On the front of this gorgeous oversized book, a sticker reads “Welcome to the Museum,” and indeed, as you turn the pages, you will feel as if you have stepped into the magical world of a natural history museum that has somehow come right into your house.
As Dr. Sandra Knapp of London’s Natural History Museum observes in the forward, we share our planet with about two million other species of living things, and these show incredible diversity. But of course we don’t always get to see many of the marvelous creatures of this planet in our daily lives. The “Animalium” attempts to remedy that omission, bringing a virtual museum to you that is “open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.” It is also, as the author contends, “the only museum to house animals ancient and modern, enormous and tiny, vicious and vulnerable, between two covers.” And it is amazing.
This portfolio-like book is divided into six “galleries”: invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Each section is then further divided by branches of these life forms. You receive some background generally on the division, and then details on specific features of sub-groups. [For example, in the invertebrate section, there are separate “exhibits” on porifera (sponges), cephalopods (such as squid and octopi), cnidaria (examples: anemones and corals), and flying insects.] In addition, each division showcases an ecosystem common to these life forms (for invertebrates, the habitat featured is coastal waters).
At the end of the book there is an excellent index which includes both common names and scientific names (also provided for in each “exhibit”). There are also some links to online guides for further information. To name a few: although the book does not get into scientific classification, it does reference the BBC site which explains all about taxonomic ranking, and even provides a printable tree life poster. The Monterey Bay Aquarium site has many fun resources, including printable guides to sea creatures and habitats divided by grades. ARKive is a not-for-profit initiative to create “an awe-inspiring record of life on Earth” and has a fantastic database of articles on conservation and climate change. These would also make great resources for kids doing reports for school.
The information in this book is excellent, but what will entrance you the most will probably be the illustrations by Katie Scott. Her drawings were initially made with pen and ink and then colored digitally.
Evaluation: This unusual book is marketed for kids 8-12, but I would identify it instead as a coffee table book for all ages.
Published by Big Picture Press, an imprint of Candlewick Press, 2014
Note: Animalium is apparently the first in a planned series of virtual museums.