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THE BUFFALO ARE BACK

Page history last edited by RichiesPicks 10 years, 4 months ago

21 January 2010 THE BUFFALO ARE BACK by Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor, ill. Dutton, May 2010, 32p., ISBN: 978-0525422150

 
"Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam..."
-- song I learned in 1959 as a four year-old at Carousel Day School in buffalo-less Hicksville, LI 
 
"In a time long ago, an orange buffalo calf was born.  He wobbled to his feet and blinked.  A lark flew to the top of a six-foot blade of grass and sang as sweet as a panpipe.  A town of prairie dogs barked.  The green-gold grasses of the plains rippled like waves from horizon to horizon.  On that day in the mid-1800s seventy-five million buffalo roamed in North America.  In little more than fifty years there would be almost none.  
"What happened?  The answer is a story of the American Indians, the buffalo, and the grass." 
 
A few years ago, the dynamic duo of Jean Craighead George and Wendell Minor wrote THE WOLVES ARE BACK.  It is an absolutely must-have picture book science and history story about the disruption of the ecosystem at Yellowstone National Park triggered by the misguided eradication of the wolves more than eight decades ago, and how recent reintroduction of wolves into that system and elsewhere have led -- in dominoes-falling fashion -- to the reestablishment of a newly-invigorated and balanced ecosystem.  What the pair show so vividly in text and illustration -- that there can be unintended and far-reaching consequences to the removal of a link in the ecological chain -- is a lesson that young (and old) people must assuredly learn if our planet is to remain a viable place for the generations yet to come.
 
In some ways, THE BUFFALO ARE BACK feels like an even more important story.  Perhaps, to me, such feelings come from those unforgettable Dorothea Lange images stuck in my head that put such a human face on the tragedy of the Dust Bowl.  Perhaps it's the savage accounts I've read about the government-led genocide. Whatever the case, the history story that the dynamic duo share this time around reveals how the destruction of the balanced prairie ecosystem involving the buffalo, the native grasses, and the American Indians led to billions of grasshoppers and the Dust Bowl. 
 
"Early settlers were ranchers and cowboys.  They brought fences and cattle to the plains.  The cattle did not roam, so they ate too much of the grass within their fences.  Their flat hooves packed the earth.  Air and rainwater no longer reached into the soil.
 
"Later settlers wanted to farm the land, so they tore out the grass and planted crops to sell.  Steel plows and steam tractors were invented to conquer the grassland and the 'great plow up' began.  Wheat, corn, and soybeans were planted.  These crops have shallow, fragile roots."
 
Beyond showing how 'the great plow-up' had been such an ecological disaster, THE BUFFALO ARE BACK goes on to explain how the buffalo were eventually brought back from the brink of extinction, how contour plowing has made a difference, and how a search for tiny stands of native grasses in places like graveyards, old railroad beds, and the like, has provided the opportunity to gather their seed and reintroduce the native specie into the prairie ecosystem.
 
Again, the failure to learn such lessons of science and history could leave us planet-less.
 
Jean Craighead George wrote the Newbery Honor book MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN in 1959, the same year I learned to warble Home on the Range.  Over all of these years she has crafted story after story about nature and the interconnectedness of plants, animals, and people.  I'd like to hope that the committee who will choose the next recipient of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal winner for substantial and lasting contributions to children's literature will keep Jean Craighead George in mind.   
 
In my mind, she is only getting better.
 
Richie Partington, MLIS

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