By Katie Brosnan
Published by Cicada Books ISBN 978-1-908714-72-5
Reviewed by Louise Date
Katie Brosnan has been busy working on a number of books, drawing commissions and dabbling in ceramics. Highly commended for the Macmillan Prize for Illustration, her sweet and engaging style of mark-making has been put to excellent use in tackling a hot topic of our time: gut microbiomes.
Before this starts to sounds like a dry foray into the world of microbiology, the reader has their attention immediately captured by the characters that spill out of every page. From the beginning, Brosnan introduces us to the microbes; the varieties that makes up the family, the microbes that live in human bodies in a state of mutually-beneficial symbiosis, and those microbe renegades that can make us ill or give us acne.
Open wide, as Brosnan shows us exactly how eating allows the streptococcus bacteria living on our teeth to break down sugar, unfortunately creating acid as a result. The reminder to brush your teeth is a welcome one after seeing the microbes Brosnan has illustrated working hard in a disembodied mouth. Children especially can finally have a conclusive answer as to why the twice-a-day brush and spit routine is absolutely necessary. Throughout the images, the colourful personalities of the microbes makes understanding the complex and sometimes unnerving systems at work fascinating, and normalises conditions such as Crohns disease and C difficile by explaining exactly what is happening deep down inside us.
From discussing immunisation and the importance behind it, to illustrating different types of fermented food and why it is an overlooked part of a healthy diet, the microbe characters on every page are accompanied by snippets of handwritten text, factoids and tips for having a healthy gut microbiome. The images are detailed, conveying the textures of stomach lining and the flourishing bacteria we all rely on. However, the comic way in which a potentially alienating topic has been portrayed makes every topic arresting and will keep both children and adults interested.
As part of our ever-expanding horizons, gut-health and making a seemingly complicated subject accessible to adults and children alike might seem like pandering to the zeitgeist, but Brosnan has managed to make a children’s book scientifically accurate, entertaining to all readers and aesthetically pleasing. A worthy addition to any bookshelf, Gut Garden is a fantastic way of introducing a mystifying and yet increasingly important subject to discerning readers.