‘Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature’ (Review)

Back in December, my little assistant Hayley, who is obsessed with animals, was delighted to receive some book post from Bloomsbury Australia, a wonderful work showing once again that kids really are spoiled when it comes to pretty books.  While I helped her read it a while back, and promoted it on social media, unfortunately there was no time in my schedule to publish a post – until now, that is.  Let’s take a look at a wonderful book, then, one that combines the factual and the invented in an excellent take on the wonders of the natural world 🙂

*****
What’s the name of the book?
The book is called Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature.

What’s it about?
It’s about creatures in the real world, the Harry Potter world and the Fantastic Beasts world!

Did you like it?  Why (not)?
Yes, because it was very interesting and has lots of colour in the pictures.

What was your favourite part?
My favourite part was probably about Misunderstood Animals because it talked about grey wolves and tigers 🙂

Was it difficult to read?
Yes!  It was tricky because there were a lot of words I didn’t know, so my dad helped me.

Would you recommend this book to other boys and girls?  Why (not)?
Yes – I would recommend it for them because maybe they’ll think it’s interesting, and if they like animals like me, they’ll probably love it!

Hayley, thank you very much 🙂

*****
Back when I was a little boy (a long, long time ago!), I tended to get what I called ‘Christmas books’, hefty informational tomes with beautiful illustrations on fascinating topics, books that would keep me occupied for weeks – and I can safely say that The Wonder of Nature belongs in that category (and I’m sure many a child – or adult – will have woken up to this in their oddly bulging stocking on Christmas Day).  It’s a glorious mixture of essays, photographs and illustrations, and even if it was all probably a little too complicated for Hayley, we had great fun sitting down together to look through it each evening, picking out our favourite parts.

The book is a spin-off of a special exhibition, very similar to the one the British Library did for A History of Magic, but on a larger scale.  In his essay, the lead curator, Louis Buckley, describes how he and his team approached the task of reflecting the Wizarding World in a museum devoted to, well, you know, real things:

Our answer was to connect the curious creatures of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to the splendour of real-life nature, and to celebrate all of the astonishing parallels between them.  We are not experts in how J.K. Rowling’s magical animals were brought to life on-screen, fascinating though that is, so our approach was to comb the Museum’s collections and look for stories that are every bit as fantastic, remarkable, strange and spectacular as anything written in Newt Scamander’s field notes.
p.10 (Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2020)

That’s exactly what they did, and you can see that here in the way each of the topics chosen contains a careful blend of the imaginary and the real, even if the line seems rather blurred at times.

After a nice foreword from Sir Ranulph Fiennes, the book consists of eight chapters, on topics such as ‘Myth and Legend’, ‘Hidden Creatures’ and ‘Endangered Species’.  Each begins with an informative essay from exhibition workers, scientists or illustrators and then goes on to compare the stories and creatures of the Fantastic Beasts films with their real-life inspiration.  For example, in the ‘Misunderstood Animals’ section, information about the plight of the world’s dwindling tiger population is presented along with a photo of the toy Newt Scamander uses to entice the magical Zouwu into his case in The Crimes of Grindelwald.  Hopefully, younger children will be able to keep the distinction between what’s real and what’s not clear!

While there’s a great deal to entertain and inform children in The Wonder of Nature, it must be said that the level of language is rather high.  I doubt Hayley would have got much from the essays by herself as they’re fairly lengthy, so we read this together, a little each night, and I tended to summarise the longer passages and discuss the ideas with her.  Potential readers will need a decent level of literacy to fully enjoy the book; for younger children, the appeal will probably lie more in the bright photos and illustrations included.

Still, with her interest in the natural world, I’m sure my little helper will be going back to this one again and again, and if nothing else, it’s reminded her that we haven’t been to the zoo for a while (yes, thanks for that, Bloomsbury…).  Overall, Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature is a beautiful book that most children will enjoy, whether their interests lie more with the movie creations or the creatures you can see in the wild, and it’s certainly a welcome addition to our home library 🙂

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