Best known as the naturalist behind the creation of Yosemite and other national parks and founder of the Sierra Club, John Muir explored some of America’s wildest places on foot. In John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist, Kathryn Lasky and illustrator Stan Fellows invite middle-grade readers to wonder with Muir at the land’s marvels.
The biography spends relatively little time on Muir’s landmark accomplishments, focusing instead on the various journeys he undertook as a younger man. Lasky’s lyrical prose illuminates the beauty the naturalist observed on his quests. For example, when a weary Muir rests in a cemetery, she writes, “But this graveyard was filled with birdsong and with grand old trees draped in long skeins of silvery moss…And so in this place of the dead, he found more life than he ever thought possible.” Lasky also exposes readers to Muir’s scientific hypotheses: the threats he observed from overgrazing and logging and his ideas about glacial movements. Fellows’ paintings capture the grandeur of the mountain ranges Muir explored as well as the organisms – the flowers, insects, and birds – he saw. Many of the book’s spreads include small insets, sketches of the sort Muir himself would have produced on his rambles or miniatures of the birds, insects, and snowflakes he loved.
John Muir is not only a biography of the naturalist; it is a celebration of the adventure he lived and the land he loved. It should inspire young readers to explore and protect their own patch of greenery.
-Dorothy A. Dahm