Quill and Quire

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Before and After: A Book of Nature Timescapes

by Jan Thornhill

My garden is an ever-changing mixture of flowers, foliage, and visiting wildlife and I never tire of looking to see what is new from day to day. Jan Thornhill’s latest book from Owl, Before and After, captures the concept of changes in nature through the use of brilliantly coloured, full-page illustrations of different ecosystems around the world. Each of the seven habitats – tropical coral reef, African savannah, Australian forest edge, North American wetland, meadow, South American rain forest, and schoolyard – are shown in a before illustration and again some time later. The time lapses vary from minutes to a year. Thornhill calls her paintings nature timescapes because of the way time changes nature’s landscapes all over the world.

Before and After is a combination of nature book, art book, and puzzle book. Each page is bordered by thumbnail illustrations of the wildlife within the main picture. Children are encouraged to search, in a Where’s Waldo fashion, for each animal, and at the same time learn which species live in each habitat. When you flip to the next page and discover the same habitat at a later moment in life, the first inclination is to play a spot-the-difference game with yourself to figure out what changes have taken place. Animals have not merely moved around in the picture (making you look for them all over again), but some have died, others have been born, and many have attacked or eaten something else in the picture. The final habitat to view is a schoolyard before and after a greening project. Although the after picture is a bit overly optimistic, it is certainly inspirational and may spark the interest of enthusiastic teachers, parents, and students.

Once children have searched the pictures for numerous details, they can flip to the book’s final page of Nature Notes for a brief explanation of what has taken place during the change of scenes. Thornhill’s vibrant artwork will ensure that this book is returned to again and again, providing hours of entertainment for young children.