The Eagles Are Back

The Eagles Are Back

 "Ah, oh, mercy, mercy me Things ain't what they used to be, no no Radiation under ground and in the sky Animals and birds who live nearby are dying. Oh mercy, mercy me Ah, things ain't what they used to be What about this overcrowded land How much more abuse from man can she stand?" -- Marvin Gaye (1971, the year before the US banned DDT)

"Just before darkness, First Lady returned. Uncle Sam lifted his six-foot wings and was airborne. First Lady sat down in his place. They had adopted the egg. "The boy went home whistling and grinning. 'I will tell the ranger,' he said."

Next weekend I will be in Seattle for the American Library Association's Midwinter Meeting. Being a grownup in today's world of children's books, is such a wonderful thing. Some particularly poignant moments for me at these conferences I've attended over the years have come when I've gotten opportunities to meet a few of my own childhood idols.

At different points in my young years, I was hopelessly in love with Julie Andrews and then Jane Fonda, and it was so exciting to meet each of them in person. So, too, was it exciting for me to meet and spend time conversing with Jean Craighead George. Anybody who knows the first thing about me would not be surprised to learn that I had quite an easy and fun time earning my Reading merit badge in Boy Scouts. But what you wouldn't know is that when I first met with the Reading merit badge counselor in my area -- sometime around 1967 -- the one and only book he absolutely insisted upon my reading as part of my work for the badge was MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN by Jean Craighead George.

So, when I attended my first American Library Association convention many years ago in San Francisco, and I got to meet Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor at their publisher's booth, it meant a whole lot to me, for my identifying myself in my adult years as an environmentalist goes directly back to those Boy Scout years and to my meeting Sam Gribley in Ms. George's 1960 Newbery Honor book.

During my years in Boy Scouts, I never once saw a bald eagle in the wild. As we learn in THE EAGLES ARE BACK, the increasing concentrations of the toxin DDT that were found as you got further up nature's food chain resulted in its softening "the eagles' eggs' shells so that they broke when the eagles sat on the eggs to incubate them." This was a big part of the reason that, as we learn here, bald eagle populations plummeted to around 450 pairs nationwide.

The 1972 banning of DDT was followed by "a multi-faceted campaign to save the eagle." Part of that campaign involved attempts to have nesting pairs adopt eggs. Here, in THE EAGLES ARE BACK, a boy who is fond of watching a pair of bald eagles he has dubbed First Lady and Uncle Sam is given the responsibility, by a ranger he knows, of watching to see whether the pair successfully adopts the fertilized bald eagle egg that the ranger has received from another ranger in Alaska and then placed in their nest. Thus, the boy gets to participate in the resurgence of the bald eagle population. This is a potent lesson for young readers, that kids can make a difference.

One of the golden rules I learned in Scouting was to always leave a place better than you found it. While young Scouts are taught this in a concrete way -- that literally we need to leave a campsite or hiking trail better than we find it, so many in my generation grew up to see this as meaning the planet and that we need both to raise our voices for change and to make energy conservation, recycling, and environmentally-smart consumer purchasing part of who we are. There are a lot of things going wrong with our planet. I honestly don't know "How much more abuse from man can she stand."

But the campaign to save the bald eagle has been a success story. A few times I've experienced the joy of gazing upward from my farm here in Sebastopol and seeing a bald eagle riding the thermals. It gives me a bit of hope. I expect that this is the last review I write about a Jean Craighead George book. Ms. George died last year, just short of her ninety-third birthday. This wonderfully-illustrated book, the third in a trilogy of picture books about the resurgence of endangered species -- wolves, buffalo and, now, bald eagles -- is a fitting final tribute to an inspiring woman who did her best to leave this a better world.  32 pages  Ages  5-9   ISBN: 978-0-8037-3771-8

Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, Librarian, California USA

See more of his recommendations at:  Richie's Picks _

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