Saturday, April 25, 2015

This Strange Wilderness by Nancy Plain

“The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang the best.” 
John James Audubon 

(April 26, 1785-January 27, 1851)
John James Audubon was the founder of modern ornithology. He was also an explorer, woodsmen, hunter, prolific writer, painter and self-promoter. He is considered to be one of the world’s greatest bird painters. His masterpiece, The Birds of America (1827-1839), depicts almost five hundred North American bird species, each image—lifelike and life size—rendered in vibrant color. 
Meet Nancy Plain, author of “This Strange Wilderness”
Nancy Plain is an award-winning writer of biographies and histories for children and young adults. She is a three-time Spur Award winner for her books “Sagebrush and Paintbrush”, “With One Sky Above Us” and “Light on the Prairie”. Other awards include The Nebraska Book Award for Youth Nonfiction, the Will Rogers Medallion Award, a Carter G. Woodson Honor citation, and First Place in children’s nonfiction from both the New Jersey Press Women and the National Federation of Press Women. Her books have been listed on the New York Public Library’s “Books for the Teen Age” and recognized by the Children’s Book Council as “Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People.” She has won the Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History. 

Nancy’s books explore a wide range of topics from medieval times to Impressionist painting to the American West. She has published six books on Western topics. She is a member of the Western Writers of America and currently serves on its board.

Nancy and I met at the Tucson Book Festival. She finds American history a fascinating subject and is always curious about other people’s lives. Nancy hopes her young readers will be inspired by her love of history and come to realize the enjoyment that comes from learning about people from the past and their contributions. An exhibit of John James Audubon’s original watercolor prints in New York motivated her to pursue learning more about him. She was drawn to Audubon’s adventurous spirit, his own colorful writing and inspiring quotes.
I found her latest book, “This Strange Wilderness The Life and Art of John James Audubon”, to be a work of art. The first thing you will notice is the quality of paper used to print this book. It is further enhanced by Audubon’s beautiful watercolor reproductions. Nancy noted that Audubon’s birds glow with life and look real enough to hop off the page and fly away. This high quality volume combined with Nancy’s mesmerizing prose elevates this book above many on the same subject.

The book is well researched and meticulously documented with appendix, glossary, source notes, bibliography, and illustration credits included in the back of the book. Nancy effectively captures the essence of Audubon’s personal journey to uncharted places where no one had seen, drawn, or written so much about the animals and birds of this young country. In Audubon’s words, “My whole mind was ever filled with my passion for rambling.”

His quest took him all over the North American continent hiking thousands of miles in a lifetime. Audubon was a naturalist as well as an artist. He studied everything he could about birds, their eggs, speed of flight and even tried to understand their emotional lives. Almost every day Audubon wrote letters, detailed field notes and frontier tales. This documentation helped Nancy capture his lively high-spirited adventures in her book. Readers feel the pulse of excitement with Audubon’s high-risk adventures and discoveries. We are in awe with the commitment and dedication Audubon displayed as he overcame multiple obstacles in the wilderness to search out the things which have never been known to man. We empathize with Audubon’s struggles when his work took him away from his family for long periods of time. His frustration with constant lack of resources and multiple business failures. But also along Audubon’s journey we cheer on his successes and discoveries. We admire Audubon's zealous spirit as he remained committed to the end of his life to learn more about nature, birds and unknown lands and share this knowledge with others.

“This Strange Wilderness” has landed on the Kirkus Review list of 9 Teen Titles Adults Shouldn't Miss.
It has also earned a starred Kirkus review: "Like Audubon's paintings, this volume 'glows with life'.  A superb introduction to the life and times of a great American artist and naturalist. It details Audubon’s writing and art and transports the reader back to frontiers of early nineteenth-century America. The beautifully designed volume includes many reproductions of Audubon’s paintings, from the owls on the cover to the many full-page, full-color interior illustrations.” 

“This Strange Wilderness”although designed for the YA market, should not be overlooked by the adult reader. The watercolor reproductions are stunning and can be appreciated by any age group. From a historical perspective it is a superb introduction to an impressive man whose lasting legacy to ornithology shows a deep respect for nature. 

Nancy Plain’s writing is concise, poetic and engaging as she makes history come alive as we travel along with Audubon on his journey into the wilderness.

Check out Nancy's blog for further information on the author and her list of published books.

This was one of my favorite reproductions included in "This Strange Wilderness" 
Great Blue Heron
by John James Audubon  
Enter to win a copy of “This Strange Wilderness”
Submit your entry at the bottom of this post in the no comment box. Click on it and a comment box will appear. There are a lot of inspiring quotes attributed to John James Audubon. Select your favorite Audubon quote and tell why. Place in the comment box with your name and email.
For privacy purposes all comments automatically go to my email. Your name or email for this blog posting will NOT be posted.

One winner will randomly be selected and contacted. The winner will be notified after May 3rd. At this time all Audubon quotes and reasons for particular selection will be published without names or emails in a follow-up blog posting.

Entry deadline is May 3, 2015.

1 comment:

  1. This book is soooo interesting and well-written. I think parents should consider sharing Strange Wilderness with their middle readers and YA readers. Older kids would love the detailed story of John James Audubon's journey and love for birds. Thanks for the great review and blog post, Susan!