Sitting on her flowered bedspread at home in Northwest Washington, 8-year-old Macie McGraw cradles a pristine white beaver skull in her hands. She found it while hiking in Great Falls, Md., two years ago. After her family had the skull cleaned by a professional, it went on display in the "bones" section of the natural history museum she has created on her bookshelf.
"There is one tooth missing," the second-grader mentions as she examines the skull. "I took it out for the 'teeth' section of my museum."
Macie loves collecting and sorting natural things, and she sees herself as a naturalist and a curator (someone who is in charge of an exhibit or a museum.) She started the museum when she was in kindergarten, displaying dead bees, cicadas, stink bugs and wasps. "Most people won't pick up a stink bug," Macie says. "But I've always liked how little bugs are so pretty and delicate. I like looking at different parts."
In addition to insects, bones and teeth, her museum has sections for feathers, nests, shells and rocks. Among her favorite specimens are her nests, such as the deep one made of delicate, leafy vines and another made from twigs and dried grass. Also on display: fragile butterflies, a large deer skull with antlers, fossils donated by her grandmother, a piece of coral, an abandoned hornet's nest and a palm-size whale vertebra that a friend found on a beach.
Macie even has living "exhibits" outside her window: the cardinals that frequent the bird feeder hanging from a tree. (She observed them for her winning science fair entry about which seeds cardinals prefer to eat.) Macie has named the squirrels who live in a heart-shaped hole in the same tree Wilfard and Mima.
Back in the teeth section, next to the handful of tiny shark teeth and the single, ridged beaver tooth, sit the molars donated by her 11-year-old brother, Simon, and Macie's own baby teeth.
"When I lose a tooth, I put them on display right away," she says. "The tooth fairy still leaves money, but she knows to leave the teeth. She doesn't go fishing through my museum or anything."