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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Packing up the tent?

Summer Reading No. 2

Camping Trip that Changed America Many of you are making plans to get out of Dodge when your kids are out of school for the summer.

I imagine thousands of people making a list: tent, sleeping bags, mini-grill, rain ponchos, clothesline (from our camping experience, someplace to hang things up to dry is essential), cooler, GPS, and backup maps. I particularly hope you’re remembering the maps–on paper–in case the GPS sends you to the middle of a cornfield instead of your expected destination.

Have you decided where you’re heading? Many of our favorite places are national parks, national monuments, wilderness areas. I imagine they hold fascination for you, too.

Then do I have a book for you!

The Camping Trip That Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks, written by Barbara Rosenstock, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, published by Dial Books for Young Readers in 2012, is a must-read for anyone heading to a national park or going on a camping trip. Why?

This is the story of two men, each legends, who gave America a gift that keeps on giving. John Muir was a naturalist who lived near the Yosemite wilderness. It was his particular passion that it not be destroyed or turned into a tourist attraction with gift shops, diners, and hotels that block out the view. Mordicai Gerstein does a wonderful job on one two-page spread of showing us how a wilderness can be used up for profit, never to be available again to anyone for anything. Theodore Roosevelt was a president of the United States who came from a world of privilege and politics but had a rare perception of the future. He could see all too well but John Muir was predicting.

Muir describing the wilderness. Mordicai Gerstein.

John Muir was an essayist as well. He wrote convincingly about his passion for preserving the beautiful, aesthetic, inspirational places within the USA. President Roosevelt read those essays and it made him think exactly what Muir intended to convey: something had to be done to make sure that people 100 years later would see the same places in the same way. Reluctantly, Muir agreed to go on a camping trip with the President in the Yosemite wilderness. The two men shared their ideas. The trip ignited a fire of motivation in Roosevelt, who went back to the nation’s capital and persisted until a recalcitrant Congress finally preserved “national forests, wildlife sanctuaries, and national forests.”

For everyone in the United States, this is a book that chronicles a game-changing set of events. Barbara Rosenstock writes in a clear, understandable way while creating a highly readable story. Together with Gerstein’s frankly breathtaking watercolors of the wilderness and his “You Are There” portraits of the two men exploring, reveling in the glory of their surroundings, and engaging in late-night, fireside chats, this is a book that every family will enjoy reading at any time, but reading it on your travels to your next national park will make it a more memorable trip.

For teachers: There are many tie-ins here for the CCSS, but pay special attention to the Author’s Note in which Ms. Rosenstock details which parts of the book are strictly factual–and what her sources were–as well as how she “imagined” some of the dialogue in the book, while believing “it is in keeping with ideas from the letters of Muir and Roosevelt, Muir’s The Eight Wildneress Discovery Books, as well as Charlie Leidig’s first person account of the trip and California newspapers of the time.” There are several photographs online of Roosevelt and Muir’s camping trip to supplement your lesson. This book will be an excellent component of your classroom discussions about fiction and nonfiction.

More about John Muir on PBS

Three-minute video on John Muir from Ken Burns’ The National Parks: America’s Best Idea

More about Theodore Roosevelt on PBS

Two-minute video of Theodore Roosevelt speaking at the Yellowstone Arch

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