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Friday, March 2, 2012

Meadowlands, written and illustrated by Thomas F Yezerski. Farrar Straus Giroux, Douglas & McIntyre. 2011. $19.95 ages 5 and up

"The Meadowlands had deteriorated into one of the worst places in America, and it was giving New Jersey a bad reputation. The state government decided to turn the wasteland into a center for housing, shopping, and entertainment, while protecting parts of the wetlands."

'So, this is the Meadowlands' is what I thought when I opened this incredibly informative and appealing book. I had heard the name on numerous occasions in reference to horse racing, sports and entertainment. I had no idea about its ecosystem. Thomas Yezerski soon changed that.

He begins by reminding New Yorkers that they can see this amazing wetland from the top of the Empire State Building. That is not all they can see...there is also an airport, shopping malls, sports facilities. I love the tiny images that decorate this page's border...garbage, mosquitoes, New Jersey Turnpike, mall, warehouse, weeds, parking lot, mobsters, swamps, racetrack, chemical dump, rest stop, football fans and the Teterboro Airport. Kids will love them, too.

He uses this wonderful book to trace the history of this environment from earliest times, when the Lenni Lenape lived and flourished within its '20,000 acres of marshes, swamps and bogs that were home to many different plants and animals.'  It sustained their lifestyle; providing food, materials for housing and items for trade.

As he moves from century to century the author aptly describes the changes that the arrival of  Europeans brought about, with their need to clear land for housing and farming, cut trees to build roads for moving materials, build dikes and dams to control the natural vegetation and moisture of the ecosystem, build factories for manufactuirng and refineries to generate power. Each new age had a devastating effect on the natural habitat. The Meadowlands became a 'wasteland' and nothing changed until the government decided to make a change...and one that would improve the whole area. By 1985, only 7,000 acres of the wetlands remained.

But, things are looking up today. One thing we know about humans is that we can destroy things and we can help them heal. Healing is what is happening in this wetland region. Readers will be impressed with the progress made since the government stepped in and sparked the changes needed to turn wanton destruction to something much better. The final page offers this hopeful sign:

"In July 2007, for the first time in fifty years, a young osprey - a bird of prey- leaped out and took flight from a nest its parents had built in the Meadowlands. If a fragile family of ospreys can survive among the reeds and highways, other creatures can return and survive, too."

Thomas Yezerski borders his pages of 'just enough' information with tiny spot illustrations of objects that add importance to what he has shared. His watercolor artwork gives a clear picture of the changes that the Meadowlands has endured over the course of hundreds of years, and gives hope that it will survive for many more. If you are thinking ahead to Earth Day next month, this would be a perfect book to show how devastation and waste can fight its way back to growth and life for the many species indigenous to the habitat being portrayed.

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