Friday, January 22, 2010

10 Works - List # 3 - Nature, Animals, and Survival in Young Adult Literature

Here's my third list in my recurring 10 Works theme. The first two lists were Nature Writing before 1900 and  American Greats on the Great Outdoors. The idea is to post 10 novels, short stories, books of poetry, or works of nonfiction that exemplify a genre or category within a genre. This installment, Nature and Young Adult Literature, revisits books that may have inspired us not only to read, but also to appreciate and explore nature.

1. Farley Mowat - Owls in the Family - It's no surprise that the list kicks off with Canadian writer and naturalist Farley Mowat and his memoir of raising two owls in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Why no surprise? Well, the title of this blog is a reference to this book! The book, published in 1961, is a creative nonfiction work about two owls Mowat rescued as a child and kept as pets. The owls, Wol and Weeps, were great horned owls.

2. Jean Craighead George - My Side of the Mountain - Some of you may remember the 1969 Paramount movie better than the 1959 book, but George's book is a great read and the winner of a Newbury Honor Award. In the book a kid name Sam Gribley, like an adolescent Thoreau, leaves civilization and survives in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York.  George is quite accurate in her descriptions of flora and fauna, even if Gribley's hollow tree home and peregrine falcon pet feel a bit far-fetched.

3. Wilson Rawls - Where the Red Fern Grows - This is a really sad book on several levels. First, two of the protagonists die. Secondly, the book follows a poor Ozark boy named Billy who uses his dogs to hunt and massacre countless helpless raccoons. Finally, mountain lions are portrayed as ferocious villains, when in truth they are shy animals who've had their habitat destroyed by people. Still, WRFG is a classic and descriptions of a boy and his dogs roving about the woods at night must spark some primal feelings in all middle school boys who read it. Well, maybe not ALL and maybe some middle school girls too....

4. Bill Peet - Capyboppy - Bill Peet is primarily an author for younger children, but Peet's Capyboppy (1966) is a memoir about the author and his capybara. Capybara are native to the American tropics and are the worlds largest rodents - they can weigh up to 140 lbs! It recounts not only the fun and exciting parts of owning an exotic pet, but reinforces the message that wild animals really don't make good pets. Nature and man's exploitation of nature are common themes in Peet's children literature.

5. Gary Paulsen - Hatchet - Published in 1987, Hatchet tells the story of a boy named Brian who survives a plane crash and must survive alone in the Canadian wilderness. Classic boy vs wild tale.

6. Walt Morey - Gentle Ben - Morey's book tells of a relationship between a Mark and Ben the brown bear. The book became a popular television series. Of course, like most books of this genre, it's sad. On a somewhat-but-not-really-related note, Gentle Ben's is also a damn fine brew pub in Tucson.

7. Jack London - The Call of the Wild - This is the first book to appear in two lists. Here's what wrote last time: "For some reason middle school teachers like to torture their students with this book; it's not for sensitive animal lovers. Though a dog is the protagonist, we're left to question if, like Buck, we could revert to something more primitive. I think we'd like to think so."

8. Farley Mowat - Lost in the Barrens - If it seems like Canadians and Canada are overrepresented in this list, remember that Mowat appears twice. Much like Paulsen's Hatchet, this is a survival book set in the Canadian wilderness. Awasin and Jamie loose their canoe and must survive. Realistically, I could have compiled this list with just Mowat, Paulsen, and George, each of whom is prolific in young adult/nature genre. However, it's important to note that Farley Mowat does not write primarily for children or young adults. If you've never read People of the Deer or Never Cry Wolf, I suggest you get on that.

9. Scott O'Dell - Island of the Blue Dolphins - Wonapalei (or Karana), a Native American women, becomes stranded on an island after a battle between her people and the Aleuts - another tribe brought to the island by the Russians. Karana survives on the island alone for 18 years before being rescued and brought back to California.

10. Mark Twain - Roughing It - Twain's memoir about his time in the West working for his brother Orion is probably neither nature writing nor young adult literature. However, I think this is a matter of perspective. It could be taught as both or read as either, though I would probably only teach selections to younger readers. And it's really funny.

As usual, I'm sure I missed some great works. Let me know what else belongs here.


Angelo R. said...

Our Time on the River, by: Don Brown

Angelo R. said...

Also, this may be a stretch, but my old Boy Scout handbook made me appreciate and explore nature. It still does!

Eric said...

Both good suggestions. The Boy Scout handbook is probably the most read and important work of young adult lit that introduces folks to ecology and an appreciation for nature. I suppose the Girl Scouts probably have an equivalent.