By Roberto Portela Miguez
When I was asked to review a book written by a twelve year old, I was slightly uncomfortable with the idea, as I thought that I would have to repress my usual critical and negative self and be gentle and considerate with the effort that this young nature enthusiast has put into such work. Needless to say, I did not want to come across as patronising either.
However, all my silly tribulations dissipated once I tucked into the book, and I actually found the publication not just faultless but truly enjoyable.
Jake McGowan-Lowe’s work is illustrated with beautiful photography and contains a wealth of knowledge and sound advice.
Each chapter has images of specimens from Jake’s very own skeletal collection, which ranges from the common British species to more exotic ones like armadillos and leopards. From the first pages one cannot fail to realise that this work was produced by someone with considerable first-hand experience on the topic. Maybe it was the picture of the more than two hundred skulls decorating his bedroom that gave away that the natural world is not just a pass-time for Jake, but something he is genuinely passionate about.
For each of the species included in the book, we are given details of some of the most significant skeletal adaptations and in specimens where a pathology is visible, Jake provides a well-founded interpretation.
The author does not shy away from using technical names for the different skeletal elements, but do not fear, because if you missed that lesson at school, there is a helpful glossary at the end. It is refreshing to see that Jake uses confidently and comfortably the relevant academic terminology. I was thrilled with this aspect of the editing and hold this as a triumph against those exhibition consultants that underestimate the level of knowledge of museum visitors and keep vanishing academic language from our galleries. You may now picture me taking my hat off to Jake for going boldly where museums used to go.
There is no osteological-related material that this studious naturalist cannot write about. From the basic “what is a bone?” to the more advanced ageing of animals from their bones, Jake displays an astonishing degree of knowledge on everything he presents.
The chapters that pleased me the most were the ones on tips for collectors, your bone collection and golden rules. It is easy to be awed by the natural beauty of the objects and their stories, but Jake wisely reminds all that there are a few important things to consider before we start accumulating our very own skeletal collection. Collection management, Health and safety and legislation are covered in these chapters and the author’s style makes it fun to read, so there is no excuse for accidents or incidents.
This is a great piece of work which I would recommend to anybody of any age and have no doubt that this will not be the last we will hear from such a talented science communicator.