March 07, 2017

The Wolves Return: A New Beginning for Yellowstone National Park

Written and illustrated by Celia Godkin
Pajama Press
32 pp.
Ages 6-9
March 2017

I know a science teacher whose go-to book to introduce interrelationships of living things and the balance of natural ecosystems is Celia Godkin’s award-winning book Wolf Island (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1989/2006).  I encourage a new generation of science teachers to look to her new book The Wolves Return to demonstrate those same concepts as they relate to the wolves of Yellowstone National Park and spark a new appreciation for the natural world with an aim to stewardship and not manipulation.

Canadian gray wolves once roamed much of North America before they became an inconvenience to settlers’ livestock and were hunted relentlessly until they became listed as a threatened species in much of the US.  To help revitalize affected ecosystems, twenty-three gray wolves captured in Canada were released in Yellowstone between 1995 and 1996.  The Wolves Return documents in prose and detailed illustrations the impacts of the Yellowstone Wolf Project on the local habitats and wildlife, celebrating the success of reintroducing the wolves here.

But the way Celia Godkin tells the story is not to just lay out that bare facts as many unseasoned writers might but instead to provide visual commentary, in words and pictures, of what would have been happening.

From The Wolves Return 
by Celia Godkin
The Wolves Return begins with a lone wolf’s howl, later joined by those of the pack, sounds previously unknown to a herd of elk grazing in the river valley.
On a moonlit night, a howl rings out across the river valley.  The elk prick their ears.  They have not heard this sound before, yet they are afraid.
Weeks later, the elk, now aware of this threat, have moved themselves to the higher, wooded slopes where trees provide some protection from direct attacks by the wolves. Consequently, seedlings once eaten by the elk are allowed to flourish and grow into aspen trees in the river valley. With the trees come the beavers who build dams and lodges creating ponds that invite more wildlife like muskrats, birds, insects, and an abundance of species, plant and animal, creating a new ecosystem.  Celia Godkin illustrates the complex and sophisticated food webs–not just food chains–and evolving landscape of habitats but punctuates the story with the science of the return of the wolves in her appendices.
From The Wolves Return 
by Celia Godkin
The scientist in Celia Godkin–she has a Master’s degree in zoology–comes through in the precision of her illustrations but her coloured pencil and watercolour fine art is more expressive than just a record of the living ecosystem.  She gives life to the organisms and places within The Wolves Return, though I know that young readers will be amazed by her detailed and accurate depictions of the animals.

Just like Wolf Island, The Wolves Return should become a teacher’s primary picture book for introducing discussions about habitats and communities, the diversity of living things and interactions with ecosystems.  With The Wolves Return, Celia Godkin is able to inform,  fascinate and initiate dialogue about the world we impact in both negative and positive ways and how it can gloriously amend itself sometimes with just a tiny bit of help.

From The Wolves Return 
by Celia Godkin

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