Setting out to tell the 4.6-billion-year story of life on Earth in one picturebook is a tall order but one in which Mini Grey, its creator has been incredibly successful.
The story is presented as if a theatrical performance by Rod the Roach and his international troupe of insect performers in the world-famous shoe box theatre. Each double page spread represents a key moment in the evolution of life on earth and we find ourselves jumping a mere billion years or so as the pages turn.
The layout is clear and very well thought out but there is useful guidance on how to read the book at the beginning. Readers are advised to focus on what is happening on the stage first– this is where the main action happens with additional information in the wings on each side of the page. The orchestra pit at the foot of each page includes a timeline which helps track key events in the Earth’s story so far; one centimetre representing one million years. Humans arriving a mere 200 thousand years ago, so in the context of life on earth – it’s a case of blink and you miss it.
Readers will gain an insight into how special our world is – conditions just right to support life. Key events in evolution are described, including the early explosion of life forms under the sea and the rise of mammals 50 million years ago. The catastrophic effects of major planetary disasters add drama to the tale and emphasise the fragility of life on earth. Key features of successful species are featured including dinosaurs, mammals and humans with our ability to imagine highlighted as a superpower.
The book ends with a look into the far future and the inevitable end of our planet as the sun grows into a red giant. Possibilities for the near future are suggested with one desirable scenario being humans and wildlife living in harmony. As we pan out for a longshot at the end of the book and the performance ends, we see the audience surrounded by rubbish, a reminder that the human race has a long way to go before we can claim to be living in harmony with nature.
A range of approaches are used to present key concepts and life forms including the culinary device of mixing ingredients to create the perfect recipe for a planet and a variety of puppetry and collage to introduce life forms on earth. There is lots of wry humour, for example the asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs is introduced with ‘Here’s one for all you mass extinction fans!’
Drawing on her extensive skills in picturebook creation, knowledge and fascination with the animal world and environmental awareness Mini Grey’s book is a tour de force, introducing a complex topic in an accessible and engaging way. There is plenty of food for thought too, with the importance of looking after our fragile planet an underlying theme.
This show is definitely going to receive rave reviews – with cries of ‘Bravo!’ for its creator.