Here is a large and original non-fiction book which is bound to appeal to young imaginations. The beautifully designed front cover invites young learners to step through gold embossed gates into five exciting ‘wonder gardens’. These ‘gardens’ are the Amazon Rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef, the Chihuahuan Desert, the Black Forest and the Himalayas. The plants, flowers, animals, birds and fish that live in each of these distinctive habitats are shown in fine, detailed and richly coloured double spreads. Each habitat is shown as an ecosystem made up of plants and animals that have adapted and survived. So we learn that in the Chihuahuan Desert the Gila Monster is a little reptile which has become able over time to store fat in its tail, nourishment ‘which it relies on to survive the harsh winters’.
As well as explaining and showing the biological facts, this illustrator also shows the heart and spirit of each habitat. For me the most dramatic example of this is the appeal to story and folklore which comes through in the atmospheric pictures of the Black Forest ‘ancient and enigmatic’ and ‘a corner of the globe where boundaries between fact and fiction blur’. Going through this romantic wild landscape, the text suggests, explains how it inspired fairytales like ‘Hansel and Gretel’ and ‘Rapunzel’. This is not an encyclopedia or a conventional information book: facts about the different plants and animals are interesting and pertinent but fairly brief. The creatures, too, are an artist’s impression of them rather than being examples of photographic accuracy. But the book shows powerfully the great variety of the natural environments, scenery and creatures of the earth. And it offers children a rich experience – one that could lead to their own exciting drawing and writing.