Secret agent worms tackle top-secret plot to steal our soil

April 01, 2001

Move over James Bond and Austin Powers. Here come the Secret Agent Worms. University of Illinois Extension has recently released a full-color kids' book that features the zany exploits of two Secret Agent Worms, Napoleon Soil and Jane Blonde. ("The name is Blonde. Jane Blonde.") Their first adventure, The Disappearing Earth, tackles the priority-one problem of soil erosion.

The Disappearing Earth weaves science into the storyline, much the way that the popular Magic School Bus series does. With illustrations on every page by award-winning illustrator Brian Cook, the story is fast-paced and visually stunning, said Mike Hirschi, U of I Extension agricultural engineer and technical supervisor for the project.

The book also manages to make reference to just about every popular spy story of the past thirty years-from James Bond and Mission Impossible to The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

In the story, Napoleon Soil and Jane Blonde work for the top-secret, underground spy organization known as E.A.R.T.H., or Espionage Agents with Really Terrific Hair. (All of the worms in the book are endowed with a fine head of hair.) Their mission is to find out why our soil is disappearing, but leave it to Napoleon and Jane to make this mission an impossible one.

Napoleon and Jane are convinced that our soil is being stolen by a diabolical villain known as Mudfinger. The two worms, along with a much wiser grandfather, set off in search of Mudfinger in their speedboat, but along the way they get caught up in the soil erosion process. They are bombarded by raindrops and swept away in run-off water.

By the end of this story, the reader will understand the soil erosion process and ways to control it, Hirschi said. But Napoleon and Jane, alas, end the story just as dippy as they started. The Disappearing Earth, a 36-page book, was funded by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency through Section 319 of the Clean Water Act. It was created and written by Doug Peterson, an Extension communications specialist who has also written for the popular VeggieTales video series. The book targets third through fifth grade readers, Hirschi noted. And although it doesn't come with nifty spy gadgets, such as a smoke screen and ejection seat, the book comes with some handy supporting materials.

First, there is the Soil Erosion Teacher's Packet, which includes the book, 6 student activity sheets, a poster, 40 bookworm bookmarks, and 40 top-secret E.A.R.T.H. stick-on secret agent badges. The packet also includes a 36-page Mission Possible Teacher's Guide, which can be used to conduct soil erosion experiments and spy activities. The experiments are designed to meet Illinois Learning Standards and National Science Standards.

In addition, there is a Soil Erosion Hands-on Science Kit, which includes the teacher's packet and all of the materials necessary to run the soil erosion experiments-with the exception of a bag of topsoil.
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The book is available for $6.50 per copy and the teacher's packet runs $38 apiece. To order, call the toll-free number 800-345-6087. Visa and MasterCard are accepted.

The Disappearing Earth
University of Illinois Extension
Price: $6.50, Pages: 36
ISBN 1-883097-27-4

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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