Chicago, Illinois
It may not be the most pressing question facing the nation, but Sylvia Branzei is going to answer it anyway: What are cat hairballs made of?

The author of the best seller Grossology is hitting the bookstores this fall with a sequel taking a look at fascinating and disgusting facts about our animal friends.

In Animal Grossology, Branzei writes about blood eaters, slime makers and various other gross subjects as a means of drawing young students to science.

The sea cucumber, she explains, is a creature that ejects its slimy internal organs to ensnare potential predators. It later crawls away and recreates the organs.

"I'm not trying to gross kids out, I'm trying to teach kids science," Branzei said.

For students curious about why cats throw up balls of hair, she writes that the hair balls form thanks to one of cats' more charming habits: frequent licking and grooming, with cats swallowing the excess fur.

Like her first book, the sequel will be sold through bookstores and school book clubs, targeting upper elementary and junior high students. Ideas for both works came largely from teaching her junior high and high school science students in rural northern California.

Since its release last year, Grossology, published by Planet Dexter, has landed atop several best-seller lists for children's nonfiction books. The book explains in simple terms various human body functions and maladies such as pimples, blisters, burps, smelly feet and dandruff.

In the animal sequel, Branzei writes about blood eaters -- leeches, ticks, lice and bed bugs -- as well as slime makers, lampreys and the sea cucumber.

For the books, Branzei pulled information from science journals and relied on her own education, which includes an undergraduate degree in microbiology and a master's degree in science education.

It's a Gross World, the third and possibly last in the Gross series scheduled out in late 1997, is a planned animated television series titled after Branzei's first book.

"Then I think that will be the end of Grossology," she said.

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