Microbe is a word that I think I know the meaning of but if you asked me to explain it I would struggle. So I was pleased to read Nicola Davies’s and Emily Sutton’s book Tiny Creatures – The Invisible World of Microbes, which is all about what these mysterious things are.
“…do you know that there are creatures so tiny that millions could fit on [an] ant’s antenna?
So tiny that we’d have to make the ant’s antenna as big as a whale to show them to you?”
That’s pretty tiny.
The book goes on to explain how these miniscule living things come in different shapes and sizes (wiggly, thin, daisy-like, etc) and that, unlike other creatures, they have no legs, arms, eyes and other parts.
They crowd together so compactly that a teaspoon of soil could have as many as a billion microbes, which is “…about the same as the number of people in the whole of India”.
They multiply in number extremely quickly, so it’s not surprising that exposure to just a few can make you very sick, very quick (having just had a nasty cold, I can testify to this!).
I didn’t quite understand how powerful microbes can be. I thought they just sort of existed, but gave no consideration to what they do. According to Nicola Davies, they can “wear down mountains and build up cliffs. They can stain the sea red, turn the sky cloudy, and make snowflakes grow.”
This is pretty impressive stuff for such tiny beings.
I’ve always found science interesting but I’ll freely admit that I get confused sometimes, very easily. However, I came away from Tiny understanding more about microbiology than I did post-GCSE.
(Maybe I shouldn’t admit that.)
Davies and Sutton have created a lively, interesting and beautiful book that is not only informative but interesting. The title is shortlisted for the Royal Society Young People’s Book Prize 2015, and it’s easy to see why. Like Shackleton’s Journey, in my previous review, it takes a narrative non-fiction approach, which helps bring facts to life. Davies gives just the right amount of detail to inform but not overburden the mind, at times even becoming quite poetic.
The drawings are superb – colourful and beautiful. If you’d asked me before I read this book if I’d ever put a picture from a science book on my wall, I’d definitely have said “no”. But Sutton’s illustrations come alive on the paper (thankfully not the germ-ridden ones!) and possess colour and movement, from the city-scape of New York City’s apartment blocks, with intricately drawn people in individual windows, to the sweeping spread of sea and mountains. The attention to detail is astonishing and complements Davies’ skill at taking a difficult subject and breaking it down into (not-quite-microbe) small pieces.
Having always had a much stronger preference for fiction over non-fiction, I am being won over by this new trend of narrative non-fiction. There will always be books with hard facts – and that’s essential – but this merging of styles will go a long way I think to bridge the gap between fiction and non-fiction.