curated by Jenny Broom (author) and Katie Scott (illustrator)
(Big Picture Press, $35.00, Ages 8-12 – but will be enjoyed by all ages!)
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014
✩Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness
Turn off the TV, power down the devices, and take the children to the museum … simply by opening up this visually impressive book! Colorful, intricately drawn animal life forms, will instantly grab children’s attention.
Beginning with its oversize format and a bronze-colored admittance ticket, the book’s design was intended to create (or recreate) a museum visit. Turn the pages and step into the “museum.” At the “Entrance,” the “curators,” Jenny Broom and Katie Scott, welcome children and invite them to “See for yourself how the tree of life evolved from the simple sea sponge into the diverse array of animals found on Earth today (p.1).”
A breath-taking two page spread of the “Tree of Animal Life” follows. The curators explain that this unusual tree illustrates ” … how organisms that appear to be very different have … evolved from one another over millions of years … (p. 5).” Children (and adults) will find it fascinating to follow the branches up from the stem (Invertebrates) to see the development of, and interrelationships between, animal life forms. For example, a lungfish and a cockatoo once shared the Vertebrate branch. The curators note that the further away from the stem a species is, the more the species has evolved in order to survive.
As children continue turning pages, they enter individual “galleries” (or book chapters) which are ” … arranged by shared characteristics and in evolutionary order to show how the animal kingdom… (p.1) ” developed over eons of time into invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
The curators encourage their young visitors to ” … look for characteristic similarities and read the text to find out more about how the animals are comparable. (p.1).” Each gallery also sports a “habitat diorama” where children can learn about the ecosystem that supports those animals and how they have adapted to life in that environment. In examining the Arctic Tundra, children will learn that many of the mammals there, such as the polar bear, are predatory carnivores, requiring the protein found in meat to help fuel the energy these animals need to keep warm.
Broom’s narrative is engaging and flows smoothly. While age appropriate, it is not simplistic nor condescending. Scientific vocabulary (cnidarian, amphibian, phylum) is used throughout the book with the meanings gracefully woven into the narrative.
Two page spreads feature general information and characteristics about a group of animals. A “Key to the plate” presents information specific to the animals found in the accompanying illustration, numbered like a field guide. Scott makes excellent use of the book’s oversized format with a stunning full-paged spread of the Emperor Penguins and a diagram of the Nile Crocodile’s skeleton. Other spreads, such as the European frog, cover the bottom halves of two pages. This enables Scott to effectively and sequentially depict the frog’s five stages of development from frogspawn to adult. Her intricate pen and ink drawings, digitally colored, are reminiscent of work done by artists and naturalists like John James Audubon.
Additional material in the book includes a preface by Dr. Sandra Knapp of the Natural History Museum of London, England stressing the importance of biodiversity and a “Library” of several online resources.
Check out Big Picture Press to see several images from the book and Candlewick Press for information on the author and the illustrator and to order your copy. Watch the YouTube book trailer below, too.
So visit a “museum” that never closes-and keep children engaged for many hours. Animalium is a highly recommended middle grade nonfiction book for home, schools, and public libraries plus there’s never an admission fee.
– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro