Sunday, May 30, 2010

Survival at 40 Below

Debbie S. Miller; Illustrations by Jon Van Zyle

This is a very beautiful book about how a variety of animals manage to survive the long Arctic winter. This is the ninth collaboration to come from the amazing team of Debbie Miller and Jon Van Zyle. She manages the research in the field, literally hiking through the wilderness, while he renders the art in the studio.

This story takes place in the Gates of the Arctic National Park, where the average temperature dips below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and can drop as low as 70 degrees below zero. Wow. What must the animals do to survive those types of conditions?  Each species has its own set of survival techniques that they employ which allows them to function in such a frigid environment. 

As winter approaches, some animals grow thick coats of fur for protection while others scavenge and hoard as much food as possible.  Then there are those who take more extreme measures. The wood frog actually freezes into the water - he stops breathing and his heart stops beating, but he is alive. Grizzly bears and squirrels will hibernate, snoring away while winter rages.  Elk and arctic foxes are specially insulated by their own fur, while black-capped chickadees know how to fluff up their feathers for extra insulation.  

The harsh conditions have forced the animals who dwell here to learn the most amazing survival techniques, which makes this is a captivating book to read to children. The illustrations from Jon Van Zyle are equally commanding.  Jon is a well-known Alaskan artist; he has been the official Iditarod Sled Race artist since 1979.  He definitely knows Alaska, but more importantly, he knows how to present it to others in a beautiful way. 

This is a remarkable book that reminds us just how amazing nature can be.  Reading Debbie's text set against Jon's illustrations, you really do feel as though you are walking through this frozen national park.  The extreme conditions makes me grateful I do not have to live in such a challenging environment, but am fascinated by discovering how the locals manage. 

Review copy provided by Bloomsbury.  

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