Plantastic! Discover fantastic Aussie plants with Cat Clowes and Rachel Gyan
Plantastic! is a children’s book written in an A to Z style, exploring some of Australia’s most unique and incredible native plants. Authored by Catherine (Cat) Clowes, and beautifully illustrated by Rachel Gyan, it will help kids discover and identify native plants found in their local park, bushland, or even their own backyard.
But why an A to Z book about plants?
Freelance editor Margie Beilharz worked with Cat and Rachel to develop the Teacher Notes for this book, and she asked Cat about her inspiration for Plantastic! She also delved into the ways that Rachel made the book blossom with her beautiful and scientifically accurate illustrations.
Cat Clowes is a botanist, teacher and citizen scientist. She works as a field botanist, is completing a PhD in botany and loves teaching students about the wonders of the plant world. Cat is also a Mum, and it was her children who inspired her to write this book.
“I’d just come out of the library and my kids had borrowed what felt like fifty A to Z books on Australian animals,” she says. “I wanted to read them a book about Australian plants, but when I went looking, I couldn’t find a single one”.
This resonated with another issue Cat had become aware of – plant blindness, which is our tendency to ignore plants around us.
“I feel that lots of people just see green, and it’s possibly overwhelming and they just don’t know what the plants are,” Cat says. “But how can we expect people to connect to plants if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn about them, especially as kids? That’s why I wrote this book.”
The A–Z format meant that Cat had to restrict her selection to 26 plants, which wasn’t easy. Her strategy was to choose “interesting iconic plants – like Gum Trees and Acacia (wattles) – that kids could see all over the place.
“I wanted as many kids as possible to have access to the plants, so they could genuinely look out their window and connect with one of them. But I also wanted to make sure every kid in Australia could have the chance to see one within their local area or bushland.”
As she compiled the book, Cat also realised that she wanted to tell more about plants than simply their names because “there are heaps of great plants out there that also do interesting things”. So she delved into scientific concepts like adaptation, life cycles and photosynthesis as well as traditional uses by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“I hope that kids will be inspired by the ‘other half’ of the natural world out there,” Cat says. “For those who don’t necessarily want to investigate plants more deeply, I hope they are at least empowered to recognise a few different plants if they go for a walk in the bush.”
But of course in order to identify the plants Cat was writing about, she needed someone to bring her vision to life.
Rachel Gyan is an illustrator passionate about artful storytelling. Her heart-warming characters are empowered by whimsy, texture and vibrant colour palettes.
She also loves drawing Australian flora and fauna, but found there were some challenges. Producing artworks for a non-fiction, informative book like Plantastic! was not simply producing art – she had to get the science right too and accurately portray the different plants’ leaves, flowers and fruits.
“Cat was super awesome and provided reference images for every single plant,” Rachel says. “And she would point out really specific things, like the petal shape or the leaf shape or when the colour needed to be really accurate.”
Going into this detail was educational for Rachel. “I personally learnt so much on this project,” she says. “On my walks it makes it so much more interesting because I can look at plants and go ‘Oh, I think this might be this’, and I’ll take a little sample and come back and I’m like ‘Yeah, I got it right!’ I know the book is for kids, but I think parents are going to have a really good time with it too.”
Plantastic! A to Z of Australian Plants highlights 26 of Australia’s most unique and incredible native plants. Filled with fun facts, activities, adventurous ideas and gorgeous illustrations, Plantastic! proves just how fantastic Australia’s native plants really are!
Get your copy of Plantastic! from our website or through your local bookstore.
Teacher Notes are also available from our website as a free PDF download.