I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast by Michael Holland
Illustrated by Philip Giordano
I don’t feature many new children’s books on this blog, but I couldn’t say no when offered this one which is published today by Flying Eye Books. I mean, just look at that lovely cover. And then I opened the book up, and saw these endpapers (the back ones are different and equally glorious)
It’s fair to say that I fell in love with the illustrations instantly, but then I sat down to read the book and the whole thing is just super.
Michael Holland worked as Head of Education at Chelsea Physic Garden for 23 years, so is ideally placed to write a book about plants for children. I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast is aimed for 7+, but there was plenty in it to interest me too, and refresh my own sketchy knowledge of botany.
There are four sections. The first, All About Plants, takes us through the biology of plants and how they work. World of Plants celebrates the diversity of plants and their adaptations. From Breakfast until Bedtime takes us through all the uses of plants in our everyday lives. and The Power of Plants looks at their role in medicine and technology.
There are some long words that I wouldn’t expect a seven-year-old to understand, but Holland’s explanations are clear and simple, and ideal for parents to brush up on (there’s a glossary at the end).
The unexpected bonuses in this book are a series of ‘DIY’ experiments and projects, some of which I’m now dying to try out with our junior science club at school (once we’re back obvs!).
I really recommend this beautiful book. Apart from being beautiful to look at, it is chock full of facts, and yes, I learned some new things too. Given that those of us who have a garden will probably be spending more time in it at the moment, it’s an ideal book to get children interested in plants. (You can buy direct from the publisher Flying Eye Books here.)
Meanwhile, I got to ask the author Michael Holland some questions:
- How old were you when you first became interested in plants?
MH: Well, my very earliest memory is plant-related. I must have been about 3 years old and in the overgrown garden of our new house. I must have wandered away from my Mum, because very soon every way I turned I was surrounded by towering stinging nettles and every time I tried to move, I was stung! Although this was a mildly traumatic experience for me, it must have instilled some sort of plant-based awe and respect in me. Growing up, my parents were semi-self sufficient and grew a lot of their own fruit and vegetables for our meals, so I think their interest was infectious, plus they were very encouraging of this by nurturing this in me.
- How did you decide to write the text for the 7+ age group? Is I Ate Sunshine For Breakfast your first children’s book?
MH: The age level was suggested by the publisher, Flying Eye books, but very conveniently, I’d had 20 years of experience teaching primary school children about plants in my former job at Chelsea Physic Garden, so had plenty of practice communicating to this age group.
- Were you at all worried that the younger end of that age group wouldn’t understand the science in the text? Or is it more important for them to enjoy the parts then can understand and develop an inquisitive mind and look at plants in a different way?
MH: No, I wasn’t worried, because I knew that the editing team would sense check anything that was pitched a bit too high and the images would speak much louder than words to help explain certain concepts. Also, although this is a book for children, it is the sort of book that parents and carers would enjoy and benefit from too, and will hopefully be happy to explain any tricky concepts once they’ve got their heads around them.
- All the wonderful projects took me by surprise, I’m looking forward to trying some out with pupils at school in our junior science and gardening clubs. Were they tested out by children?
MH: I’m glad you’re looking forward to trying some of the DIY activities out with your own groups. A few of these activities (corn flour slime, ‘Shelf Life’ planting, invisible ink and the leaf print bookmark) were all ones I’d tried for myself and with groups of children and families at various events and settings, but the other ones hadn’t been tested.
- Did you work closely with the illustrator, Philip Giordano? If yes, what was that experience like?
MH: I didn’t have any contact with Philip until after the book was printed and we both had our preview copies! During the editing phase, I did communicate (to my editors) a number of changes to images that were necessary to be more scientifically accurate and I see those changes in the final book – where Philip’s totally beautiful style meets scientific storytelling, making this the most gorgeous science textbook I have ever seen!
- If forced to pick just one plant, which is your favourite of all?
MH: The Pitcher Plant (a species of Sarracenia) is pretty amazing – it is one of about 700 species of carnivorous plants around the world and like the others, has a way of luring invertebrates to it before digesting their blood for extra nutrients- literally Vampire Plants! What an amazing bit of evolution and adaptation.
Thank you so much to Michael for answering my questions. Somehow, I guessed he’d pick a carnivorous plant, but I won’t hold that against him!
Source: Review copy – Thank you!
Michael Holland, I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast, illus. Philip Giordano (Flying Eye Books, 2020) ISBN 978-1911171188, Hardback, 124 pages.