Have you ever heard of Dr Nathaniel Ward? Not many people know of his rarely told historical story about Australia and colonisation. I didn't until I read this delightful children's picture book. The Amazing Case of Dr Ward is a collaboration between the storyteller Jackie Kerin and the illustrator Tull Suwannakit. It is a captivating true story that revolves around eccentric Dr Ward and his amazing case (pun intended).
I have reviewed another of Jackie Kerin's picture books for Weekend Notes: the ripping yarn Gold!, which is also a true story, concerning the history of the gold rush in Victoria. And a nugget of a book it is too.
But I digress. I want to tell you about Jackie's latest book and an amazing case. It is also pure gold (the story not the case). The adventurous journey takes the reader (or listener) from smoggy London aboard swashbuckling sailing ships. (I have no idea how to swash buckles or to buckle swashes.) Then it wends its way with wit and warmth around the world. The wonderful illustrations of weird and wondrous plants will win over would-be eco-warriors. Have I mentioned that I love a lot of alliteration? The language is quaintly old fashioned as befits the historical era in which the story is set - the 1800s. For example, "risk life and limb" and "by jiminy". Does anyone use these terms anymore?
Like the talented author, the real-life Mr Ward is a plant lover. He also dreams of adventure. He will eventually encounter plants he could never imagine from far-off lands he would never visit such as Japan, India, China, Italy, Turkey and of course, Australia. He especially loved exotic ferns from our homeland.
Dr Ward studied medicine in old England a couple of hundred years ago and understood the uses of precious plants. Not only do they taste delicious, but some could also be used to make new medicines, or build things, and others are beautiful, smell of the sweetest perfume or provide us with shade. He began a series of experiments and began growing plants in enclosed bottles - the forerunner of our modern terrariums. He invented an amazing glass case in 1833. These became known as "Wardian cases" and enabled plants to be transported around the world on ships. Even to The Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney. We have so much to thank Dr Ward for.
This captivating picture book is aimed at primary aged kids over six. The story will appeal to gardeners, nature lovers, farmers, collectors (like me), botanists, and other "budding" scientists. It's entertainment and learning combined in one package, as are Jackie's other children's books. It is brought to you by the great little Aussie company Ford Street Publishing.
About the Author Jackie Kerin is an award-winning author of non-fiction illustrated books for children. Her previous children's books include Lyrebird! and Phar Lap the Wonder Horse as well as Gold! Her interests in nature and history are obvious in this story which reads like a traditional oral tale. She has the enviable job of travelling around Australia and overseas telling tales. Her other hobbies include bike riding, gardening and bird watching. I think Dr Ward would have enjoyed her company.
About the Illustrator Tull Suwannakit is an illustrator with a background in fine arts and animation. He is also a children's author in his own right. He began his artistic career as a set designer and sculptor in New York. His books include Morphing Murphy, Sad the Dog, and Thimble. They've been published in Australia, UK and the USA and translated into many languages around the world.
Next time you peel a banana, bite into a juicy pear, smell a rose or climb an old pine tree you will remember how those plants came to our country and the amazing Dr Ward.