Recent children's literature has been dominated by fantasies and magical quests, but there are many great nonfiction books out there, too. Two new nonfiction books published this fall are especially good for readers who like "true stories."
In one of the finest nonfiction works to appear in recent years, Phillip Hoose describes the fate of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, a bird so beautiful and awe-inspiring it was called the Good God or Lord God bird after the exclamations of those who first saw its dramatic forest flights. In Hoose's book, the Lord God bird is emblematic of how extinction happens and how people can come together to try to prevent it.
Scientists estimate that 99 percent of all species that have ever lived are now extinct. The Earth is now in the sixth wave of mass extinction, which began 12,000 years ago when mankind's effect on the planet accelerated. But the fate of the Ivory-bill has been determined in just the last 100 years. From the enthusiasm of early collectors for shooting them down as specimens, to the ravages against habitats by loggers in the Deep South after the Civil War, to the Plume War of the late 18th and early 19th century, the forces at work to ensure the destruction of the Ivory-bill gathered. Hoose tells the story in dramatic fashion with descriptions of historical incidents, maps demonstrating the shrinking habitat, archival photographs and sidebars complementing the text.
Most of all, it is the author's passionate telling that carries the story and makes it a tale of conviction and not just a text. Hoose's own journeys, his enthusiasm for the subject and the idea that, perhaps, the Ivory-bill still exists in some remote forest will enchant readers. Through the drama of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, readers will learn much about various forces in American history and how they converge to threaten an amazing creature and cause the "collapse of the wilderness."
Dean Schneider teaches middle school English in Nashville. Copyright 2004 BookPage Reviews.
Horn Book Guide Reviews 2005 Spring
The extinct Ivory-billed woodpecker once ranged through primeval forests from Texas to North Carolina. In a thoroughly researched account, Hoose tells how naturalists raised, too late, awareness of the Ivory-bill's plight. Illustrated with archival photos and well provided with side bars, "important dates," and maps, this is a gripping summary of an environmental tragedy. Glos., ind. Copyright 2005 Horn Book Guide Reviews.
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 2004 #5
The regal Ivory-billed woodpecker, subject of one of Audubon's handsomest paintings, once ranged through primeval forests from Texas to North Carolina. Its inexorable march toward extinction began after the Civil War when, desperate for cash, landowners began selling the birds' habitat for timber. Demand for lumber surged after the Chicago Fire; then the Singer Manufacturing Company gobbled a particularly important forest to make their sewing machine cabinets. Meanwhile, avid hunters, collectors, and even early scientists, eager for specimens, exacerbated the bird's decline. In a thoroughly researched account based on interviews, primary materials, and published sources (well detailed in chapter notes), Hoose tells how naturalists, especially ornithologists James Tanner and Giraldo Alayon (who saw one last Ivory-bill in Cuba in 1987), raised, too late, awareness of the Ivory-bill's plight. It's a gripping, unbearably sad tale of bad luck, public apathy, and corporate obduracy, with the consolation that the great bird's loss energized (among others) the National Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy, and the Endangered Species Act. Illustrated with archival photos and well provided with side bars, "important dates," maps, glossary, and index, this important summary of an environmental tragedy belongs in every library. Copyright 2004 Horn Book Magazine Reviews.
