Thomson takes the reader on a delightful trip behind the scenes at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History. She tells the humorous, bizarre, even tragic stories of many of the objects on display, and describes the preparation, operation, and cleaning of the museum's exhibits. Her backstage tour leads through the ""magic shop,"" where dinosaurs and their primordial worlds are assembled; the insect zoo, where only the members of the Tarantula Club are allowed to pick up the huge spiders; and the giant coral reef, where oceanic waves are created by automatic spilling buckets. And the reader is introduced to those who keep the museum running smoothly day-to-day: the technicians, lab workers, model builders, guards. She also provides a historical perspective on the museum's collection. Captain Charles Wilkes, for example, the tyrannical leader of an expedition to the South Seas in the mid-1800's, became a model for Herman Melville's Captain Ahab. In 1768, 27 years after naturalist George Steller announced his discovery of the docile and affectionate sea cow, hunters killed the last one. A good bet for all kids interested in science. Thomson shows that exhibiting natural history is a craft and an art, as well as a science. A museum has never seemed more human.