Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

What The Eye Cannot See

The exact event escapes me but the memory of receiving a microscope as a gift remains.  Nothing was safe from my scrutiny.  All types of items were positioned on slides, set on the stage and held in place with the clips.  Seeing the most common things magnified was like looking at their essence.

Sitting in the late afternoon sun on the lawn, it's fun to imagine all the minute beings residing on a single blade of grass among thousands, crawling across the leaves or bark on a nearby maple tree and moving about the shiny brown fur of your nearby sleeping dog.  Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes (Candlewick Press) written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Emily Sutton introduces readers to the amazing life forms normally unseen by the human eye.  From this book what might have been previously viewed as mundane is lifted to marvelous; mystery is replaced with awareness.

You know about big animals,
and you know about small animals...

With a page turn readers are asked two questions?  These questions take what is known about an ant and a whale making comparisons as to the number of microbes found on the antenna of an ant.  A single sentence describes microbes as the narrative further explains their population in the millions and billions relative to a drop of water and a teaspoon of soil.

Of particular interest is microbes can live where nothing else does.  They populate on and in plants and animals including humans.  Try not to think about how many are currently on your skin, more

than there are people on Earth,

 or an even larger amount setting up housekeeping in your stomach.

Students of basic biology study the one-celled Paramecium which is humongous compared to the polio virus, one of the tiniest microbes.  Close examination reveals microbes, hungry for absolutely anything, come in an array of shapes and sizes.  They are Nature's chief change agents; rulers in the realm of recycling and reusing.  They definitely have championship status when it comes to making more microbes and doing so quickly.

For this reason, their ability to multiply rapidly, germs and those things carrying them are to be respected.  On the other hand their accomplishments are to be applauded; ever so tiny but together landscapes change.  Minuscule but miraculous.

Nicola Davies begins her nonfiction narrative by talking about two animals, differing greatly in size, in which readers will be familiar. Her goal of increasing understanding and exciting fascination is met and enhanced with her technique of comparing what is known to that which might not be known.  As readers explore the information she provides, in a truly appealing and conversational manner, their appreciation for their world will grow as swiftly as microbes split again and again.  Here is her description of microbes; simple but complete and intriguing.

They don't have eyes, 
heads, or legs,
branches, roots, or
leaves because they
aren't animals or plants.
But they are alive.
They are called
and there are lots of them.

Rendered in watercolor, the illustrations of Emily Sutton pair beautifully with the text.  The girl, boy and cat shown on the matching dust jacket and book case guide readers on the journey of discovery throughout the book.  A matte-finished paper provides for a more tactile experience and softens the colors.  Tiny microbes in shades of blue and black pattern the opening and closing endpapers.

A hued expanse of blue picturing a deep sea spans across the two pages for the dedication and title.  The girl, boy and cat are sailing in a tiny boat bobbing between the waves.  On the next two pages an immense blue whale glides nearby, tail splashing the surface.  A branch extending over the water is a pathway for an ant.  Clearly Sutton is extending and enhancing the narrative.

With visuals varying in size, giving weight to Davies's words, Sutton's texture and detail are impeccable.  You could frame her paramecium, the children working in the vegetable and flower garden, the depiction of the starry skies surrounding Earth or the initial whale and ant scenes.  My favorite illustration is the spoon holding a teaspoon of soil coming from the top left corner of a double page spread.  The remainder of the illustration is of a multitude of people in a market place in India, buildings and palm trees in the background.  In a word, this is stunning.

Hand this title to a budding scientist, a curious reader or anyone of any age.  I guarantee they will finish in awe as I did.  Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes written by Nicola Davies with illustrations by Emily Sutton is an exceptional work of nonfiction, deserving of a place on any book shelf.

For more information about Nicola Davies and Emily Sutton please follow the links embedded in their names.  Nicola Davies has a great video at her site about her work and an outstanding blog post about the difference between fiction and nonfiction.  Emily Sutton's website was unattainable as of this writing but the first link mentioned and this interview at Bettys should give you insights about her art.  This link is to the publisher's website for this title.

It's an honor to participate each week in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted by Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy.  Be sure to follow this links to other blogger's recommendations.


  1. My 12 year old girl enjoyed reading this book. Thank you for such a thorough review. It went well with a Cosmos episode we were watching as Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks about everything that is contained within a dewdrop.

    1. I am glad your daughter enjoyed this book. Nonfiction picture books like this are extremely important. Thank you for your comments, Myra.