Galápagos George
Galápagos George
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Jean Craighead George, illus. by Wendell Minor
ISBN 9780060287931
HarperCollins, 2014.
2015 Cook Prize
5 stars
Keywords: evolution galapagos-islands george jean-craighead-george natural-selection tortoise

Galápagos George
by Jean Craighead George, illus. by Wendell Minor

In her last picture-book collaboration with artist Wendell Minor, the late Jean Craighead George (Julie of the Wolves) tells the poignant story of the lineage of the saddleback tortoise from one imagined ancestor--Giantess George--and through it, teaches children how creatures evolve over time in order to adapt to their environment.

A born storyteller, Jean George describes Giantess George's lengthy presence on the planet, watching animals large and small "run over the footprints of the long-vanished dinosaurs." Wendell Minor (The Eagles Are Back) places Giantess George among erupting volcanoes and saber-toothed cats, then being swept to sea by a storm in South America. Giantess George eventually lands on an island "later named San Cristóbal." The text differentiates when the tortoise "did something new" (such as floating) and when she "did something ordinary for a tortoise," such as going for days without food or fresh water (as a desert animal). With her special trait--a neck that's "a little longer than the necks of other tortoises"--she can eat leaves when the ground supply of food runs out. Minor shows similar unusual adaptations of tortoises on nearby islands. One dramatic illustration depicts Lonesome George, the last of Giantess George's descendants, as large as two of the six men it took to transport him to safety. Minor's closing portrait is so expressive that children will feel as if Lonesome George somehow knew there would be no others after him.

This beautiful homage conveys complex ideas in concrete ways so children can witness how these extraordinary tortoises survived so long in their particular habitats. Splendid.

This review first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers.
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