Book Review

Katya’s Book of Mushrooms

By Katya Arnold and Sam Swope
1997; ISBN 0-8050-4136-2 (Cloth); $16.95
Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

Katya Arnold is a New Jersey writer and illustrator of children’s books. Having been born and raised in Russia where “as soon as children learn to walk they are taken mushrooming with their families,” it’s not surprising that she would write a children’s book about mushrooms. However, this is not a children-only storybook, but a beginning biology-of-fungi text illustrated with bold colorful artwork that will appeal to older folks as well as youngsters. The mushrooms are somewhat stylized, but still clearly recognizable without peeking at the captions.

Cover

Quite a lot of information is packed in engaging fashion into 43 pages and, with minor exception, it is accurate and useful. The best passages are those that come from her own experience. For instance, in describing the King Bolete (Boletus edulis) she remembers: “When I was little, I’d sometimes find one the size of my head -- that was really something. I’d put my nose in its velvety cup and breathe its earthy smell, and then I’d carry my treasure carefully with both hands so I wouldn’t drop it. At home my family would say ‘Ahhh, I never saw a king that big before!’ This was always a proud moment. But then someone else would come along and say ‘Oh, I remember Masha found one bigger than that five years ago!’ It was our version of a fish story.”

Although explicitly not meant to be used for identification and despite containing very good advice about properly identifying mushrooms before eating them, two of the illustrations are potentially misleading. In one, Arnold cautions that inky caps (Coprinus atramentarius) “must be eaten soon after picking,” but says nothing about the possible hazard of consuming alcohol with them (or for some time afterward). In the other, Gomphus floccosus is included with several chanterelles and the black trumpet (Craterellus fallax) in an illustration whose caption extols their edibility. Gomphus is known to cause digestive upset in many people. In both cases, it would have been better to leave these particular species out of the picture.

A few scientific names are misspelled, her drawing of a Kaibab squirrel is missing the characteristically large ears, and she uses the term “leg” instead of stipe or stem which seems to me to add to the confusion of terminology that new mushroom hunters experience. But these are minor complaints. It’s a fine book for parents to share with their children or for children to share with their parents.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in The Mycophile 38:6, 1997