How opening a book could unlock the wonders of the natural world

Sarah Williams
23rd October 2015 at 12:03


Sarah Williams, Subject Genius, review of Cabinet of Curiosities

Sparking curiosity about the world is one of the many reasons we teach science in school. Ultimately, science allows children to ask questions about the world about them and discover answers, essentially collecting knowledge about why and how things work

This book is a collection of curios items. On a basic level it’s a guide to finding, identifying, collecting and preserving all manner of items from the natural world including leaves, skulls or even dead tarantulas! However, in examining this, it also explores the natural world itself, attempting to explain how the world “fits” together.

The book presents interesting facts and information about a broad spectrum of living things and provides answers to those questions that all children have, why do rattlesnakes have a rattle? Do bigger scorpions have stronger poison? What is the difference between a butterfly and a moth?

Just looking at the book is like peering into someone’s collecting cabinet, the illustrations are beautiful, varying from some distinctly Victorian looking pencil drawings to photographs. At times it felt like being transported to a museum, it is most definitely a book to lose yourself in!

Cabinet of Curiosities, book review, Sarah Williams, Subject Genius


From a teaching point of view, this would be an ideal addition to a nature table, children could use it as an identification tool or to explore similarities and differences between objects they have found. The illustrations are a great tool for looking at observational skills and producing accurate drawings of natural objects. The suggested methods of preserving items could provide some really interesting display objects that children could then use to develop their observational skills.

The concept of classification is highlighted throughout Key Stage 1 and 2 and again this book helps children to attempt this, particularly through identification of different species or living creatures. This book could be used in conjunction with practical exploration of the children’s local environment in key stage 1, while skeletons could be investigated in key stage 2. In year 6, the science programs of study suggest that children could investigate the work of Carl Linnaeus and his work on classification. This book provides an interesting and practical insight into the system he developed for naming species.

This book would also be a great tool to use in other subjects. It’s the type of book that, stereotypically, boys love to read. A collection of facts that they can dip in and out of a random and share in all their gory detail. It would be great to use as an example of information text, particularly when considering how information can be presented in Key Stage 2. The children can easily identify the features of non-chronological reports and could then use the information in the book to create their own information texts about items that they have collected and preserved. The way the book has been set out could also provide interesting research for a computing project into multimedia presentation and selecting the best method to present information. Children could replicate the page but then look at adding hyperlinks to relevant websites, amongst many other ideas.

The science programs of study for key stage 1 and 2 repeatedly emphasis the phrase “a sense of excitement and curiosity about natural phenomena” and this book does just this. From the intriguing front cover, to the illustrations and facts within. Cabinet of Curiosities really does help foster a sense of intrigue excitement about the world around us. It was an absolute delight to read as an adult and just through sharing some of the illustrations with my class in a short show and tell session, I could see they were captivated and keen to “get their hands on it”!


Cabinet of Curiosities by Gordon Grice

(Workman Publishing)

ISBN 978-0-7611-6927-7


Sarah Williams is a Deputy Head Teacher at St Hild's CE Primary School