Monday, February 09, 2009

Nonfiction Monday - Double Plays of 2008

Turning two in baseball is a good thing -- one batter, two outs. However, I imagine that for an author, learning that another author has published a book on the exact same topic in the very same year must be a bit disconcerting. A number of my favorite nonfiction books of 2008 were part of a double play series. Here are two pairs that are particular standouts.

Double Play 1: Two books--two takes on the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone after an absence of nearly 70 years.

When the Wolves Returned: Restoring Nature's Balance in Yellowstone, written by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent with photographs by Dan and Cassie Hartman, provides a historical account of the changes to the Yellowstone ecosystem by both the loss and reintroduction of the wolves. The gorgeous photographs of the Hartmans are accompanied by black and white images from the National Park Service. The text is written on two levels, with short, simple sentences on the left page, with paragraphs of more detailed information on the right page. At the end of the text, an illustrated page entitled "The Wolf Effect" looks at the connections among plants and animals in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Also included are an index , list of resources for kids, and a photo quiz.

The Wolves are Back, written by Jean Craighead George and illustrated by Wendell Minor, shows the restoration of the Yellowstone ecosystem through the eyes of a wolf pup. It begins with the pup looking over the landscape, then taking in a meal in which other animals also share the food. The next page reads:
Where had they been?

Shot. Every one.

Many years ago the directors of the national parks decided that only the gentle animals should grace the beautiful wilderness. Rangers, hunters, and ranchers were told to shoot every wolf they saw. They did. By 1926, there were no more wolves in the forty-eight states. No voices howled. The thrilling chorus of the wilderness was silenced.

The wolves were gone.
What follows is a look at how the reintroduction of the wolves brought positive changes back to the ecosystem. Near the end, the wolf pup grows up and heads south where he meets a mate from another pack. Minor's illustrations are exquisite and show the beauty of the landscape and its inhabitants.

Double Play 2: Two books--two views on Nobel peace prize winner Wangari Mathaai.

Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story From Africa, written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter, is a biography of Mathaai told in clear, simple text and accompanied by vibrant acrylic illustrations. Readers see the landscape of Kenya change from barren to beautiful as a result of efforts by Wangari and the women who embraced her Green Belt Movement. It is a story full of hope and beauty. The author's note in the back provides more information about Wangari and the Green Belt Movement she started in 1977. (For more information, read my review.)

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Mathaai, written and illustrated by Claire Nivola, is a more detailed biography that is accompanied by intricate pen and watercolor illustrations. Nivola uses words and pictures to show Mathaai's connection with nature developed as a youth, and how this connection inspired her environmental practices as an adult. This one also includes an author's note with additional information on Wangari and her life.

To get a feel for how differently the two illustrators approached their topic, take a look at the images below. (The first is by Winter, the second by Nivola.)

Both books were reviewed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review in She Speaks for the Trees. While both were 2008 Cybils nominees in the category of nonfiction picture book, only Wangari's Trees of Peace was named a nonfiction picture book finalist. Planting the Trees of Kenya was recently named a Green Earth Book Award winner in the picture book category.

You may be hearing more about one title than the other in these double plays, but EACH title is a worthy addition in its own right. Together, they make a perfect pair for readers wanting to know about these topics.

This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. This week our host is Charlotte at Charlotte's Library. Do stop by and see what others are sharing in the world of nonfiction today.


  1. Did you have a preference for either of the two wolf returning books? I'm presenting at TLA and had planned on using the Craighead book, but I haven't seen the other one yet. I was curious as to which you preferred.

  2. Hi Shirley,
    It's not really a matter of liking one better. They take very different approaches. The Patent book is for an older audience and provides the backstory for the years after the wolves were shot. George only devotes one page to this. Her story is entirely focused on the what their return has done. Patent's work is more comprehensive. Both fill a much needed niche. Which book you take may depend on your goal. Does this very squishy answer help?