Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Crucial Canines

If you look the word keystone up in a dictionary like Merriam-Webster, you will read it is

something on which associated things depend for support

A keystone species is essential for maintaining a balance in any given ecosystem.  Without them, the environment in which they reside becomes less than its best.  In fact, their absence can cause an ecosystem to collapse.  Two 2022 publications focus on wolves' crucial existence in two different national parks.

The first, The Wolves And Moose Of Isle Royale: Restoring an Island Ecosystem (Clarion Books, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, August 9, 2022) written by Nancy F. Castaldo with photographs by Morgan Heim, chronicles specific scientific research within the context of historical background and factual information on both wolves and moose.  Both populations of wolves and moose on this island need to maintain certain numbers.  Too much of one means too little of something else.


RISING OUT OF THE COLD, deep waters of Lake Superior are a group of islands, miles from any shoreline.  These isolated islands form Isle Royale National Park, the least visited of all the United States' sixty-three national parks, but one of the parks with the most returning visitors.

Within the twenty-seven chapters in this book, questions we didn't know we had are answered.  We become, through the informative, conversational text and stunning and supportive photographs, silent and observant partners with the collaborative team of Nancy F. Castaldo and Morgan Heim.  It is a one-of-a-kind adventure into the past, present, and possible future.

To begin we are given an overview of Isle Royale and its inhabitants, flora and fauna.  Its isolation is key to what does live there.  It is the scene for

creating the longest predator/prey study in history.

As the boat journeys to Isle Royale (You can only get there by boat or plane.), we are told about the island's creation and those who have lived and studied within its space.  We are introduced to influential humans who championed the island.  We are told when it is believed wolves and moose arrived.  At the time of this book, wolf numbers are drastically low.  Moose are over-eating themselves into starvation and unhealthy lives.

Upon their arrival, Nancy F. Castaldo and Morgan Heim immediately hike parts of the island, taking us along on their explorations.  We meet the research team members and are told about their tasks.  The wolf reintroduction project is one of the main focuses.  Then, a detailed explanation of the balance between wolves and moose follows.  It is aptly named 

An Island Out of Balance.

A subsequent discussion outlines the different choices of hunting moose or wolf reintroduction.  Once the decision is made, the wolves need to be found and transferred.  It is a time-consuming and lengthy process.  Collars are placed on the new wolves.  The population of wolves grew from two to nineteen by 2019.

We learn more about how technology enhances the study of all animal life.  Moose studies, their bones, and watching moose in real time are portrayed.  Other wildlife on the island is included in this conversation.  The two concluding chapters showcase possible futures for Isle Royale.  May it continue to thrive and survive.

One of the most captivating things about this book is the writing of Nancy F. Castaldo.  She tells the best kind of story weaving pertinent history, real-life day to day details, and fascinating facts into the narrative.  She explains and explores processes in every aspect of wolves and moose and Isle Royale.  Her research is personal and extensive.  

Within her chapters, words are bolded and included in a glossary at the closing of the book.  Many of them appear in sections aside from the main narrative.  These sections also refer to items needing further information, other than what is included in the main text. For example, there is a section on What Is An Ecosystem? and one on Collaring Wildlife.  Special areas are devoted to specifics about certain animals, stating basic characteristics, their status, and a fun fact.  Here are a few passages.

Boarding begins for the seventy-three-mile (117-km) boat journey, which will take between five and six hours.  A careful swipe of our shoe-bottoms over the cleaning brush before walking up the gangplank prevents any uninvited pests or seeds that would upset the balance of Isle Royale's natural ecosystem---especially during a time when researchers are working hard to restore it.

The whistle blows, and we're off, sailing past the lighthouse into open water.  Even in the summer, hypothermia is a real danger in the cold waters of this lake, so we need to take extra safety measures.  The crew teaches us about putting on a special protective flotation suit, called a Gumby, in case we find ourselves overboard.  This full-body suit will protect us better than a standard life jacket by helping us stay warm.  We look at each other.  This definitely highlights one of the risks of visiting the park.

When you look at the open and matching dust jacket and book case, you are getting two different perspectives of Isle Royale.  On the front, the right side, is a close-up view of a moose with the eyes of the wolf shown above and peering intently at the reader.  To the left, on the back, is a panoramic view of the lake, sky and forest trees from the island.

The opening and closing endpapers are a steely blue-gray color.  For the initial title page, the photograph is a breathtaking view of the lake and islands from a rocky shore.  You can feel the calm in the two-page visual for the formal title page.  The water is like glass with trees close to the edge on the back and in the background.  You get a true sense of the peace on this island.  The only sounds there are island generated.

These photographs by Morgan Heim are magnificent portraits of the animals and the island itself.  They enhance the written words, bringing us into every noted aspect.  The varying points of view add to the inclusion facet as we read.  We see firsthand when the bark has been stripped from a tree.  We are there watching the first female wolf being released on Isle Royale.  Two common loons, next to each other, glide on nearby water.  In the distance, we see a moose and calf standing in an inland lake on the island.

When Morgan Heim photographs the team members, their personalities shine in their faces and body postures.  We watch as they work at their respective jobs.  We share in their day to day activities.  We sigh in appreciation at the work accomplished by Candy and Rolf Peterson as they sit in front of their cabin.

