Pocklington illustrator Amy Husband’s latest children’s book is an ambitious one – telling the story of life on Earth in its beautifully illustrated pages. STEPHEN LEWIS reports.

AMY Husband has proved a dab hand at drawing unruly schoolboys, bumptious dogs with long, quivering noses – and even a family of very noisy foxes.

Her first children's book, Dear Miss – about a mischievous schoolboy called Michael and his dog Bruno – won the Cambridgeshire Children's Picture Book Award in 2010.

It took the form of a series of notes from Michael to his teacher, in which the little boy came up with endless inventive reasons why he couldn't go back to school after the holidays.

And it allowed writer and illustrator Amy's imagination full rein as she drew stories of Michael and Bruno being captured by a pirate king and sent into space by NASA.

Two more 'Dear' books featuring Michael and Bruno followed, and then The Very Noisy Foxes, about a family of urban foxes.

Nevertheless, when 30-year-old Amy – who lives in a cottage near Pocklington with her husband, James – was invited to illustrate a book about the history of life on Earth, she admits she was just a little bit daunted.

"I had no idea about the subject apart from when I had studied biology at school," she says.

But the publisher who had invited her was Frances Lincoln, who she'd always wanted to work with.

So she clamped down on her panic, took armfuls of books about evolution out of her local library, and got drawing.

The result is a sumptuous, full-colour book for young children that tackles the entire history of life on Earth, from four billion years ago up to today.

This time the words have been written by the environmentalist and former Natural History Museum editor Catherine Barr, with science teacher Steve Williams. Amy has been responsible only for the illustrations.

Even so, it was a massive challenge, not least because staff at the Natural History Museum checked her drawings to make sure they were accurate. "They gave me a bit of artistic licence, but generally they said that I was pretty good."

The book aims to provide a fun but informative (and scientifically accurate) guide to the origin and development of life on Earth for young children.

Catherine Barr admits she was inspired to write it because she couldn't find an engaging, simple account of evolution for her own children. "My two girls at primary school came home with the biblical stories around creation but were not being taught the facts of life on Earth," she says.

The Story of Life puts that right.

It starts with the origins of life around volcanic vents deep beneath the oceans 3.5 billion years ago. "This first life was just an incredibly small, shapeless blob, called a cell," Catherine and Steve write. "As time passed cells lived together, making sticky, slimy mats that grew into mounds a big as pillows."

Amy obliges by drawing a single cell, and a "slimy mat of cells" all together – and completes the two page spread with a drawing of the world as seen from space, with early continents covered in fire-spouting volcanoes.

The story moves on to the spread of multi-celled life in the oceans; the evolution of the first fish and amphibians; the first life on land; the rise and fall of the dinosaurs – and, eventually, the coming of mammals and of man.

It is four billion years of history in just over 30 pages: and you can tell that Amy, once she got over her initial nerves, had a ball illustrating it.

"M'mm, dinner", muses an early bony fish, chasing a shoal of frantically swimming trilobites. "Where is everybody?" asks a lizard, one of the few survivors of a mass extinction 250 million years ago – an extinction possibly caused by massive dust clouds from volcanic explosions all over the world.

The dinosaurs evolve, and Amy draws a Tyrannosaurus Rex with gleaming, jagged teeth; and a giant brachiosaurus with a vacant expression and a leaf frond hanging from its mouth, the dinosaur as country bumpkin.

A giant meteor wipes out the dinosaurs, and Amy draws their bleaching skeletons and a tiny, mouse-like creature huddling in the ruins of the world.

And then it is on, to the mammals, primates, apes, and the evolution of man. Lucy, an early ape-like human, is shown walking across the plains of Africa, like a character from a Dr Seuss book; hunters and farmers spread out across the world; and on the final page, a little boy and girl like those who will read the book stand in the windows of a tall town house and look out over a city.

It is wonderful stuff – and a book that Amy admits she is very proud of. "In fact, it's the one that I'm most proud of," she says.

She won't have long to rest on her laurels, however. Frances Lincoln have now invited her to illustrate another book by Catherine and Steve: this one telling the story of space.

If anything, that sounds even more ambitious. So it's back to the library for Amy, to get a few more armfuls of books...

The Story of Life: A First Book About Evolution by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, with illustrations by Amy Husband, is published by Frances Lincoln, priced £12.99