Galapagos George – Perfect Picture Book Friday

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galTitle: 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

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.

My interview with Wendell Minor can be found here, where he talks about this project, which took fifteen years in he realizing! His website is minor

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. 

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30 Responses to Galapagos George – Perfect Picture Book Friday

  1. Wendy Greenley says:

    The book cover looks beautiful! And what a poignant story about the link between the author and Lonesome George. I always thought the Galapagos were a protected area for wildlife, but I guess nowhere is “safe” anymore.

  2. As a huge fan of Darwin, I’ve always been interested in anything Galapagos-related. But I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve not yet read this book after your interview of Wendell, and I meant to. It’s going on my to-read list right now. 🙂

    I love Wendell’s art…absolutely love! I know I’ll enjoy this book and that it’ll likely find a permanently home next to my volumes of Evolution for Kids and The Annotated On the Origin of Species.

  3. I know that this is a topic close to your heart, Joanna. It is so sad that the species is extinct. But, it is wonderful that Jean and Wendell collaborated on “Galapagos George” for so many generations to come. The story is captivating and the illustrations are beautiful and larger than life.

  4. I’m so excited that my 6th grader will be studying the Galapagos and Darwin this year in science. I’m pulling out all the great books like this one! Thanks for the terrific resources as well.

  5. This is one of my new favorites! The story is gripping and the illustrations are exquisite.

  6. The opening line is amazing. I read it several times…beautiful. I hope my library has this one. It sounds intriguing.

  7. Joanna says:

    She is a gifted, gifted story teller!

  8. I have a complaint! I didn’t receive an email notification for the post! Good thing for PPBF lists, but I don’t want to miss anything!
    I love the first and last lines from JCG! And WM’s detail rich work. I’ll be picking this one up for sure.

  9. Wow! I can hardly wait to read this to my class. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Sam Juliano says:

    In my carefully considered opinion this is presently my top choice for the 2014 Caldecott Medal. Few books are as sublime not as emotionally moving. The last pages are shattering.

  11. The opening is great! I love how realistic the cover illustration is. It sounds like a very powerful story!

  12. Beautiful story, and review Joanna. So sad that they are still not around today. It’s been amazing hearing on the news what they are finding lived so long ago and how huge they were. A great one for kids resources for years to come, for sure!

  13. This book looks wonderful and beautiful and poignant, Joanna. I felt so sad, thinking about Lonesome George, the very last one of his kind. I look forward to reading this one. Thanks for adding it to our list!

  14. You had me with the first few words, Joanna! What a beautiful book – I love the art – it marries perfectly with the text. I will have to add this to my ever-growing list of non-fic books that I am studying.

  15. Oh, I just read about this one. This is such a great pick. I can see so many ways it could be used in a classroom.

  16. Catherine says:

    Can’t wait to read this, Joanna! What an incredible story.

  17. Thank you for sharing this one Joanna. We’ll look this one up.

  18. Pingback: EARTH DAY, 2015 on Miss Marple’s Musings – How will you celebrate? | Miss Marple's Musings

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