One of my many favorite photographs is the first full-page of a moose opposite the first part of the narrative.  The moose is very close to us.  Antlers, ears, and face show dripping water after dipping into the lake.  The water and water plants behind it fade away into the background.  This is spectacular.

Each time this title, The Wolves And Moose Of Isle Royale: Restoring an Island Ecosystem written by Nancy F. Castaldo with photographs by Morgan Heim, is read, you cannot help but marvel at the resilience of the animals and those working to protect them.  At the close of the book is a glossary.  There is a section titled For More Information including items to read, watch, explore, and do.  There are source notes and a bibliography.  There is a page of acknowledgements and an index.  There is also a table of contents at the book's beginning.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Nancy F. Castaldo and Morgan Heim and their other work, please visit their websites by following the link attached to their names.  Nancy F. Castaldo has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.  Morgan Heim has accounts on Facebook and Instagram.  You can listen to an audio sample of this title on the publisher's website.  Nancy F. Castaldo is interviewed about this title at From The Mixed-Up Files . . .  

Between the years 1995 and 1997, forty-one wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park.  This reintroduction of the wolves changed everything, restoring Yellowstone National Park to its natural glory.  (The national park page linked in the previous sentence gives an in-depth overview of wolves in the park.)  Written by Mary Kay Carson with illustrations by David Hohn, The River That Wolves Moved: A True Tale from Yellowstone (Sleeping Bear Press, September 15, 2022) is a celebration of the success of this reintroduction.  

This is the river that wolves moved.

This is the pack, so furry and fast,
That hunts near the river that wolves moved.

Using "The House That Jack Built " as a template, readers can anticipate and participate in this observation of the impact of the wolves in Yellowstone National Park.  From the wolves we move to an elk herd.  The elk have changed their eating habits and movements because of the wolves, allowing the plant life to replenish.

With trees growing back in the park, birds are more plentiful.  Beavers find food and build dams, increasing the wildlife that resides in pools and ponds.  The banks along the river are more secure with tree roots holding them in place.  This slows the river's movement.

With less erosion, the water in the river becomes clearer.  This entices certain fish back to the river, fish that only breed in clear, cool water.  Can you imagine water so clear you can see the fish swimming in it?

Throughout this poetic ode, an elder and child have wandered in Yellowstone National Park.  It is now dusk, wolves are on the move, calling to each other with howls.  The duo move, hand and hand, toward their parked car.  This is indeed a river that wolves moved.

As each layer is presented by author Mary Kay Carsonhighly descriptive words amplify their meaning.  She uses alliteration and heightened physical characteristics to great effect.  In addition to the poetic lines, factual paragraphs include history of the park and the wolves, present-day statistics, and how the increased elk herds altered the landscape, river, and its inhabitants.  Here is one of those paragraphs.

A bank is where river meets land, where water touches dirt.
Plant and tree roots grasp the soil, holding riverbanks in place.
When the wolves were gone, the elk feasted on trees, leaving
the riverbanks bare and brown.  Rushing water ate at the
banks, creating swift rivers with sharp zigzag turns.

The eloquent artwork of David Hohn is first seen on the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  Here on the front, the right side, the wolves, now in a pack, are shown on a hilltop overlooking a river they did in fact cause to change its flow and direction.  David Hohn has featured cutthroat trout who need clear, cool water to survive.  In the background in the upper left-hand corner are a few elk.  

This scene moves across the spine to the far left side of the back.  The landscape is empty of fish, wolves, and elk.  The river gently flows along the bank with the trees and shrubs along its edges.  Centered in the sky is a circular image.  We see two wolves, heads raised, as they howl.  A crescent moon hangs in the dusky sky.

On the opening and closing endpapers is crisp white paper.  The title page, on a single-page picture, shows readers a close-up of the river water running along and through stones.  On one of the stones is a wolf print.  With a page turn we are presented with a double-page illustration.  It is a bird's eye view of a wolf pack running through the grasses along the river.  On the right side is a quotation from Albert Einstein.  (The man was a gift for his knowledge and insight.)

Each page turn features a double-page visual.  We begin with the elder and child leaving the parking space to walk in the park.  We next are drawn to the pack of wolves.  We are so close, we feel like a wolf.  David Hohn alters his perspectives in each image to elevate the text and pacing.  He includes tiny details like insects native to a given area.  His wildlife is animated.  In one picture, he uses a cut-away to show the value of plant and tree roots.

One of my many favorite illustrations shows the trout swimming in the river.  They move over the clean gravel bottom, brightly colored in golden hues with darker speckles in contrast to the blue of the water.  Above the fish, just to the right of the gutter, the girl's feet and legs dangle in the water.  

It is hard to believe that more than twenty-five years have passed since the wolves came back to Yellowstone National Park.  This book, The River That Wolves Moved: A True Tale from Yellowstone written by Mary Kay Carson with artwork by David Hohn, will captivate readers of all ages with its lively and informative writing and lovely images.  At the close of the book are two pages dedicated to Can Wolves REALLY Move Rivers? and two more pages about the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, the wolves and the rivers in the park.  There is a selected bibliography.  You will want to have a copy of this book in your professional and personal collections.

You can discover more about Mary Kay Carson and David Hohn and their other work by accessing their websites.  Follow the link attached to their names.  Mary Kay Carson has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  David Hohn has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  At Cherry Lake Publishing Group, you can view interior pages. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for your generous review of The River That Wolves Moved. Happy holidays!