When the first settlers set foot on American soil, they encountered wolves everywhere. But due to hunting and habitat changes there were hardly any wolves left by the middle of the 20th century… 1978, the wolves were listed as a threatened species in forty-eight states. In 1995 thirteen wolves from Canada were released on the Yellowstone National Park. The following year another ten wolves followed. The experiment was a success with now over hundred wolves living in Yellowstone. But, even more important: The wolves play an important role for the health of other species and the balance of the ecosystem.
“The wolves return” by Celia Godkin, biologist and associate professor at the University of Toronto as well as award-winning author and illustrator, explains the journey of reintroducing wild wolves to Yellowstone and the consecutive changes in the environments of the park in kid-friendly words.
Wolves had been extinct in Yellowstone for a long time and the return of the big carnivores has a huge effect on the local wildlife, which in return changes the environment and local wildlife: As wolves primarily prey on weak elks, they keep the herds smaller, but healthier. The elks move from the bottom of the valley to the higher areas with more trees for shelter, which gives the seedlings which were previously eaten by elks the chance to grow. Within years, the valley changes to a wooden area with tall trees. Beavers use this trees to build dams and beaver houses to raise families. Beaver ponds are a home for waterfowl and fish, which in return attract ospreys and otter. Berry bushes are growing back and provide food and shelter for birds, insects and bears. Fewer elk also let bison herds increase in size. But wolves not only control the number of elks. As huge predators, the coyotes leave Yellowstone. They prey now becomes food for hawks, weasels, badgers and foxes… After almost 20 years the return of a few wolves changed the face of Yellowstone National Park forever. Would you have guessed that a single species can have such a high impact?
Ecology is a complex topic, but Celia Godkin does a great job with explaining biological correlations to children from preschool to middle school age. Her texts are easy to understand, without complicated technical terms or terminology. What wakes the love for nature are her artwork: True-to-life pencil and watercolor illustrations capture the attention of children and adults from the first page on. It’s hard for an expert to explain scientific topics in easy words and almost impossible to find the right words suitable and plausible for children. Celia Godkin does an expert job! The appendix of the book gives a short overview of the history of wolves in the US and is a great add on for older children, teacher and parents.
Our daughter loved “The wolves return”. She is interested in nature in general and loves wolves – she wants to convince me that our local coyotes are “just baby wolves” each time we spot one… It was really enjoyable to teach her about one of her favorite animals and the development of an ecosystem within a short time span. I studied biology at university and am acquainted with the basics of ecology, although it never was my specialty. I didn’t even know of the return of the wolves to Yellowstone and had a great time researching the topic. We will follow on this topic tomorrow as I found some interesting videos and materials online… I can just guess what a great resource this book is for homeschooling parents or teachers! The publisher also provides a teaching guide, which was unfortunately not online yet at time of this review.
Long story short: “The wolves return” is a great non-fiction book with an environmental message for children every age. It’s a great way to raise children who love nature and are sensible to the ecological problems. “The wolves return” is another wonderful children’s book by Pajama Press, an independent publisher from Canada.