As part of my writing process, I read dozens of books by other nonfiction authors. When I read, I make notes about the craft choices authors make in terms of voice, structure, POV, and other unique elements that add up to amazing books. I recently decided to share my notes (in a searchable format), so teachers and fellow writers can see what I find new and noteworthy. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Author: Phyllis Root
Illustrator: Betsy Bowen
Publication Info.: University of Minnesota Press (April 2019)
Ages/Grades: 4 to 9 years
Categories: second-person POV, narrative nonfiction, biography
“How do you lose a forest?
First you need a forest to lose. A forest like the red pines and white pines that once towered in Minnesota, trees that had never been logged.”
Overview (from the publisher):
“The story of a forest “lost” by a surveying error—and all the flora and fauna to be found there.
A forest, of course, doesn’t need a map to know where to grow. But people need a map to find it. And in 1882 when surveyors set out to map a part of Minnesota, they got confused, or tired and cold (it was November), and somehow mapped a great swath of ancient trees as a lake. For more than seventy-five years, the mistake stayed on the map, and the forest remained safe from logging—no lumber baron expects to find timber in a lake, after all.
The Lost Forest tells the story of this lucky error and of the 144 acres of old-growth red and white pine it preserved. With gentle humor, Phyllis Root introduces readers to the men at their daunting task, trekking across Minnesota, measuring and marking the vast land into townships and sections and quarters. She takes us deep into a stand of virgin pine, one of the last and largest in the state, where U.S. history and natural history meet. With the help of Betsy Bowen’s finely observed and beautiful illustrations, she shows us all the life that can be found in the Lost Forest.”
What’s noteworthy for authors and educators:
Have you ever made a mistake? We all have. The wonderful thing about this book is it shows what beauty can come from mistakes, like 300-year old trees with branches reaching towards the sky. There’s tremendous power in such a message for students, I think. This book would pair beautifully with Corinna Luyken’s THE BOOK OF MISTAKES.
Another fascinating element is the extensive backmatter, especially the explanations of the surveying and mapping processes. The endpapers include beautiful renditions of the historic survey of the Lost Forty.
From a writer’s perspective, this book is an unusual biography of sorts — that of a small parcel of trees. And I love how author Phyllis Root admits –with humor–what the sources don’t tell us, including just why Josiah King made his fateful mistake.
Additional resources for authors, educators, and parents:
- Check out these map-making activities from National Geographic (grades K-6).
- Tree Ring Activity for kids from Edventures with Kids.
- Want to see the Lost Forty for yourself? Atlas Obscura has images.