The Variety of Life by Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie

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The Variety of Life by Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie

Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A book that pulls back from too much educational text to just give us the lovely variety of the animal and plant life of the world.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 64 Date: October 2017
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781444931198

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People say you don't know what you've got until it's gone, and that's definitely the case with biodiversity. This book is nothing but a quick survey of all the wondrous species and fabulous animals and plants on our tiny planet, and it's a crying, galling shame that a lot of the superlatives that the creators have chosen to illustrate are endangered. The introduction suggests that you can't lose something if it's got a name, and someone to care for what lives under that name – we can only hope that's right.

Against unadorned white background, we get very vivid portraits in large double-page spreads (and I do mean large) of animals – perhaps eight of the 356 known parrots, or all eight true bears. We get one quick sentence about them, their name, their Latin name, endangered status if any (shown by an ominous black star), and their picture. There's a brief introduction to each grouping, and you have the book. There's no attempt to present the animals in a full diorama, there's no arrangement by area, habitat, diet or any other decision, it's just the animals. (This really becomes a problem with the slugs, as half are sea-slugs and half from the land, in an odd, random mix.) I assume they're all to scale, but there's no sizing detail, unless the trivia mentions the superlative size (or tininess).

That trivia is pretty much all you need to galvanise some temporary interest – at least until you turn the page to the new critters. Some will stick with you – I doubt I ever knew of the mouse that hunts and eats fish, nor the snake that dangles in caves in wait for passing bats. But the drawings are the prime ingredient here, and I have to assume in my biological ignorance that they're very good. Colours are certainly vivid, and technique is pretty good (the end flaps have huge amounts of small animals on them, and both texture and colour comes from the simplest of pointillist dots of paint). If anything lets the artwork down it is the over-prevalence for huge googly eyes. I know they're probably to scale as well, but they do look too bright white, too wide and almost stuck-on like glove puppet eyes at times.

That said, this is a pretty wonderful book to be had – although it would probably make much more sense on that 'over-sized book' shelf in the school library than at home. It does confuse one by saying that Ursus arctos will only mean the brown bear, then clumping multiple domestic sheep and multiple domestic dogs under the one Latin name – the text is pared back so much it hasn't differentiated between species and breed, and the layouts don't help us peg the relevant animals as of a kind. But it's an intelligent and well-crafted sampler, a real take-away natural history museum.

People say you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Truth is, you knew what you had, you just never thought you'd lose it. We're losing animals for that very reason, and also losing the chance to find the ones we've not even discovered yet. We are idiots. This may just rectify some of that.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

My Encyclopedia of Very Important Animals by DK is the next step up in detail about the creatures concerned.

Buy The Variety of Life by Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Variety of Life by Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Variety of Life by Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Variety of Life by Nicola Davies and Lorna Scobie at Amazon.com.


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