The Mushroom Fan Club
Elise Gravel, 56 pages, Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95
I love mushrooms so much I have a copy of The Mushrooms of Ontario, which is a very thick, exhaustive book that identifies just about every mushroom you can find in the province, and whether they’re poisonous, edible, or not quite either. I like to eat mushrooms, but what I really like to do is go for walks in the woods and look at the mushrooms that I prefer to leave untouched. Sometimes, I will try to identify them by thumbing through Mushrooms of Ontario. Sometimes I won’t. Most of the time I’ll have a kid or two or three with me, and we’ll discuss what name the mushroom should get and we’ll settle on something like Goldie or Happy Happy or Bad Breath Bark Face.
Elise Gravel takes this whole exercise one step further by drawing some of the more popular or spectacular mushrooms found in eastern North America and giving them cute eyes and mouths. Her drawings, as you can imagine, are some kind of cute. The accompanying text is pretty simple, since it is aimed as an introduction to mushroom fandom for kids. The mushrooms are the stars of this book — which is how it should be. I think it might have been better if Gravel had dispensed altogether with the idea of the book having educational value for children, and just gone full out fan club on shrooms. Like if each page paid tribute to a different amazing mushroom and the whole thing came complete with a set of cards, hockey-style (collect them all!). As it is, the book doesn’t feel quite comprehensive enough to be used as an educational tool for kids or adults, and it’s not quite eccentric and fanclub-y enough to be a coffee table curio type book. That said, this is a fun book to look at and read (especially with kids). Mushroom Fan Club and a handful of chanterelles would be the near perfect summer thank you gift for the budding forager family. (Hal Niedzviecki)