Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizieliński (@hipopotam) started a revolution here in the UK, with the publication by Big Picture Press back in 2013 of their now famous Maps. With that beautifully produced book we started to see something of new departure for children’s non-fiction, with publishers realising that there was an appetite for gorgeously illustrated and finely produced information books which didn’t look or feel like school textbooks.
Since then we’ve seen several new non-fiction imprints established, dedicated to bringing us eye-catching, unusual and sumptuous non-fiction for children and young people, such as Wide Eyed Editions and 360 Degrees. This is great news, especially for younger children who report choosing to read non-fiction (42% of 7-11 year olds) almost as much as they do fiction (48.2% of 7-11 year olds, source), though you’d never guess this from the imbalance in titles published and reviewed.
It’s wonderful to see the return of the founders of the non-fiction revolution with a new title, Under Earth, Under Water (translated by Antonia Lloyd Jones), a substantial and wide-ranging exploration of what lies beneath the surface of the globe.
Split into two halves, allowing you to start from either end of the book by turning it around to explore either what lies beneath the earth, or under the oceans, this compendium of startling facts and quirky, fresh illustrations makes the most of its large format (a double page spread almost extends to A2), with great visual and verbal detail to pour over and a real sense of going down, down, down across the expanse of the pages.
The Earth pages cover everything from burrowing creatures to plant life in the soil, via extracting natural resources to industrial underground infrastructure. Tunnels, caves, digging up fossils and plate tectonics are all included in this rich and varied buffet brought together though a simple concept – simply exploring what is underneath our feet.
The Water pages explore aquatic life right from the surface down to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, ocean geography, human exploration with the aid of diving equipment, the history of submarines and even shipwrecks.
Lavishly produced, with gorgeously thick paper it is a delight to hold this book in your hands. Wonderful design, featuring lots of natural reds and browns in the Earth section and soothing shades of blues and green in the Water section, ensures exploring the diverse content is a visual treat as much as it is a spark for thinking about the world around us in new ways.
My only question mark over Under Earth, Under Water is the lack of an index. Maybe this makes it more like a box of treasures to rummage in and linger over, the sort of space where you can’t be sure what gems you’ll dig up. Although perhaps not a resource from which to clinically extract information, Under Earth, Under Water offers a great deal to explore and a very enjoyable journey to the centre of the earth.
There’s so much we could have “played” in Under Earth, Under Water. We toyed with making submarines, visiting caves, planting seeds to watch roots grow, but in the end the animal burrows won out, and we decided it was time to make our own. This began with papier mache and balloons…
…which when dry were set into a cardboard box frame, and surrounded by layers of “soil” i.e. different coloured felt, to recreate the layering of different soil and rock types.
Then the burrows needed filling! Sylvanian families came to the rescue, along with nature treasures gathered from the garden.
And soon we had a dollshouse with a difference! (Can you spot the bones and other archaeological finds waiting to be dug up from the soil??)
Whilst making our underground burrow we listened to:
Other activities which might work well alongside reading Under Earth, Under Water include:
Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher, Big Picture Press.