How 'Wow in the World''s Mindy Thomas Makes Potty Humor into STEM Education

Wow in the World, the #1 podcast for kids (according to Apple and also my son), saved us long before the pandemic. On sick days when I had to work, long car rides, short car rides, rainy days, and those irrational “I’m borrrrred” spells, there’s never been a better way to distract, entertain, and ever-so-sneakily educate children, without a screen, than this silly, story-based podcast about scientific discoveries. That’s why I jumped at the chance this week to thank co-creator Mindy Thomas for her work.

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If you aren’t familiar with Wow in the World, the podcast stars straight-laced former Ted Radio Hour host Guy Raz and bubbly Thomas (who also hosts SiriusXM’s The Absolute Mindy Show) going about their wacky daily lives attending bathroom conventions, traveling back in time, competing in a “Nice-Off” competition, and the like, sometimes journeying via “sleigh cats” or riding giant pigeon Reggie. Along the way, they manage to talk about interesting studies they’ve found in scientific journals.

Thomas and Raz have expanded their Wow brand over the past year, much to kids’ and parents’ delight. When schools closed, they launched a second, game-show-style podcast, Two Whats?! and a Wow! to engage kids even further as they were stuck at home. Then they released an activity book to go along with it. And this week, Thomas and Raz released The How and Wow of the Human Body: From Your Tongue to Your Toes and All the Guts in Between. Like Wow in the World, it delivers fascinating scientific facts, but packages them in lively text, cartoon illustrations, and the kind of gross trivia tidbits kids love. (Warning: There is a LOT of poop.)

This being pandemic life, my 8-year-old son, Nathaniel, was home during my chat with Thomas — so he joined in on our conversation about Wow, the human body, and how scientists have more in common with kids than anyone really talks about.

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SheKnows: Hi, Mindy! I’m so excited to talk to you today because my son Nathaniel is here and both of us have enjoyed the book.

Mindy Thomas: Hi, Nathaniel! How’s your human body today?

Nathaniel: …

SK: He just went and hid under the bed. It is always a little surreal when you get to talk to someone you normally only get to listen to. I guess it’s on me to interview you for now. So, how did you guys decide to write a book about the body?

MT: On Wow in the World, we spend a lot of time going out into space, under the sea, out into the far-off reaches of the world and the universe, looking for amazing science stories to share. But then we realized that every single one of us has an incredible piece of “wow” that they are dragging around with us every day, and that is our human body. And so we decided to start where kids are, literally inside their body. We were so excited to dig into that because the body is incredible, it’s the most impressive piece of technology ever created. But we also were interested because it’s really gross and disgusting. And we wanted to dig into that and bring some of that toilet talk and give it a little bit of scientific context to help kids talk about poop and pee in a scientific way.

SK: The gross things are kind of what sets the book apart, I think. What’s the grossest fact you learned?

MT: Well, one of the things that I thought was kind of surprising is that the average healthy person farts between 14 and 20 times a day, which is something that most people, especially grown-ups, never talk about. So if you are going into a situation where maybe you’re going to feel a little bit nervous or intimidated, it is a good thing to look at that person in the eye and say, “I know what sounds and smells are coming out of your body today.” And there’s something a little bit comforting about that.

We also found out that girls fart as much as boys, which I think is something in our culture we might not recognize, and that there’s evidence that men actually fart more than women but female farts tend to smell worse. So I think this is another science experiment that I would like to see done.

SK: As long as we don’t have to be there when it happens! Over the years of making this show, what have you learned about how children listen and interact with your material?

MT: I think that maybe the key to getting kids to get excited about science and learning is storytelling. For Wow in the World, we get real serious studies from peer-reviewed scientific journals, and we sort of distill these studies in a way that’s easy for kids to understand. But then we wrap them up in a story. By creating a narratives around these studies, giving it context and connecting it to a kid’s world, suddenly this abstract scientific discovery or thought might be relevant to [them]. I grew up thinking that science was not for me. It wasn’t taught to me in a way that led me to a lot of curiosity, and it wasn’t until I got older and started studying and started learning about science on my own that it dawned on me, “Wow, this is amazing!” And I realized that scientists think so much like kids. So why not draw those comparisons? Why not make that connection that scientists, first of all, were kids at one point, but that they follow their curiosity. They’re not afraid to ask ridiculous questions if it means finding an answer or finding more questions. They’re not afraid of what they don’t know yet. In fact, they’re excited by what they don’t know yet. Scientists and kids have way more in common than most people would think.

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The How and Wow of the Human Body

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SK: It must be so exciting to think that some of your listeners and readers will one day go into a scientific field.

MT: That’s what I hope. I mean, even writing this book, I know that this book is going to be in the hands of kids that will someday be performing surgery on us. The kids reading this book today, some of them will turn into the scientists that are studying the human body tomorrow who are coming up with solutions to the problems that we are developing now.

SK: I noticed the book uses inclusive language when talking about a baby’s gender in one section, and a “birth mother” when talking about belly buttons — and you have a whole section on puberty. How did you decide what to include when it came to trickier topics for a young audience?

MT: We wanted to keep this book kind of where kids are in elementary school, but also give them some idea of where they’re going, so we have a whole puberty board game in it. But as far as the inclusive language, that’s just paying attention to the world we’re living in. I talk to kids every morning on my SiriusXM show for kids and just kids in my neighborhood and friends’ kids. Kids are growing up in a world that is different and a lot better in a lot of ways than the one that we grew up, and it is more inclusive. We made this book for all kids.

SK: I think Nathaniel is ready to ask you a couple of questions…

N: How long does it take for you to make an episode?

MT: You know, the answer to that question is there is no answer. Sometimes it takes a really long time because we have the scientific study, and then we’re trying to crack the story around it. And I feel like sometimes we have to wait for our characters to start talking to us before we could get the episode out. So sometimes Grandma G Force and Dennis and Thomas Fingerling and even Mindy and Guy Raz — they’re not cooperating with us, and we have to wait ’til they’re ready to make the show. But we’re always working on it every day. We’re always kind of in different pieces, like when you’re building with Legos, you do it in stages. It’s kind of how we do this.

N: How did you come up with Reggie?

MT: He came to us. All of our characters came to us. We never, ever sat down and said, “We’re going to need a giant flying pigeon that we fly around on or we need a grandma on this show, or we need a knuckle cracking old guy named Thomas Fingerling or a nosy neighbor named Dennis.” We never planned it. And all I can say remember, I was mentioning how we have to wait until the characters start cooperating with us? They introduced themselves to us and I can’t explain it other than it’s kind of magic. OK, we’re making up the show they kind of knocked on our door and said, “Hi, we’re here.”

The first time I met Dennis, I was working on an episode and I did not have time for Dennis, and he would not leave me alone until he was in the show. And then he never went away. And that is the truth. If you try writing a story, if you just sat down and started writing whatever was on the top of your head, you might surprise yourself that things will come out of your imagination that you didn’t even know were in there.

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SK: Do your kids ever want to get involved in your show?

MT: Oh, yes. My daughter is 10 years old, and she loves writing. She’s very, very funny. She often will ask to read over a script after I finished it, and she will kind of want to punch it up for me. Sometimes her ideas are really good. They’re super into it. They still read something and will be like, “Oh, you should do an episode about this.” They have been a great focus group for the last four years. My son [who is 13] is trying to lobby for the “Wow Cow.” He has this idea that he’s going to be the Wow Cow on the show — a kid dressed up in a cow suit who knows everything. And I keep promising him that as soon as it naturally fits into the show, we’ll bring on the Wow Cow.

SK: We’ll be listening for him!

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