At first glance, Marianne Taylor’s The Nature Book looks to be a simplified account of nature written for children.
However, a few distinctly British quips ('It’s surely only a matter of time before the BBC produces a bawdy comedy/documentary about bed-hopping sand martins, narrated by Barbara Windsor') and a handful of slightly awkward sexual innuendos later and you're left with the impression that this is not a work for the little 'uns.
Taylor's aim seems to be to create an approachable and fun atmosphere in which to learn about the wonders of nature, and here the book does succeed.
She covers trees, flowers, fungi, mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, fish and insects, as well as ecology, weather and the planets. As each of these subjects requires an encyclopaedic tome to fully master, Taylor has set herself quite a challenge in discussing all eleven in one slender, 185-page volume.
The bits of information that do appear have clearly been handpicked for their practicality and relevance to the budding British hobby–naturalist.
The Nature Book modestly acknowledges Britain’s relative lack of biodiversity – we can boast three snakes and three lizards – but the available species are lovingly described and distinguished from each other.
Taylor also uses beautifully delicate pencil drawings to illustrate some of these species throughout the book.
It’s important to remember that this is not a field guide. Identification tips of fungi and birds are too vague to be useful in practice, although there is a handy guide to the most common tree families, and how to recognise them by leaf shape and bark, etc. Taylor acknowledges this, and has added a recommended reading section and the general advice to invest in a good field guide.
The beauty of The Nature Book is that it allows the reader to become re-interested in natural history. With the occasional use of childish phrases – 'Next time you see [a tree], give it a pat on the back' – Taylor infuses the book with a fresh and excited way to look around us, with children’s eyes.
Perhaps a particular topic may inspire you to investigate further, or maybe you are glad to be more of a generalist, welcoming the opportunity to take a crash course in British natural history. Either way, The Nature Book is a delightful and at times humorous place to start your re-induction to the natural world.
The Nature Book: What it is and how it lives, by Marianne Taylor (£9.99, Michael O'Mara Books)
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