Early Book Review: Smart and Spineless by Ann Downer

Smart and Spineless: Exploring Invertebrate Intelligence by Ann Downer is a nonfiction book for middle grade through adult readers. It is currently scheduled for release on September 1 2015. 

When you think of smart creatures, animals such as owls, dolphins, dogs, and gorillas come to mind.  We don't usually think of invertebrates, or animals without a spine, as being smart. But invertebrates can be astonishingly intelligent. These animals exhibit surprising feats of learning, memory, and problem-solving using their relatively simple, tiny brains, some the size of a sesame seed or even smaller. In fact, some intelligent invertebrates have no brain at all! Scientists around the world are putting invertebrate intelligence to use in mind-boggling ways. Engineers are designing swarmbots based on bees to take part in search-and-rescue efforts. And materials scientists are basing a new, tough ceramic on the structure of a mantis shrimp's claw.

In Smart and Spineless, readers get a interesting information on a variety of invertebrates. Worms, jumping spiders, octopus, honey bees and paper wasps, Argentine ants, mantis shrimp, and more critters that have tiny little brains, or no brain at all, than can do amazing things. The volume of information might seem daunting at first, but the organization and constant new bits of information make the reading highly engaging. I thought I knew a significant amount about animals, but I was thrilled to learn a large amount about these particular invertebrates, how they are being studied, and the importance of what they can teach us. I think any child or adult that enjoys learning new things about animals and insects in the world around us, particularly the less 'cute and fluffy' critters will greatly enjoy this book.


I highly suggest Smart and Spineless for school and library collections, or the home collection for any family with an inspiring scientist. The book is highly informative and interesting with the bonus of great images to fully engage readers.


Ann Downer was born in Virginia and spent part of her childhood in the Philippines and in Thailand. She is the author of five fantasy novels for young readers and three previous books about science, including the award-winning Elephant Talk: The Surprising Science of Elephant Communication for Twenty-First Century Books. Her first picture book, Shark Baby, was published in 2013. She lives outside Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband and son. Their backyard is visited by woodchucks, skunks, and rabbits, but no bears—so far. 
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