Animals, despite all our research as to their characteristics and habits and like their human counterparts, can deliver totally unexpected behaviors. Journey: Based on the True Story of OR7 The Most Famous Wolf In The West (Little Bigfoot, an imprint of Sasquatch Books, October 11, 2016) written by Emma Bland Smith with illustrations by Robin James is a fictionalized account of an extraordinary trek by a lone wolf. Over the course of years, this animal changed the way we look at wolves. It is ultimately a story of hope.
The wolf took one last look at his mother and father. This sweet-smelling forest of pines and firs had always been home.
Wolf pups grow and leave their parents to form their own packs from twelve to twenty-two months old. This wolf was ready to find a mate and form his own pack and he was already different. He had been tagged with a radio collar so biologists could study his movements.
His trip was noted and reported by newspapers because he seemed to be leaving northern Oregon and heading for California. A girl in California was very interested. No wolves had lived in her state since 1924 when they had been eliminated.
The wolf would stop in his travel if he heard unusual sounds or smelled the scent of humans. This wolf did that because a motion-sensor camera had caught his portrait. Abby excitedly watched it on the news. He was only thirty-eight miles from the California border. For weeks Abby tracked his movements with pushpins on a map but she was worried about the danger he faced from people who did not want wolves in their state.
The wolf kept going, searching for a female companion. Needing a pack kept him in motion and vigilant. Abby kept following his path. Hope filled her heart one day when she learned of a contest to name the wolf. Conservationists felt if the wolf was given a name, the attention would protect him. The wolf would not know of the contest or if it was a success but his defenders would. They would also know when he found a mate, a place to call home and fathered a litter of pups.
Whether you know the result of OR7's, Journey's, trip or not you sense the underlying threads of tension and hope in this story. Author Emma Bland Smith researched and gathered her facts as evidenced by this narrative. It is told in the alternating viewpoints of the wolf and Abby. Most of the information in the wolf's sections is nonfiction. Even though Abby is a fictionalized character there are facts woven into her story. Here are two more passages; one from the wolf and one from Abby.
"He crossed the border!" Abby could hardly believe it.
For weeks now she had been following the wolf's route on the internet. The last update said he had been near Crater Lake in Oregon. Today she'd learned that he had finally made it into California, becoming the first wolf in the state in almost one hundred years! ...
... This was good land. Wolf country. But where were the other wolves?
Wolves live better in packs, not alone. Hunting is more difficult alone.
Sleeping is more dangerous alone. The wolf had to find a companion
The image of the wolf frozen in position in the wintry woods, looking back is identical on the dust jacket and book case. The shadows of the trees indicate the weather and time of day. It's easy to imagine him alone except for the scent or sound which captured his attention. To the left on the dust jacket OR7 is seen crossing through the mountains, a large lake below, rimmed with snowy mountains. On the book case to the left on the back is another interior image of the wolf's documented future. Both the opening and closing endpapers, done in hues of blue and white, highlight the wolf looking at us as he walks along a rise.
Robin James's artwork in this book is nearly photographic in detail. She gives us panoramic and up-close views replete with intricate elements; the wolves' fur which you want to reach out and touch, the bubbles in a cup of coffee, items on the shelf in Abby's room, the sun painting the mountains pink and purple and the desk in Abby's room showing us how she is tracking the wolf. The illustrations are either double-page or single page. Opposite the single page pictures, James has placed a smaller item relative to the narrative. On the single page showing the television report of OR7 captured on camera with someone eating their breakfast in the foreground, you can look to the left and see a part of a tree trunk with a camera adhered to it. It's interesting that all we see of adults is a portion of their hands.
One of my favorite illustrations is of the wolf howling, seeking a mate. He is close to us on the left; his head lifted skyward with the plains, forest and mountains behind him. To the right a rolling hill rises to meet the sparse evergreens and mountains in the distance.
Although it is stated this book is a work of fiction, I decided to include it in my Wednesday post because of the author's note, the map of OR7's journey with an explanation, captioned photographs at the end, an inclusive timeline, further reading websites, suggested group discussion and activities and independent activities. Journey: Based on the True Story of OR7 The Most Famous Wolf In The West written by Emma Bland Smith with illustrations by Robin James inspires us to be better protectors and active in wildlife recovery efforts. It also promotes additional research. I spent hours researching after reading this title. You might find these websites useful The Huffington Post, Wild Wolves: The Old and the New West and Wolf OR7 Expedition.
To learn more about Emma Bland Smith and Robin James and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. You will really enjoy Emma Bland Smith's About Emma page. Here is an article Emma wrote My Path to Publication. If you wish to view interior images, please follow this link to the publisher's website. Emma Bland Smith is interviewed at teacher librarian Cynthia Alaniz's blog today, Librarian in Cute Shoes.
To read the other selections of participants in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge please visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher.
UPDATE: A new article about this book appeared in The Huffington Post, November 4, 2016.