I love learning things from nonfiction picture books, not unlike certain Jeopardy champions. In this case, the book asks the question: “How do you lose a forest?”
The author, aptly named Phylis Root, goes on to explain:
You might think a forest would be hard to lose.
But in Minnesota in 1882 a survey crew lost a forest.
Among those tall trees
black bears scratched for grubs,
moose drank at creeks,
red-backed salamanders laid eggs in old logs,
and tiny coral-root orchids grew.
But the forest was lost, and it stayed lost,
while those tall trees kept growing taller.
Root’s lyrical language and sense of place draws the reader into the story, and the hard-to-imagine fact that logging companies couldn’t see the forest in front of their noses, adds a folklore element—call it magical irony—although it’s every inch nonfiction.
This fascinating story about the good that resulted from a technical error stole my heart. I love how the vertical trim size of the book gives the illustrator the room to depict TALL trees. The textured images in a muted palette add an antique lushness to this woodland history. It made me want to head for the woods and revel in the amazingness of nature.
The back matter also makes for interesting reading, including a description of what constitutes old growth forest and its ecosystem in Minnesota, how surveyors measure the land, a glossary so you can “talk like a surveyor,” a description of how surveyors dress, and original photos of surveyors in the early 1900s.
The end papers, displaying the old surveying map containing the error, add a lovely touch to this fabulous book.
Take a walk in the woods, and see if you can find a stump of a tree that’s been cut down. Count its growth rings to determine its age.
Walk the length of a football field. Imagine a tree standing taller than the length of that field to get a feel for how tall the old growth trees in Minnesota are.
Survey your back yard, making a map of the permanent landmarks, including trees, buildings/sheds, fences, creeks, or any other features.
Pair this book with MANHATTAN: Mapping the Story of an Island by Jennifer Thermes
Title: The Lost Forest
Author: Phyllis Root
Illustrator: Betsy Bowen
Publisher: University of Minnesota Press, 2019
Themes: Map-making, old growth forest, ecosystems, Minnesota history
For more perfect picture book recommendations, visit Susanna Hill’s website.
If you’re looking specifically for nonfiction book recommendations, please visit Kidlit Frenzy.