Unseen Jungle: The Microbes That Secretly Control Our World by Eleanor Spicer Rice and Rob Wilson

Happy, happy Tuesday! I'm celebrating Unseen Jungle: The Microbes That Secretly Control Our World's book birthday with Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice and Rob Wilson! I wrote the words in purple, Dr. Eleanor wrote the words in black, and Rob wrote the words in green. Thank you, Dr. Eleanor and Rob! 

Unseen Jungle: The Microbes That Secretly Control Our World is your guide to some of the wildest hidden experiences in the world around us and inside us. We can’t see the tiny creatures we call microbes, but we can see the amazing and weird things they’re doing in our everyday lives. Whether it’s forcing ladybugs to babysit the creatures that just ate them alive or helping birds become beautiful, microbes are acting out all around us. This book shows you were to look to uncover some of their most astonishing secrets.

Rob Wilson’s illustrations are somehow both hysterical and more real than real life. Who ever thought they could be charmed by seeing a mouse eager to be snapped by a mousetrap? Or want to make friends with the vulture who’s about to scarf down some roadkill? Rob’s a brilliant artist, and he somehow takes complicated scientific information and transforms it into delightfully witty scenes that help each of us connect with the stories.

Rob and I had the unique opportunity to truly collaborate on this book. He made sure that each of his illustrations was both an accurate representation of the material and also just plain funny. His work is a gift to us all.

Did you know that our most conservative estimates suggest that one out of every three of the cells on our human bodies is a microbe? We have up to two hundred different species of them just living in our belly buttons! And that if you were to get rid of all the ones on and in your body you would probably die without major medical intervention? The microbes on us help keep us free of disease, help us digest our food, make important vitamins for us like folate and B12, and can even influence how attractive we are to other people! They can shape our moods, telling our brains to feel happy and calm or to feel distressed. We need our microbes as much as they need us!

If you know where to look, you can find evidence of their mind-boggling deeds not only in you but all around you. Unseen Jungle: The Microbes That Secretly Control Our World is here to help.

Unseen Jungle: The Microbes That Secretly Control Our World’s cover is one that I think captures the spirit of the entire book. When Eleanor approached me about illustrating it, I was hesitant. But as she explained her vision and its subject matter to me—how the unseen world of microbes affects our everyday existence in the most outrageous, and outrageously jaw-dropping ways—I was hooked. I realized it was a book I would have loved as a kid. Given the wide (and wild) range of drawings of insects and animals in the stories, deciding upon a grinning cockroach popping out from a toothbrush holder on the cover seemed to make sense. You may not like the little fellow mingling with your toothbrushes, but he’s there, and a visual representation of all the things going on around us that we can’t see. The green background pattern is a squiggly group of microbial shapes, also reminding you that they’re living on the surface of the book as you hold it in your hands.

Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice has the incredible ability to explain the most obscure scientific details in the most enthusiastic, funny and entertaining ways that draw you in, make you think, and help you see the world differently. She’s magic, and collaborating with her on this book was a delight. If I had questions about how to draw something microscopic—remember, the title has “Unseen” in it—she would describe the organism as if it was sitting right next to her having a chat. The playful nature of the illustrations are directly related to a number of conversations we had about the project before I started drawing. She wanted readers to be drawn in to the science of the book by having them charmed by images that spoke to them in the most engaging ways. Eleanor’s excitement about science, learning and storytelling shine though, and I only had to create images that kept up with her.

Did you know I had no idea how much microbes influence our daily life. Learning how microbes affect insects and animals was amazing. Ladybug nannies?! Fly zombies?! But understanding how they surround humans—and are IN humans—was a revelation. As I walk around New York City where I live, I now see the world in a different way, thinking about the hidden, extraordinary unseen jungle here in this urban jungle. If anything, I hope our book creates a sense of wonder and amazement in the world, how we are all connected in it, and how much we have to learn.

Thank you, Eleanor and Rob! 

Eleanor Spicer Rice, PhD, is an entomologist and the author of seven books, including Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Ants, Dr. Eleanor’s Book of Common Spiders, and Ants: Workers of the World. She lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband, sons, dogs, hermit crabs, an assortment of spiders and insects, and a small but valiant flock of homing pigeons.

Rob Wilson is an award-winning illustrator and celebrated graphic designer who has created work for the Washington Post, New York magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Mother Jones, and the covers of best-selling books. He is the creator of the icon for the popular podcast Welcome to Night Vale, and his work has been featured in galleries in London and New York City, where he lives.

Borrow Unseen Jungle: The Microbes That Secretly Control Our World from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


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