An entertaining and informative look at mushrooms – where to find them, how to recognise them and what (not) to do with them.
A couple of years ago, I remember walking along the lakeshore and ooo-ing and aah-ing at the fabulously funky fungi that had appeared overnight on our little patch of Australia. There were big ones, small ones, brown ones, yellow ones, ones with delicately frilled hooded caps and others that were as smooth and flat as buttons. And best of all (according to my young daughters), there were puffy ones that exploded when they stomped on them. My mind was made up: Mushrooms are awesome! So, when I first heard about The Mushroom Fan Club, I knew I had to get hold of a copy.
This is the sort of book you wish a teacher would bring out in a science lesson to make things a little more exciting. Author/illustrator Elise Gravel does not claim to be an expert on mushrooms, hence why she draws them with eyes and quirky expressions. (Her mushrooms also speak, for the record). But she has sought expert advice from the folk at La Mycoboutique in Montreal, a store that specialises in cultivated and wild mushrooms. And this, combined with her obvious passion for fabulous fungi makes for a hugely entertaining and very informative introduction to the world of mushrooms.
The book is narrated in the first person. ‘You know what I love? Walking in the woods and looking for mushrooms…’ announces the author at the outset, and the lively, conversational tone continues throughout. I have to share a couple of my favourite lines here: ‘I love morels, and when I find some, I jump all over the place and squeal.’ And this one: ‘If I were a bug, I’d like my house to be inside a gyromitra.’ It’s a fun read!
The Mushroom Fan Club also covers a lot of ground – apparently a mushroom can cover a lot of ground too (even the size of a baseball field). After a brief general introduction to mushrooms, such as shape, scent, size, different parts, etc., Gravel zooms in on their various underbellies. I don’t if I realised some species had spines and pores, and not gills. I do now.
There are some awesome spreads on different mushroom species, such as boletes, chanterelles, morels, puffballs and dog stinkhorns. Each one features a full-page illustration of the mushroom in question with a light-hearted piece of text on the opposite page full of interesting facts, such as morels like to grow in ash, the lactarius indigo produces bright blue milk . . . and puffballs goes ‘POOF’ when you step on them (complete with a bonus illustration of a farting puffball).
The cartoon-style illustrations add much to the enjoyment and interest of this picture book. The many mushrooms featured – with their googly eyes and facial expressions – have wonderfully engaging personalities. And the palette is warm and appealing. In a nice personal touch, Gravel herself and her daughters also feature in some of the illustrations, reminding us that this is not just a book about mushrooms, but about people who are interested in mushrooms too.
The subject is, of course, vast. There are millions of different species of fungi around the world and Gravel acknowledges that she can’t possibly cover them all. What this book does do, though, is whet the appetite. Not for eating mushrooms I hasten to add. Despite its light-hearted approach Gravel is careful to warn readers NOT to eat them, and she specifically singles out certain species that are toxic. Rather, The Mushroom Fan Club encourages readers to head off in search of the fantastically funky fungi that are waiting to be discovered and admired.
I’d like to join this club!
The Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel, translated from the French (Drawn & Quarterly, 2018; original title Les Champignons)
Elise Gravel is a children’s book author/illustrator from Quebec. She has more than 30 picture books to her name, including La clé à molette (The adjustable wrench), which won the Canadian Governor General’s award for illustration in 2012. Her work has been translated into a dozen languages. She lives in Montreal with her two daughters, husband, cats and a few spiders.