The Wonder Garden: Wander through the world's wildest habitats and discover more than 80 amazing animals by Jenny Broom and Kristjana S Williams

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The Wonder Garden: Wander through the world's wildest habitats and discover more than 80 amazing animals by Jenny Broom and Kristjana S Williams

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Buy The Wonder Garden: Wander through the world's wildest habitats and discover more than 80 amazing animals by Jenny Broom and Kristjana S Williams at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Children's Non-Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A nature book for the young explorer, that will appeal to the heart and brain – but most specifically to the eyes.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 48 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Wide Eyed Editions
ISBN: 9781847806475

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Is it any wonder that this book calls the outside world The Wonder Garden? I know things in fiction books, on TV and in games can be fabulous, but can they compete – really – with what nature has presented? You only need a gate through which to go, and a willingness to explore. This book provides those gates – there they are, shining luxuriously on the cover of this jumbo-sized hardback. And in five easy-to-take steps, the rest of the book provides for that exploration, taking us down south in Amazonia, down below the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, and up – to deserts and mountains, via Germany's own Black Forest. And the trip is nothing if not spectacular to look at.

The cornucopia of wildlife on the front cover is only the start. Each time we visit one of the five environments we get a jam-packed double-spread splash page – a riot of wildlife, plant, animal and bird, and an explosion of colour. The next spread has some words, from a second-person narrative of how you got to where we are, and a justification for why it's important or unique, and we then get two huge dioramas that spread all the wildlife out in front of us, with a paragraph concerning endangered, spectacular or superlative creatures we can see.

To my mind the writing wasn't up there with the rest of the book, even if the author has won awards for previous volumes. It concentrates too much for me on what the animals sound like, it repeats the saw about the much-maligned piranha being one of the world's real nasties, and suggests the poison-dart frog would see us off if we ate one. Er – and how would we manage that, with the secretions all over it being so instantly lethal? Bar the odd trivia and the regulation complaint that too many of these wonderful animals are endangered (over half the Great Barrier Reef gone through bleaching in just thirty years) it was left to the artwork to make this book for me. And what artwork.

Each page is a feast for the eyes, delivering up copious lifeforms in the dioramas and introductory images. A lot of it is cut and paste – you can see the same animal, made of exactly the same lines, in the same pose, several times over, but nothing actually looks like these are digital artworks, and I belie you to guess without knowing in advance from either this review or the credit at the back. Everything looks instead like the most classical woodcut, and all the colouring appears to be a hand-tint. It reminds me of slightly old-fashioned museum displays, cramming unlikely bedfellows together at times, but boy does it work, and it conveys the spirit of the book to a T, that wherever you look in this Wonder Garden there is life in all its extraordinary, profound beauty.

If only then the animals didn't all stare at you with what mostly seem to look like ill-positioned and over-sized eyes. This slightly unsettling effect kind of adds to the unrealistic images, but the forms, the colours, the whole 'there are wonders out there so go look' character is definitely there in every corner. It doesn't touch on the birds living on the Great Barrier Reef, nor the fish living in the Chihuahuan desert – we will have to find them out for ourselves. But with such impetus – a wonderful, huge, tactile and easily re-explored volume such as this – that is bound to happen. This will make a primatologist, big cat expert or aquatic scientist out of anyone. The real wonder, then, is who it will hit the most – it could well be the young person you yourself buy this lovely gift book for.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

If your young naturalist has already specialised in primates, then Mad About Monkeys by Owen Davey might be the book for them.

Buy The Wonder Garden: Wander through the world's wildest habitats and discover more than 80 amazing animals by Jenny Broom and Kristjana S Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Wonder Garden: Wander through the world's wildest habitats and discover more than 80 amazing animals by Jenny Broom and Kristjana S Williams at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Wonder Garden: Wander through the world's wildest habitats and discover more than 80 amazing animals by Jenny Broom and Kristjana S Williams at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Wonder Garden: Wander through the world's wildest habitats and discover more than 80 amazing animals by Jenny Broom and Kristjana S Williams at Amazon.com.

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