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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Island: A Story of the Galapagos. Written and illustrated by Jason Chin. A Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2012. $18.99 ages 8 and up

"During a drought, few plants survive. Fewer plants mean fewer seeds for the finches to eat. It doesn't take long for the finches to eat most of the seeds on the island. Only large seeds remain because they are difficult to eat. Most finches' beaks are too small to open them, and they die of starvation."

Sad, but true.

In Jason Chin's newest superlative book of narrative nonfiction, he explores through a six million years lens what happens when a volcano spawns a lava island in the ocean six hundred miles off the coast of Ecuador (or what likely happened, as he explains in back matter). No one was there to see it happen. Using the best research currently available, he has fashioned a scientific story that would explain the Galapagos Islands.

It is beautiful. He festoons his front endpapers with thumbnail sketches of the many animal, bird and plant species that live there, and includes those that are endemic to the Galapagos themselves. The title page offers a bird's eye, full spread of the volcano erupting millions of years ago, spewing steam into the blue sky and surrounded by iridescent waters. AMAZING!

The tale is told in sections beginning with birth, six million years ago. In accessible text he allows us to be spectators to the formation of an island, its ability to sustain plant life, then birds and animals. In childhood, five million years ago, it has grown, the eruptions have diminished and life can now flourish:

"There are different climate zones at different elevations. Rain and fog frequently cover its upper slopes, and the ground is covered with plants. Farther down, the terrain becomes dry and dusty. Land iguanas burrow in the soil. On sections of the coast, the crashing waves have worn the rocky shore into sandy beaches where sea turtles and marine iguanas lay their eggs."

In each new chapter we are privy to the changes that occur (over a million years) because of the island's ability to sustain (or not) the life that has made it home. Adaptations are made with each new generation to ensure future success. Then, the original island sinks into the ocean, becoming a seamount (which is later explained). That leaves the other fifteen islands to sustain the plants and animals found there.  They are the Galapagos.

In the epilogue we watch Charles Darwin and his expedition explore these islands, marveling at what they find and causing him to think seriously about changes over time. He published The Origin of the Species to voice his theory of 'evolution by natural selection'. This is deftly explained in back matter, along with information concerned with the Galapagos themselves, followed by a note about the endemic species found there and an eloquent author's note. If that isn't enough, Jason uses the back endpaper to map out the islands and places them on an inset map to show their location in the waters east of South America.

You need this book - because kids need this book!

Thank you, Jason Chin! Now, I will patiently await your next endeavor.

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