Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sharing Yellowstone's treasures with children (ages 6 - 10)

Yellowstone has always held a special place in my heart, with its beautiful meadows, soaring mountains and awe-inspiring geysers.  Two very different non-fiction picture books introduce children to the wonders of Yellowstone.  Yellowstone Moran: Painting the American West shows what it was like for early explorers to venture into this wilderness in the 1800s, and how Thomas Moran's paintings helped capture its beauty and persuade Congress to protect it.  The Wolves Are Back shows children how reintroducing wolves restored nature's balance in the ecosystem of Yellowstone.
Yellowstone Moran: Painting the American West
by Lita Judge
NY: Viking, 2009
ages 7 - 10
Thomas Moran "had never ridden a horse, never shot a gun, and never slept in the open air," but he was determined to join Dr. Hayden's expedition to explore the land called the Yellowstone.  "Few men had explored this high wilderness.  Those who had been there told strange tales of mud volcanoes and spouting geysers at a place called Firehole Basin."  The expedition was hard work, climbing steep mountain passes on horseback, fording rushing rivers, sometimes only covering a few miles a day.  Readers will be astounded, along with Moran, at the sight of steaming hot springs, massive waterfalls, and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. 

copyright Lita Judge, 2009

Moran's paintings helped to convince President Grant to designate Yellowstone as the first National Park in 1871. I particularly liked the author's note at the end which describes for young readers how she used the expedition members' journals to reconstruct the story.  Judge has recreated Moran’s style in her dramatic watercolors, and her paintings (like Moran's) will make young readers want to venture to Yellowstone themselves.  For another review of Yellowstone Moran, see The Miss Rumphius Effect.
The wolves are back
by Jean Craighead George
paintings by Wendell Minor
NY: Dutton Children's Books, 2008
ages 6 - 10

Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor have captured the remarkable story of wolves being reintroduced to Yellowstone.  Wolves were almost hunted into extinction by the early 1900s, but in 1995 a small number of wolves were brought from Canada to Yellowstone.

As the wolf packs grow, the entire ecosystem starts to returns to its natural balance.   In one example, the young wolf pup can now hear birds singing in the meadows because the wolfs are back. George explains the relationships quite simply.  The wolves drove the elk herds higher in the hills.  With the elk gone, the valley grasses grow taller.  This allows for the return of the Vesper sparrow, which uses the grasses for food and nests.  George tells this story with just a few lines on each page.  Minor's paintings will also engage young readers, as they focus on the variety of animals in Yellowstone. Together, the words and pictures draw young readers into a deeper understanding of how ecosystems work, and fill them with an optimism that we can help nature find its balance.

Share nonfiction stories with your children.  Expand their world, introduce them to concepts, share places you'd like to visit one day.  For more great ideas, visit Wild About Nature for Nonfiction Monday.

Yellowstone Moran and The Wolves Are Back are available at your local library.  You can also find them at your local bookstore or on Amazon.  If you purchase a book from Amazon by clicking through this blog, a small percentage will go to Great Kid Books and will be used to buy more books to review.  Thank you for your support.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, those are stunning illustrations in the Yellowstone book! Thanks for your review.