Total Pageviews

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Tragic Tale of the Great Auk, by Jan Thornhill. Groundwood Books, 2017. $18.95 ages 9 and up

"It had to be able to ride the surf or waddle out of the ocean no matter how high or low the tide - onto a place flat enough to lay an egg. And because it couldn't fly miles away to find food for itself, and eventually, its ravenous chick, it could only nest where there was a reliable supply of fish in the waters surrounding the rookery. These were persnickety needs."

This is, hands down, one of the best information books I have read this year or ever! I was totally absorbed in the writing from first page to last, and had a lot to learn about the Great Auk. Jan Thornhill, in her brilliant and important look at the effects of climate change and the need for conservation of the world's endangered species, shows clearly and sadly what led to their extinction.

The Great Auk, as you can see from the cover, were not unlike penguins. They lived in the north Atlantic ocean and were perfectly suited for their life there - until humans and their own adaptations changed all that. Would that we all learn the important lesson this book shares, and do our best to ensure that it does not keep happening.

They lived, at one time, in great numbers. Today, there are none - not a one! Four hundred years have wrought big changes. Ms. Thornhill tells their story in words and pictures meant to help us understand the events that led to their disappearance. The details are rich, and the whole book reads like the most compelling story. It is sad, and told with compassion for their plight and a hope that we can see the error of our ways by knowing about their demise.

She introduces through her stunning art and absorbing text a very impressive bird, with one fatal flaw:

"But wait! There was a slight glitch in this expert fish-hunter's design. Over millions of years of evolution, its wings - though eventually perfect for propelling it underwater - became so stunted, so small, they couldn't get the bird off the ground. The Great Auk couldn't fly to save its life. Literally."

And that was its downfall. As it evolved, it had to find its way to land in order to lay eggs and further the species. That made it vulnerable to hunters, of the human kind. Once humans took to the sea, the Great Auk's fate was sealed. I could go on and on describing what I learned, but I think you deserve to read it yourself. You will certainly not be sorry that you did. Your children and your students deserve to hear the story. It is quite a remarkable presentation, and will not soon be forgotten.

"By the 1860s, it seemed obvious to a handful of people that, if nothing was done, many more species could soon meet the fate of the Great Auk. A group of scientists and other concerned citizens lobbied the British government and, finally, in 1869, an act banning the killing of thirty-three species during their nesting seasons was introduced.

The conservation movement was born."


A map, a glossary, a list of names given to the Great Auk, a  list of extinct species, resources for further study and a reference guide make up back matter. 


No comments:

Post a Comment