Botanicum (Welcome To The Museum) by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis

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Botanicum (Welcome To The Museum) by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A lavishly-produced book which unfortunately could be too advanced for a child but not sufficiently-detailed for an adult.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 112 Date: September 2016
Publisher: Big Picture Press
ISBN: 978-1783703944

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Welcome to the Museum it says on the front cover and I'll admit that for the moment I was confused as I've never associated museums with living plants, but as soon as I stepped inside the covers, I knew where I was. One of the authors, Professor Kathy Willis is the Director of Science at Kew Gardens: she's undoubtedly based her thoughts on Kew, but for me, I was back in the glasshouses at the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh - the glorious 'Botanics'. I'm not certain why we're supposed to be in a museum unless it's that it allows us to refer to author Kathy Willis and illustrator Katie Scott as curators. Still, it's a contrivance which doesn't affect the content.

We're given a trip through the history and variety of plants, from the first plants such as algae and then on to the different types of plants, beginning with trees and moving through palms and cycads, herbaceous plants, grasses, cattails, sedges and rushes to orchids and bromeliads and finishing with a section on adapting to environments. The book is lavish and with high production values: thick, matte, slightly off-white paper makes for easy reading and the illustrations, whilst not having a wide colour palette are clear and visually compelling. There's a picture of a magnolia which I would happily hang on the wall. The writing and the illustrations combine well and make more than the sum of the parts.

I feel that I should be raving about this book, but much as I love the look and feel of it, I can't quite get there as I'm not entirely certain who it's aimed at. It would be a wonderful introduction to plant life for an older child: Willis has the knack of being able to make facts meaningful - the plants which are so small that a hundred of them would make up the size of a grain of sand, or the fact that it would take sixteen adults holding hands to reach around the base of a giant sequoia. But then I find sentences such as (speaking about bryophytes) [T]hey have root-like structures called rhizoids that allow them to capture nutrients from the soil, and a rather unusual reproductive cycle that involves alternating between two different life forms, a leafy(vegetative) form called a gametophyte and a form that disperses spores called a sporophyte. I searched the book in the hope of a glossary, but in vain.

In fairness, most technical terms are explained to some extent when we first encounter them, but when I meet quite a few new phrases at the same time, I like to have somewhere central to which I can refer until the meaning sticks in my mind. Then I began to wonder if the book was aimed at adults, but the text seemed a little sparse even as an introduction to the various subjects: there's about two-thirds of a page of text given over to bulbs, for example. I came to the conclusion that it would be a glorious book to have available in the library, to which you could refer, before going on to look at individual subjects in more detail - and about a dozen online resources are given at the back of the book.

I do wish that I could have been more enthusiastic: there's lots to commend the book. There's an excellent explanation of pollination and pollinators, for example, and when I finished reading I did feel more knowledgeable. It's a book which I'm pleased to have read, delighted that it's available, but not certain that I would want to own. I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If you have an interest in botany you might enjoy The Invention of Nature: The Adventures of Alexander von Humboldt, the Lost Hero of Science by Andrea Wulf. Moving away from botany we can also recommend On the Origin of Species: The Illustrated Edition by Charles Darwin and David Quammen (Author and Editor). Staying with Kew Gardens, we loved The Kew Gardens Children's Cookbook: Plant, Cook, Eat by Joe Archer and Caroline Craig. You might also like the sticker book. Adults might also appreciate Garlands, Conkers and Mother-Die: British and Irish Plant-Lore by Roy Vickery.

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Buy Botanicum (Welcome To The Museum) by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Botanicum (Welcome To The Museum) by Katie Scott and Kathy Willis at


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Katherine Willis said:

This is an poor review written by someone who has never worked with children. There is no need to dumb down science for children - they will work it out for themselves... and the more you patronise them the less likely they are to be interested in science.

Sue said:

We're always happy to publish an author's comments, but I'll stand by what I said! And I did work with children.