When I first moved to Anaikatti, a village near Coimbatore, I was constantly asking questions about the plants, insects, and animals found in the area. And getting vague answers. What wouldn’t I have given for a series like the Big Little Nature Books (Dorling Kindersley)?
Series editor Nikhil Devasar says something similar when asked about the idea behind these books. “While trying to identify basic flowers and insects, I noticed that there was no book in India, which would help me. It’s a subject every kid is interested in and there were no guides to help.”
The box set has five books (which can also be bought individually) with each featuring 100 animals, birds, bugs and butterflies, trees or garden flowers. Each book has been put together by subject experts with Nikhil overseeing the entire series. Since the books were about Nature, “we decided to include it all,” smiles Nikhil. Someone who’s got the box has a set of ready reckoners, he adds, “whether he’s in office or having tea in the garden. It helps anyone interested in Nature.”
I then proceed to exhibit my ignorance of the natural world by asking why spiders don’t feature in 100 Indian Bugs and Butterflies. And get a quick lesson on Arachnids. “Spiders are Arachnids, which are creatures with two body segments, eight legs, no wings or antennae and are not able to chew,” he explains. “Insects have six legs and three main body parts. Many people think that spiders are insects but they are mistaken.”
Once you tear yourself away from the attractive covers, the inside pages are equally riveting. In all the books, you get an introduction “How this book works” that explains the layout and information given. Apart from the scientific and common names, this includes a general description of the subject, its habitat, where it is seen and when, key identification marks, and IUCN status in the case of animals and birds. Little roundels carry interesting titbits like these: “The age of a Blue Whale can be determined by studying its ear wax, as a new layer of wax forms every six months.” Or “The pygmy hog is the only pig that builds a nest of grass to shelter its young.” Not to forget the marvellous photographs. While 100 Indian Birds has a note on bird watching and photography; 100 Indian Bugs and Butterflies talks about the role of insects in ecology. Another plus is the size. The individual books are not the humungous tomes one expects and can be easily slipped into a pocket while the box set doesn’t take much room in a backpack.
The only complaint is that the font chosen for the text is very thin and light. Even in the coloured roundels, it doesn’t show up too clearly. So one does have to focus a bit. That will hopefully be fixed in the next edition, which Nikhil says is a much bigger one and already under way.
Available individually (₹250 each) and as a box set (₹1250) at bookstores and online
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