digital era by delivering these narratives in conjunction with exciting features that provide fuller context to students and make connections to literature and collective histories.

Thanks to generous support from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and the Ohio Hispanic Heritage Project at The Ohio State University, this bilingual oral history book is free on iBooks. I hope this will make it easier for teachers and students across the Midwest and the U.S. to use it.


Use in the Classroom and Beyond

I currently use Latin@ Stories in my “Spanish in Ohio” class, a senior-level undergraduate service-learning course. This class teaches students about Latino life in the U.S. and, more specifically, in Ohio. Students are able to see, hear, and read first-person narratives of people they might meet or work with in our greater Columbus community. The usefulness of the text isn’t limited to this course, though; I often draw on the material in other classes. For example, in my writing course for the Spanish Department, my students conduct a mini-ethnographical interview that they can then turn into an essay. I show students some of these interviews as examples for the type of interviews they will be doing themselves. I also plan to use some of the content of this book for another course that deals with Latino language and literacy within the context of the U.S. experience.

Since this is a bilingual book with embedded video, it gives students substantial Spanish-language input from speakers with different backgrounds and accents. (In addition, all of the video-narratives collected for the project will be archived at the Center for Folklore studies at OSU.) Whether the focus of the class is language, history, Latino studies, or beyond, instructors who use this book have an opportunity to discuss not only the immigrant experience, but also the stories of abuelitas, the role of memory, argument, joking, advice-giving, and the storytelling practices of younger and older generations.

ONLO collageEach chapter groups historias with a similar theme: chapter one includes stories that deal with adapting to a new environment; chapter two has stories of people who have become advocates for Latino and immigrant rights; chapter three focuses on the various professions Latinos have, including being business owners; chapter four, titled “Generaciones,” has stories that include a group of Latinas from three different generations, an older couple, and two mother-daughter interviews; chapter five, “Las Fuertes,” has the stories of women that have overcome difficult situations and are thriving and using their stories to inspire others; and finally, I reserved chapter six for “Los jovenes,” a group of college students with a unique perspective on identity, language and place.

Although the book is localized in its focus on Ohio, it also gives students a rich and multi-faceted vision of Latino life, history and presence in the United States. I have seen the positive impact the value of an individual story has on students.


IMG_4045Elena Foulis has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies from the University of Arkansas and currently teaches at the Ohio State University. Her research and teaching interests include U.S. Latina/o literature, Digital Oral History, and Digital Storytelling, particularly in service-learning courses. Her digital oral history collection about Latinos/as in Ohio has been published as an eBook titled, Latin@ Stories Across Ohio. Elena also loves photography and contributed many of the photographs in Latin@ Stories.