'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 8 January 2023

Review: Full of Life

The title of this astonishing book says it all - it's not only full of life, it's bursting at the spine seams. 

Subtitled 'Exploring Earth's Biodiversity', Full of Life sets out to tackle a universe of content. Abridging and arranging life on Earth is an almost incalculable feat. I know - I've tried this with some of my own books - but what I've produced doesn't come within a protozoa's whisker of what Isabel Thomas has achieved in this book.

And it's an impressive achievement...  compressing an intricate 'peek' into life on Earth into the minuscule space of just 224 pages. 

This page count makes for a whopping informational picture book but the rich, detailed, intricate content is perfect for dipping into, nibbling in bites packed with punch and wonder. I wouldn't want it any smaller. I want it to last a long long time, and so I am nibbling and savouring.

Content includes an introduction and how to navigate the book. We then dive into the three domains. The first two are microscopic - Eubacteria (true bacteria) and Archaea (other types of bacteria that carry similarities to the cells of plants and animals, and may actually be our ancestors). The third domain focuses on Eukaryota which is basically all other life on Earth, from fleas and leaves to whales and Aunt Betty. This group also includes fungi and microscopic Eukaryotes like protozoa.

Double page spreads in each section are well laid-out, with topics divided into clades - for example, Purple Bacteria and Relatives, Nitrogen-Fixing Archaea, Flowering Plants and Perching Birds. Spreads include All About, Shared Features, Key Facts, a specimen from that particular clade, and a zoom-in on several other inclusions, like turtles, scaled lizards, birds, crocs and dinosaurs on the Lizard-Faced Animals spread.

Children will gasp in wonder (if they don't already know, and many do!) that crocodiles are more closely related to birds than lizards. Little wonder when we learn that birds are direct descendants of the dinosaurs, and that crocs are, of course, kind of almost living dinosaurs.

Graphic design-style illustrations by Sara Gillingham bring clarity to the sophisticated text, using pops of neon colour and quirky imagery that not only brightens the pages, but engages the reader while they navigate thoughtfully laid-out text pockets.

STEM lovers, teachers, librarians will go bonkers over this book. But most importantly, so will kids, and the content is enriching and sophisticated enough to stretch the minds of many childhood ages. The oftentimes extraordinarily complicated information has been well-written and consummately edited, but a heads-up that it is a relatively complicated work that takes focus and high level reading skills. Younger children could still enjoy much of the content, as the layout and text pockets allows kids to pick and choose what they can cope with.

I simply adore this book. My only complaint is that the trim size is surprisingly small. Of course, it doesn't in the least bit affect the content and design, but as this book is a full-course-meal, it feels a little spatially 'small' (especially for middle-aged eyes).

A tiny thing in a universe of stunning content. This is my dip-in summer read and I am loving every single microcosm of it.

Title: Full of Life
Author: Isabel Thomas
Illustrator: Sara Gillingham
Publisher: Phaidon, $34.95
Publication Date: 5 October 2022
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781838665357
For ages: 9+
Type: Non-Fiction