The President and The Naturalist

The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks
By Barb Rosenstock
Illustrated by Mordaci Gerstein
(Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012,New York, $16.99)

Quiet and reflective, writer and naturalist John Muir was very different than brash President Theodore Roosevelt. However, the two had something in common: a deep, abiding love for the American wilderness. In 1903, Muir and Roosevelt spent a few days camping in theYosemite region of California. After that trip, Roosevelt became an ardent conservationist, establishing national parks and forests and championing environmental legislation.

In The Camping Trip That Changed America, Barb Rosenstock and illustrator Mordaci Gerstein imagine what might have happened during the men’s time inYosemite. By day, Muir introduces the president to the land’s marvels: ancient towering sequoia trees and cliffs formed by glaciers. At night, around the campfire, they exchange yarns about their near escapes in the wild. Rosenstock’s lively prose conveys both the men’s exuberance and the landscape’s majesty. Even Muir’s description of the region’s geological history encourages readers’ sense of wonder. Gerstein’s pencil and watercolor illustrations capture Yosemite’s  natural beauty as well as the men’s personalities. To hint at the sequoias’ grandeur, Gerstein places them on a spread readers must tilt vertically to view. Roosevelt and Muir are tiny dark figures at the bottom of the canopy: thus, readers can share the explorers’ awe. In some spreads, Gerstein uses cartoon-style drawings to illustrate the tales Muir shares with Roosevelt.

The Camping Trip That Changed America is a fascinating look at a significant, but little-known episode that changed the country’s history. It is also a moving story about how people from widely divergent backgrounds can form friendships and make a difference.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

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