We are freshly back from our magical three weeks in France with Rowan (6) and Mira (4 months). One of the highlights of our stay in Paris was a visit to the Jardins des Plantes which is home to the National Museum of Natural History and also the Museum of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy. Walking up the stairs into the Grande Galerie d’Evolution feels like something straight out of Noah’s Ark – it is breath-taking.
The displays in this museum are beautifully conceived – somehow the exhibits manage to evoke the taxidermy museums of old, while combining this with a cutting edge style and a strong conservationist message.
Down an avenue of trees at the other end of the park sits the Museum of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy.
As you can see every available space is taken up with ancient bones. Rowan and I followed the lead of some French kids and sat down in the Museum of Paleontology to do some sketches…
With the memories of these museums strong in our minds, it was so serendipitous that Rowan received this book for his sixth birthday soon after our return home.
Published for the first time in English this year, by Gecko Press, Small and Tall Tales of Extinct Animals was originally a French production by Helene Rajcak and Damien Laverdunt (whose collaboration is celebrated on their gorgeous blog, Les Tigres Gauchers). The scientific advisers on the project were from the Paris National History Museum, and wrote a beautiful and touching foreword to the book:
“Long before setting foot on the Moon, humans evolved on planet Earth – one continent, one ocean, one island at a time. Humans were enthralled by the world around them. To feed their fascination, they collected pictures and momentos of bones, feathers, herbariums, casts and fossils… But natural history museums – that once so proudly displayed the first examples of newly discovered species – now face the unenviable task of exhibiting their remains: the last skeleton, the last skin, the last paw print, the last photograph.”
The book is a collection of 27 of the world’s extinct species, and is a beautiful production. A double-page spread is devoted to each species – the left hand page consists of a cartoon strip, often a retelling of a legend or anecdote associated with the extinction or discovery story. The right-hand page includes a large illustration of the animal or bird, a description of the extinction and some facts, and most fascinatingly to Rowan, a diagram showing its size in relation to a man. The illustration style is naive and the colours and fonts retro and the overall impression is very approachable and appealing.
This is the perfect book for Rowan, whose obsession with David Attenborough documentaries show no sign of abating. But it would no doubt interest many kids from age 6 up – it’s a great example of a picture book pitched perfectly at older kids. Museums and galleries are doing some wonderful publishing collaborations – do you have any favourites at your house?