Kirkus Reviews 2004 July #1
Before 1800, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker's distinctive call and rap could be heard throughout the river and swamp forests of the southeastern US; the last documented sighting of the great black-and-white bird was in 1944, when an Audubon Society artist sadly painted the last remaining female in a Louisiana swamp. In the intervening years, humans wiped out both bird and habitat. With power and humor, rage and sorrow, the narrative details the demise of the Lord God bird (so-called by some because of its awe-inspiring flight), braiding into its tale the stories of those who came into contact with it, from J.J. Audubon himself to James Tanner, the Cornell fellow whose study of the bird demonstrated that preservation of species requires preservation of habitat. Hoose chronicles the rise of the Audubon Society out of the Plume Wars and the twin impacts of Reconstruction and WWII on southern forests. Sidebars add engrossing details, and extensive back matter bespeaks exemplary nonfiction. But it's the author's passion that compels. Outstanding in every way. (Timeline, glossary, chapter notes, index.) (Nonfiction. 10+) Copyright Kirkus 2004 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
Library Journal Express Reviews
How did the Ivory-billed woodpecker go from pages of Audubon's The Birds of America to extinction? The woodpecker's story is one of history's great conservationist dramas. Yet, for the Lord God Bird, the race to save it came too late. Something You (Probably) Didn't Know: In 1887, an ornithologist from the American Museum of Natural History performed a most unusual bird survey. Rather than look to the skies, he looked in milliner shop windows to determine how many plumes from rare bird species were being sold on women's hats. Why It Is for Us: Reading the book is like watching a train wreck when you have come to care very much about the victims. Luckily, in 2006, two years after the publication of the book, a team of ornithologists published a paper describing evidence of the existence of this reputedly extinct species in Arkansas. Perhaps this bird is still with us after all.-Angelina Benedetti, King Cty. Lib. Syst., WA Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2004 August #4
Despite this chronicle's suspensefultitle, this particular race seems to be over, and the Ivory-billed woodpecker (whose observers gasped, "Lord God!") appears to have lost. Those who raced to save the Ivory-bill and its Southern U.S. habitat, reports Hoose (We Were There, Too!), were neither as swift nor as wealthy as those who raced to shoot it and turn its preferred sweet-gum trees into lumber. Yet Hoose shares a compelling tale of a species' decline and, in the process, gives a history of ornithology, environmentalism and the U.S. With memorable anecdotes from naturalist writers, he tells how researchers such as John James Audubon shot Ivory-bills for study; later, binoculars, cameras and sound equipment changed scientific methods. Hoose also charts pre-Endangered Species Act collecting, when people responded to a rare bird by killing and stuffing it. In 1924, a pair of Ivory-bills were spotted in Florida, but soon vanished; "[collectors] had asked the county sheriff for a permit to hunt them." Further, Hoose explains how wars and the changing economy brought timber companies and the free labor of German POWs to devastate the Ivory-bills' virgin forests. In restrained language, he tells a tragic tale. His liveliest chapters concern James Tanner, the Ivory-bills' champion, who camped in swamps and climbed giant trees to document a few birds in the 1930s. "Can we get smart enough fast enough to save what remains of our biological heritage?" Hoose asks in conclusion. To him, the Ivory-bill represents no less than wilderness itself; readers will sense the urgency that remains, even if the Ivory-bill is gone. Ages 12-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal Reviews 2004 September
Gr 6 Up-This meticulously researched labor of love uses drama, suspense, and mystery to tell the story of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, the first modern endangered species. Its story is also the story of America, its economics and its politics, its settlement and its development, its plume hats and its environmental protection laws. In 1800, the large and impressive woodpecker lived in the southeastern United States, from Texas to the Carolinas and as far north as Indiana. By 1937, it could be found on only one tract of land in northeastern Louisiana. Its last confirmed sighting was in Cuba in 1987. Hoose skillfully introduces each individual involved through interesting, historically accurate scenes. Readers meet John James Audubon as well as less familiar people who played a part in the Ivory-bill story as artists, collectors, ornithologists, scientists, and political activists. Sharp, clear, black-and-white archival photos and reproductions appear throughout. The author's passion for his subject and high standards for excellence result in readable, compelling nonfiction, particularly appealing to young biologists and conservationists.-Laurie von Mehren, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Brecksville, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
VOYA Reviews 2004 October
The efforts to save the Ivory-billed Woodpecker from extinction is the primary focus of this book, but the story line has the intrigue of a novel as it moves from nineteenth-century collectors to more modern naturalists who use binoculars, cameras, and sound machines to get permanent records of the bird. The story begins in North Carolina in 1809 with the father of ornithology in the United States, Alexander Wilson. It ends with a major unsuccessful effort to locate the bird in Louisiana in 2002. More than producing a book on a single bird or the conservation ethic, text and photos provide a history of the country from a wilderness with seemingly limitless wildlife to the nation of today's limited resources. It includes the birth of the Audubon Society, the "Plume War," economics of the lumber industry, and recent attempts to preserve habitat. Sidebars and notes provide insight and documentation without detracting from the story line. The combination of the best of storytelling supported by extensive research makes this book valuable for the social sciences as well as for the natural sciences. A wide range of students, even reluctant readers, will be fascinated by the text and photos. This book is certainly unique and a must for any library serving youth or teachers.-Marilyn Brien Glossary. Index. Illus. Photos. Maps. Source Notes. Chronology. 5Q 4P M J S Copyright 2004 Voya Reviews.