What can you learn from the common raven, the monarch butterfly, the tabby cat, or the blue damselfly? That is what The Illustrated Bestiary: Guidance and Rituals from 36 Inspiring Animals, written by Maia Toll and illustrated by Kate O’Hara, teaches you.
In this day and age, many individuals are so concerned with their jobs, homes, and digital lives that they forget our natural human origins. They don’t remember that humans are one with the earth and that everything around us is interconnected. Each animal, from the ones burrowing in small creeks to the ones that fly high above us, has a lesson to teach, if only we dare to listen.
This gorgeous book comes complete with vibrant visual depictions of each creature, along with poetic yet educational texts about their lifestyles. By studying aspects like how they travel, communicate, and reproduce, we find small, hidden lessons that show us, as people, how to get back to our roots and become more in tune with the world and ourselves.
For example, by building his complex, interconnected dam, the beaver instructs us on how we can designate sacred personal spaces. The whooper swan and her lifelong partnership with her soulmate show us what true love means. The broad-winged katydid’s compound eyes and ability to create one image from many composites are a sign that we should look at things from multiple perspectives. By finding these similarities between our species and theirs, Toll cleverly instills in us the reminder that we are not more important than or separate from the rest of the natural world. We are indeed just a part of it. Some creatures even inspire physical lessons, spurring us to make music or track the pattern of the sun.
By covering every creature in exactly four pages each, Toll turns these lessons into small, easily digestible nuggets that will inspire you to take a walk outside and enjoy the environment around you. In fact, this read is not a one-and-done experience. You can keep the book on hand throughout your days to constantly refer to when you are in need of some guidance. If you’re looking for a book full of hard animal facts, this is not for you. But if you are more inclined toward spirituality and poetry, this will be your cup of tea. At the end of the day, this book is what you make of it. How much you believe in the power of acts like meditation, sensory exploration, and journaling will directly affect your liking of this book. I found it to be a healthy, calming reminder of my origins.
The extra bonus is the pack of 36 oracle cards that comes with each copy. Each card is painted with an image of one of the faunae from the book. At any time, when you feel like you need help with a tough situation or you wish to travel in a new direction, you can fan out the cards face down and randomly pick one. Then, you may reference that section of the Bestiary to find out how to move forward. These cards serve as a way for you to revisit each lesson and learn anew what each creature knows. You can use them in much the same way you might utilize tarot cards.
Altogether, The Illustrated Bestiary is a gorgeous little piece of nonfiction. Forbes called Maia Toll the “real-life Professor Sprout from Harry Potter.” Toll’s tranquil writing voice pairs together with O’Hara’s rich illustrations to provide an experience worth having. If you want to devour more of this duo’s work, you can also check out the previously published The Illustrated Herbiary.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Storey Publishing, for review.