Hidden Planet is Ben Rothery’s second book and his passion for nature and wildlife shines through in what is a stunning read. In his introduction, Rothery explains how a love for nature from an early age and experiences in both the UK and southern Africa led to his desire to create this book. This is the book that he has always wanted to read and as he describes it, “This book is my love letter to planet Earth.” And what a beautiful love letter it is, if animals could read they would be queuing up to give thanks to Rothery be it the shake of a paw, a fluttering of a wing, a slapping of a fin, a flick of an antennae. If we can show just a fraction of Rothery’s enthusiasm and compassion towards the natural world then wildlife will continue to survive and thrive.
In Hidden Planet, Rothery invites readers to marvel at the incredible and amazing animals that we share the planet with and he does a superb job of creating awe and wonder about the natural world. Rothery’s book is an exploration of the ‘hidden’. Hidden relationships between species, hidden families and connections, hidden and unique abilities, how species stay hidden and out of sight, of animals so hidden that they are on the brink of extinction.
Every turn of a page will be met with looks of sheer amazement and the sounds of oohs and aahs as Rothery introduces courteous hermit crabs, cleverly camouflaged penguins, an incredibly fast-punching mantis shrimp, ‘motion dazzling’ zebras, a harpy eagle that looks as if it has flown in straight from the pages of Greek mythology and many others. Be surprised to learn that rhinoceroses are related to the tapir and that seals and sea lions are related to bears and weasels. Discover incredible problem-solving octopuses and clownfish that can change sex. And see those that are ‘unlike any other’ - species that are utterly unique and in desperate need of protection. In addition to meeting and learning about a whole host of animals, Rothery indulges readers in the science of commensalism, mutualism, parasitism, camouflage, evolution and dimorphism; a detailed section on birds explores colours and feathers; a food web of the Africa savannah is used to explore eco-systems.
The art is by far the stand-out, with many illustrations worthy of display in an art gallery. Everything is created in meticulous detail. Insects are exquisite - from a bumblebee clinging to a colourless flower to a stag beetle. Birds are beautiful - a reed warbler clutches an insect trapped in its beak, feathers are delicate and radiate colour. I was captivated by the Pacific hermit crab nestled beneath a bottle top for protection; the detail on the common octopus and panther chameleon, mesmerising. Big cats; lions, leopards and cheetahs are striking, powerful and elegant. A double page spread of a heard of zebras is breathtaking and what appears to be a life-sized head of a Komodo dragon is majestic. You want to reach in and gently stroke, touch and feel each and every animal.
It is incredibly hard to pry your eyes away from the illustrations, such is their beauty. But when you do, you find that the text is fact-rich and provides a wealth of information. The accessible writing-style simply explains big ideas and complex concepts.
This is a proper grown-up non-fiction book for kids and children may well have a battle to keep it out of the hands of nature-loving adults. Published as a large format coffee-table sized book and printed on thick matt paper, this is one of those books that deserves to be on display.
Regardless of age, this is an animal-lovers dream.
Recommended for 9+.