This elegant non-fiction picturebook by Taiwanese-American author-illustrator Julia Kuo explores the subject of bioluminescence in a series of eye-catching matt black spreads. Sophisticated illustrations make the most of the plain backgrounds by emphasising pattern and form, and the pared-back, almost meditative page design leaves plenty of space for observing and wondering.
Readers are invited to take a leisurely but visually exhilarating stroll through a variety of natural habitats in the company of two curious observers, one adult and one child. Along the way, basic questions (what is bioluminescence? Which creatures produce it, and where can it be observed?) are suggested and explored via a double text: one minimalistic and poetic, the other delivering relevant and well-phrased nuggets of factual information. Attention is paid to the needs and interests of young readers, and where the facts are known, Kuo shares carefully-selected details to enlighten and appeal. When attacked, for example, jellyfish use light to protect themselves by luring bigger fish, and foxfire on a forest floor is created by bioluminescent fungi ‘growing and glowing on rotting wood.’
Sometimes, however, even the scientists have no answers, and Kuo celebrates this uncertainty. Tiny one-celled creatures called dinoflagellates may ‘cause the ocean to sparkle with each wave’, but the reason for this behaviour is unknown, and it’s this exciting collision of fact and mystery, of information and poetry, of what is seen and what is imagined, that gives this book depth and ensures that it always has more to offer.
Beautiful, meaningful and distinctive non-fiction presented in such a child-centred and affective way is something to celebrate, and Luminous deserves to be widely shared.