Reviews /

Glow: the Wild Wonders of Bioluminescence

Authored by Jennifer N.R. Smith
Illustrated by Jennifer N.R. Smith
Published by Thames & Hudson

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When it comes to nonfiction, readers have a bonkers amount to choose from. Yes, sometimes the same subjects come up again and again to the point of saturation, but occasionally there’s a book which is so specific it’s almost specialist. Some books on sea creatures mention bioluminescence, but Glow goes into another level of detail. Plus, it’s not just animals in the oceans that show off in this way.

The science is clearly explained, and rich in the kind of scientific vocabulary and knowledge that will stretch the most keen and curious. The most interesting words written in bold to indicate they’re in the glossary. Jennifer N.R. Smith doesn’t just explain how and why animals and fungi use this special ability, although this is interesting, she also shows the anatomy of the life forms including cell structures and the chemical reactions.

One of my favourite pages is Harnessing the Glow for uses in science, technology and medicine; imagine sustainable streetlights that use bioluminescence. In medicine, scientists can tag bacteria with bioluminescence genes; if a certain medicine works then the glowing bacteria disappear.

But, there’s something else about this book which is special: the design and artwork, which is the next best thing to actual bioluminescence. Dark pages with luminous colours replicate the effect well and doesn’t overpower the page or information. The illustrations use pointillism which also helps to recreate a glowing effect.

The beauty of this ethereal and bizarre world is presented in a way where art and science are married. However, the text too, is part of this union. The opening paragraph welcomes us into the magic through the second person perspective:

It’s a warm summer evening at the beach and the sun has just gone down. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice the waves flashing strangely in the twilight. You realise it’s not just your imagination. You walk closer to the sea and crouch down, drawing your hand through the water. As you disturb it, a curious blue light follows. You raise your hand from under the surface, and tiny stars sparkle and then fade across your skin.

Glow is a special book and readers will learn a lot of new information. The artwork will captivate them, but this is a nonfiction book which doesn’t need to rely on the design to sell copies. The text stands on its own too. A great addition for primary and secondary libraries.