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OPINION | READ TO ME: 'Fungarium' gives brief look into world of fungi

by Celia Storey | March 29, 2021 at 1:55 a.m.
Fungarium by Ester Gaya and Katie Scott (Big Picture Books, April 6) ages 8-12, 80 pages, $35. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Celia Storey)

'Fungarium' by Ester Gaya and Katie Scott (Big Picture Press, April 6), ages 8-12, 80 pages, $35.

STORY: Big Picture Press is a well-named imprint of Candlewick Press that specializes in middle-school science books. This one is about 12 inches by 15 inches and a half-inch thick. Part of the Welcome to the Museum series, "Fungarium" is a brief but intimidating look at the little known universe of fungi.

Eighty pages might not sound brief, but the typeface is large and roughly half the pages hold drawings of teeny things magnified and in cross-section.

Humans have intimate relationships with large fungi, notably mushrooms — which we sautée and eat — and teeny fungi like the ones that cause athlete's foot, which we curse and slather with ointment. But there are roughly 2.2 million to 3.8 million species, and only about 22,000 of them produce mushrooms.

Fungi do a vast range of things to us, for us or with us, including blighting potatoes, ruining toenails or lungs and killing us instantly; also they inspire artists and poets, make soil fertile, decompose no longer needed skids and cow sheds, kill other fungi, and provide the basis of wonder drugs like penicillins, immunosuppressants and statins.

Reading this book, a studious child (or interested adult) will learn that fungi once were mistakenly assumed to be plants or close kin to plants but are in fact more closely related to animals. And it will take a studious child to read this fact-heavy text, brief though it is.

"Fungarium" is nerdy, and nerds will like reading and critiquing it.

Read to Me is a weekly review of short books.

CORRECTION: “Fungarium” is published by Big Picture Press. An earlier version of this column misstated the publisher.

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