On the front of this stunning oversized book – a perfect gift to celebrate Earth Day – a sticker reads “Welcome to the Museum.” Indeed, as you turn the pages, you will feel as if you have stepped into the magical world of a museum devoted to fungi that has somehow come right into your house.
An Introduction by Professor David Hawksworth of the Royal Botanic Gardens in London points out that fungi are critical to the maintenance of our food supply, health, ecosystems, and global atmospheric chemistry. The author, Dr. Ester Gaya, also of the Royal Botanic Gardens, then tells you what to expect in pages of this “museum”:
“Tour the galleries and learn why fungi are more related to animals than plants. Discover how they evolved. Find out about their amazing variety of shapes and colors, some of them alien-like, almost monstrous, and disgustingly smelly, others incredibly beautiful.”
This portfolio-like volume is divided into four “galleries”: fungal biology, fungal diversity, fungal interactions, and fungi and humans. You receive some background generally on the subject of each gallery, and then details on specific features of taxonomic sub-groups. [For example, in the fungal diversity section, there are separate “exhibits” on cap fungi, mushrooms and toadstools, bracket fungi, gasteromycetes, and foliicolous fungi.] In addition, each gallery showcases an ecosystem common to these life forms. [For fungal diversity, the habitat featured is temperate forests.]
What you learn about fungi is incredibly fascinating. For example, of the estimated 2.2 to 3.8 million different species of fungi on Earth, fewer than 5 percent have been identified! They are so diverse, and full of surprises. A lichen, for example, is actually made up of two different organisms functioning as a single, stable unit: a fungus, and an alga or cyanobacterium, which is it’s source of food. Sort of like mating with a grocery store owner. Pretty clever!
In the gallery devoted to interactions between fungi and humans, you’ll see illustrations of which fungi are poisonous, which are edible – at least 350 species of fungi are collected for food! – and which are used for drugs. It is surprising to learn how many “wonder drugs” come from fungi, including not only antibiotics but immunosupressants and statins.
The information in this book is excellent, but what will entrance you the most will probably be the exquisite and detailed illustrations by Katie Scott. Her drawings are initially made with pen and ink and then colored digitally.
As a bonus, the publisher has created a fungi fact sheet for homeschooling activities. You can download it here.
Nota Bene: This book is part of the outstanding Welcome to the Museum Series, which are uniformly excellent. There are quite a few, some of which include: Planetarium, Dinosaurium, Botanicum, Historium, and Animalium.
Evaluation: This unusual book, part of a book/museum series, 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, 2021