I’ll be the first to admit I’m not trained in mycology, an expert on mushrooms. The only time that I’ve taken an interest in them is when they happen to be part of the cuisine I’m eating. Yummy! Canadian artist Elise Gravel is considerably more learned than myself, and thanks to her wonderful new book The Mushroom Fan Club I no longer have to feel left out. Using her charming art style to open up the imaginative world of mushrooms to a complete newbie like myself, she has my undivided attention.
Elise welcomes you into the world of fungi with a delightful enthusiasm not unlike being trapped in a room full of cuddly puppies. She breaks down the various mushrooms into understandable chunks so you’re not overwhelmed with information. Did you know mushrooms aren’t plants or animals, but rather in a classification of their own called – you guessed it – fungi? She shares a cute diagram of their individual parts to make it easier to identify them in the wild like their cap, spores, stalk, and other parts.
What sets Elise’s mushroom adventure apart is how she gives personality to each lucky fungi showcased. The Chanterelle, for example, is a large and bright orange fungi, but is musically inclined because they look like trumpets. Morel mushrooms prefer to grow where there have been forest fires because they love the ashes and have the appearance of dead leaves or pine cones. Thanks to Elise, I now associate the morel mushroom with alien brains and cuteness. Did I mention they’re her favorite ones? I prefer the Chanterelle myself.
Other mushrooms like the puffball are white and smooth when young. When they grow larger they turn yellow or brown and when stepped on they let out a burst of smoke that’s their spores spreading out. We’re not advocating mushroom violence here; with the puffball it’s okay to step on them – they love it! It also triggers them to start spreading their spores so next time you pay them a visit, you’ll have new fungi friends to stomp on. Just like Mario!
Elise cautions you to be respectful when entering the forest, and not to eat any mushrooms you encounter in the forest, despite there being varieties that taste like fried chicken. Several are poisonous, so why take the chance? She talks about how some mushrooms smell like dog poop while others smell like maple syrup that grow by her cabin. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and combined with the absolutely precious illustrations throughout has me excited to embark on my own personal mushroom hunt at some point.
While I won’t eat any I happen to come across, I’ll be keeping a close eye out for the varieties mentioned in The Mushroom Fan Club. It’s a wonderful source of information that’s great for both kids and their parents, one that could lead to a great treasure hunt as only nature could provide. I guess you technically could hunt down some tasty ‘shrooms at the supermarket, but where’s the fun in that?