The wonderful wisdom of ants

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Philip Bunting 2020, Scholastic Australia, 32 pages, ISBN 9781743834084
Published in Dutch by Uitgeverij Condor as ‘De wereldse wijsheid van de mier’
Published in English by Scholastic Australia as “The wonderful wisdom of ants”, $17.99

A Book Review by Aniek Ivens

So incredibly proud was I when my toddler daughter intensely watched the ‘highway’ made by ants crossing our living room (from the back door to the kitchen cabinet that holds all the sweet condiments), pointed her little finger and said ‘ant!’. Admittedly, being one-and-a-half years of age, she pretty much called every insect ‘ant’, but a myrmecologist myself, I applauded this well-chosen start. In the meantime, I was looking forward to the moment I would be able to tell her how amazing it is that ants can (self)organize such a highway literally overnight. In this way, I would be able to share my fascination and love for ants with her. Now, a little over a year later, she can tell, like a pro, fly apart from wasp and lady bug from ant. The ant highway in our living room also returned this summer, and I made a first attempt at explaining to her what was happening. Turns out, that is not an easy feat.

Luckily, Philip Bunting came to the rescue with his illustrated children’s book ‘The wonderful wisdom of ants’. With elegant simplicity, he explains the self-organizing ability of ants with the use of sprinkles. One ant comes upon a pile of sprinkles when exploring outside of the nest and enthusiastically leaves a scent trail along the route between sprinkles and nest. Quickly, many more ants follow suit, and these ants in turn cause the famous positive feedback that underlies an ant highway. Once the pile of sprinkles is depleted, they celebrate a well-deserved sprinkle party in their nest!

Also other aspects of ant biology are covered by the book, such as colony growth, division of labour, food sources, and the building of structures like bridges. All topics are explained in a way that is very accessible to children (and their parents). Of course, the set-up and the target audience of the book do not allow for discussing all intricate (natural history) details of ant biology. However, that is not likely to bother the reader. A self-appointed ant-enthusiast, British-Australian author and illustrator Bunting knows exactly how to capture the essence of every topic that is covered in this beautifully illustrated book. The jokes and puns that appear sprinkled throughout the book make sure the book never fails to captivate its audience, be it children or adults.

My toddler daughter may still be a bit too young (the book is aimed at ‘readers’ of age four and up), but she already loves the drawings. The book is this accessible, even for these young readers, because every page offers elements that are recognizable to them. My daughter recognized the ‘ant babies’ that bottle feed, she recognized donuts and, of course, the sprinkles.

In this way, the book gives us a lot of starting points to learn together. It even gives a starting point for perhaps one of the most important lessons I hope to share with my daughter: to try to leave our planet healthier than it was when we were born. Even though the transition to this message is a little bit of a far stretch in the book, it certainly offers inspiration to live up to this goal. Definitely wonderful wisdom for all ages!

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