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8 March 2011 MEADOWLANDS: A WETLANDS SURVIVAL STORY by Thomas F. Yezerski, Farrar Straus Giroux, March 2011, 40p.. ISBN: 978-0-375-34913-4


"Long may you run, long may you run,

Although these changes have come.

With your chrome heart shining in the sun,

Long may you run."

-- Neil Young


"But even after being dug out, filled in, run over, and dumped on, the wetlands still showed signs of life.  The Hackensack River still flowed south.  The tide still rose north from the Atlantic Ocean.  The river and tide still met in the Meadowlands twice a day, as they had for 10,000 years.  Because they did, the ecosystem had a chance to recover."


Just studying the detailed watercolor map spanning the full title spread of MEADOWLANDS taught me far more about the Meadowlands in New Jersey than I'd ever known as a kid from Long Island.  Sure, back in the Seventies I'd seen the Grateful Dead once at Roosevelt Stadium in adjacent Jersey City.  And a few years later, I saw Neil Young (with The Shocking Pinks) at the Brendan Byrne Arena, which is actually built atop what had been part of the 20,000 acres of marshes, swamps, and bogs that originally comprised the estuary where the Hackensack River empties into Newark Bay.  But I was really ignorant of the area. 


Unfortunately, over the course of American history, this estuary -- the Meadowlands -- steadily disintegrated from a place teeming with life to a disgusting wasteland of landfilling and chemical soup. 


Fortunately, thanks to environmental activism and the response of government, that long decline was finally slowed and reversed, beginning in the late Sixties. 


"When chemical dumping stopped, the muck could slowly filter pollution out of the water and bury it under layers of new muck.  Nutrients in the new muck could then feed seeds carried by the river, tide, and wind.  The seeds grew into grasses and reeds, which also helped filter chemicals from the water.

"Less pollution also meant the swirling freshwater and salt water had more oxygen to add to the little bits of plankton, algae, and detritus.  The oxygen helped bacteria in the water break down the mix into a nutritious soup for snails, worms, and insects.  The reeds rattled and ticked, and the wetlands buzzed with millions of bugs."


In crafting this beautifully illustrated, fact-filled, and thought-provoking informational picturebook about the destruction of and rebirth of the Meadowlands, Thomas F. Yezerski incorporates concepts of geology, geography, biology, history, land use, ecology, and activism.  In the latter parts of the book, in which we learn about the rebirth of the Meadowlands, Yezerski's stunning ink and watercolor paintings repeatedly depict the overlap of nature and man in this metropolitan area estuary: the bugs amidst the river grasses, with a bridge in the foreground occupying half of the two-page spread; a school of killifish being chased through the water (past an empty chips bag) by a larger fish, with high tension power lines and industrial buildings in the background; a band of fiddler crabs framed around an empty, dented soda can, with high rise apartment buildings in the background; a family of ducks in a secluded bit of water with a NJ Transit train going by behind them.   


Yezerski's story, of environmentalism taking root in an urban ecosystem, concludes with a look at a class on a fieldtrip, learning what they can do to help heal the Meadowlands and take care of the Earth in general.  In the final, memorable two-page spread, an osprey in the foreground soars above the teacher and students.  Across the background, from the vantage point of the osprey, we can scan the skyline of Manhattan rising beyond the skyline of Jersey City.  


A truly notable work.


Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/

FTC NOTICE: Richie receives free books from lots of publishers who hope he will Pick their books.  You can figure that any review was written after reading and dog-earring a free copy received.  Richie retains these review copies for his rereading pleasure and for use in his booktalks at schools and libraries.

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