The Mushroom Fan Club
The Mushroom Fan Club
In a chatty prose style, Quebec author and artist Elise Gravel (Governor General’s Literary Award Winner La Cle a Molette; the zany sketchbook If Found…. Please Return to Elise Gravel) has made a walk in the woods into something a little different.
The incredible array of fungi that can be found everywhere are introduced to young readers in all their variety. They are described in often conversational rather than scientific terms, although Gravel does not shy away from including words such as ‘mycologist’ and ‘polypores’ and the Latin names for many of the different species.
Mushrooms are not plants or animals. They are a kingdom
of their own: the realm of FUNGI.
Many mushrooms look like the one I’ve drawn here, but not all of them.
They come in many shapes, sizes and colours!
Their smells differ wildly, too. Some stink horribly;
others have a delicious perfume.
There are some next to my cottage that smell like maple syrup!
The puffball is an interesting specimen. When it’s young, it’s all white
and smooth, like an egg or a golf ball.
Then as it grows up, it turns yellow or brown or grey, and then
something funny happens: if you step on it, POOF! It bursts
into a cloud of smoke, like a cartoon fart.
One of the main points, made several times in the text, is not to eat any mushroom you find but to let an expert adult decide what can be consumed. The idea of taking pictures or making drawings or only picking a few examples rather than harming an eco-system by clearing an area of its fungi also sends a message.
The soft orange and sepia tones of the illustrations evoke a smoky day in autumn. The hand-lettered look of the text adds another informal note to the feeling of the book. (I was, however, part of the way through the book before I realized that the voice of the narrator is that of an adult, the author, rather than that of one of the cheerful children who appear from time to time on the pages.)
Mushroom Fan Club is very child-friendly, though probably of more interest to youngsters who have the opportunity to get out into nature and use it as a field guide in actually identifying some of the mushrooms described here. But it would be a good addition to larger collections for its readability and its information about a surprising number of different kinds of fungi.
Ellen Heaney is a retired children’s librarian living in Coquitlam, British Columbia.