The Miami Herald

The Great Big World of Nematodes Coloring Book

By Dr. John Chitambar

Distributed free to students at California's State Scientists' Day by The California Dept. of Food and Agriculture's Plant Pest Diagnostics Laboratory, 3294 Meadowview Rd., Sacramento, Calif. 95832.

Suggested by Tim Tidwell of Sacramento, Calif.

What's the biggest problem with young people today? Ask any leading educational psychologist that question, and he or she will answer, ''The problem is that young people today are stupid.''

This is not their fault. Today's young people spend far too much time on useless non-intellectual activities such as watching TV, ''surfing'' the Internet, instant-messaging their congresspersons, etc., and far too little time perusing academic materials. Why? Because academic materials are boring. That is why you and I stopped perusing them the instant we could get away with it.

Well, that has changed, thanks in no small part to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, where somebody finally had the courage to stand up and say, ''Darn it, why CAN'T nematodes be interesting?'' The result is this exciting coloring book, THE GREAT BIG WORLD OF NEMATODES.

Nematodes, in case you forgot, are these tiny worms that you can't see, thank God. According to the coloring book, there are a LOT of them. As the main character in the book, a worm named ''Nema,'' states: ''there are billions and billions like me that live on this planet.'' Apparently this is a good thing, although we personally here at the Gift Guide do not see why.

But the point is this: This year, instead of giving your child some useless ''high tech'' toy such as an ''X-Box'' or ''Nintendo'' that will entertain the child for, at most, several years, give the gift of nematode knowledge -- a gift that could change your child's entire life. Especially if he or she runs away from home.

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