Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Last Has Passed

It's hard to wrap your mind around the number of species on the critically endangered list.  According to the website, ARKive, they currently are highlighting 1,828 plants and animals. At the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species 4,286 names are given as critically endangered.  When we lose even one, we are much less than we were.

My interest in the Galapagos Islands was initially peaked when reading Island: A Story of the Galapagos (Roaring Brook Press, A Neal Porter Book) written and illustrated by Jason Chin.  My fascination is even stronger after reading about one particular resident in the final collaboration (in person) between author Jean Craighead George and illustrator Wendell Minor.  Galapagos George (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) takes us back in time nearly one million years ago.

This is a story that took so long to happen that only the stars were present at the beginning and at the end.

It begins in South America with a giant female tortoise, Giantess George.  She is witness to numerous changes in the land around her including a huge storm, causing the water to rise and fall sweeping her and other animals out to sea.  Fortunately she and those like her were able to float on trees also swept off the island.

Did you know a tortoise like Giantess George could live for a year without food or water?  She survived, landing on an island six hundred miles from her original home.  This is one of those incredible miracles of the natural world.  She lived there as she had in South America, laying eggs...big eggs.

Her body adapted to the location of her vegetarian-style food, her neck growing longer and her shell's shape altering. Over time her children, their children and those which followed continued to acclimate themselves to their landscape.  Other islands in the group each had special tortoises specific to their island alone.

When people began to arrive in the early 1500s the population of tortoises was drastically reduced by more than one hundred thousand.  With the arrival of Charles Darwin to the islands a theory was put in place as to the different tortoises on each island, a specific kind of evolution.  People introduced other species on the islands which further harmed the tortoise numbers.

There came a day when only one descendant of Giantess George was left.  For his protection sometime in the early 1970s he was removed from Pinta Island and taken to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island.  On June 24, 2012 Lonesome George (the name given him by the scientists) passed away after pulling his head into his shell and putting up his knees the previous afternoon.  He was more than one hundred years old, living proof of the wonders surrounding us every day.

When I read books researched and written by Jean Craighead George, whether they are fiction or nonfiction, I feel much closer to understanding our planet and its inhabitants.  In this particular title she condenses a vast amount of material into a narrative understandable by younger readers.  She provides enough information but in the presentation she somehow encourages us to seek out more.  Her zest for discovery, her unquenchable curiosity, is being ignited in each and every reader.

Using photographs taken by Jean Craighead George on her trip to the Galapagos Islands as well as pictures from photographer friends who also visited the islands, Wendell Minor works his magic with Windsor and Newton Watercolors on archival 3-ply Strathmore Bristol paper.  On the matching dust jacket and book case he showcases Galapagos George on the front with an oval portrait of Giantess George on the back.  His opening and closing endpapers feature a map of the islands, native animals, Galapagos George, a small landscape of the island and two other maps giving the reader perspective as to the islands' placement on a larger scale.

His luminous paintings (How does he get the light perfectly?) give the reader a true sense of time and place.  Intricate details using tiny, delicate brushstrokes transform his double-page, single page and smaller illustrations into pictures asking you to pause and appreciate.  You develop a kinship with those tortoises, especially Galapagos George.  In an email earlier today I mentioned his books are like mini art galleries.  His reply to me is:

I, too, often refer to my books as mobile mini art galleries! Knowing that many children live in areas that do not have easy access to museums or galleries, it is my hope that my art will inspire their future interest in visiting museums and galleries to view original works of art.

Two of my favorite illustrations are of Giantess George as she is reaching for leaves for the first time and of Galapagos George in his home on Santa Cruz Island.  I like that Minor has placed the same type of bird perched on both of their shells.  It's a splendid reminder of the ties the two tortoises shared.

Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor have made another beautiful, informative book together in Galapagos George.  After I read it a second time I started to explore the key terms, timeline, books and online resources included at the back of this title.  Just as Jean Craighead George would have wished I got caught up in the extended story of Galapagos George.  Be sure to read the In Remembrance paragraph written by Twig George, Jean's daughter.  I like to think that somewhere a very special tortoise might be spending time walking with an extraordinary woman.

Please follow the links embedded in the author's and illustrator's names to their official websites.  If you follow this link to the publisher's website you can see some interior illustrations.

I look forward to Wednesday each week, happy to be participating in the 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at Kid Lit Frenzy by Alyson Beecher.


  1. Okay - sold. I need this book for my classroom collection! Thanks Margie!

    1. Great! Let me know if you should have trouble getting a copy. I would love to send you mine. And you are very welcome.

  2. When I saw that the illustrations were done by Wendell Minor - I just know I would have to find this book. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. I know exactly what you mean Myra. I am collecting his books too! And you are welcome.

  3. I adore books that teach kids about nature, especially those by Jean Craighead George. Thanks for sharing a great one.

  4. Thanks. This looks like a beautiful book.

    1. You're welcome, Crystal. It is beautiful exploration of a particular specie. I hope you like it.