Title: Galapagos George
Written By: Jean Craighead George
Paintings By: Wendell Minor
Published By: Harper, 2014.
Themes/Topics: Galapagos Islands, giant tortoise, extinction
Suitable for ages: 7-11
Opening: This is a story that took so long to happen that only the stars were present at the beginning and at the end. Around one million years ago, a giant tortoise lived in South America. Giantess George was a vegetarian who ate prickly things like cacti and ground-growing greens that grew in her ancient desert.
Synopsis: This is the story of the origins, evolution and end of a beautiful species, whose last remaining member, Lonesome George died at 100 in 2012 just a few weeks after the famous naturalist and author of this book, Jean Craighead George. Lonesome George became known as the rarest creature in the world. Craighead George personifies the evolution story, introducing children to Giantess George, who would have lived a million years ago in South America. The author fictionalizes this early tortoise getting washed out to sea and landing eventually on a small island near the equator. General facts are included to focus on evolution, and how Darwin played his role in the discovery thanks to the comparison he made between the different tortoises. Craighead George describes the evolutionary process and how tortoises on one island developed long necks, so that they could eat leaves and tree branches, but how all of the tortoise shells developed differently according to adaptations to the fourteen different islands. In the present, a million years later, children meet Giantess George’s descendant, Lonesome George, who was born in 1912 and died in June of 2012 .
Why I like This Book: This book is especially poignant to me since the interview I did with the illustrator, Wendell Minor, last year when he spoke of his long relationship with the author and the significance of Lonesome George passing away so shortly after his friend, Jean. I appreciate how the author personalizes this epic evolutionary story and as you can tell from the opening lines, with rich lyrical language. While on the one hand it is a tragedy as yet another species will never be seen on this earth again, due to man’s destruction of its habitat, Craighead George leaves children with the optimistic phrase, He was the last of his kind. But because of him and the tortoises of the Galapagos Islands, we know that as long as there is life, there will always be “new and unimaginable things that can happen.” And they do. All the time. Wendell Minor was a long-time collaborator with Craighead George and these paintings are just gorgeous carrying the reader through the eons of time and across the ocean to these enigmatic islands.
Tortoise lovers will be fascinated by this book, and will want to learn more about these amazing creatures at www.galapagos.org.
This book itself is an excellent resource for elementary school introduction to evolution.
The key terms, timeline, books and online resources included at the back of this title are a great starting point for more research.
Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.