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Archive for November 6th, 2014

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by Sam Juliano

Note:  This is the first entry in the 2014 Caldecott Medal Contender series.  The series does not purport to predict what the committee will choose, rather it attempts to gauge what the writer feels should be in the running.  In most instances the books that are featured in the series have been touted as contenders in various online round-ups, but for the ones that are not, the inclusions are a humble plea to the committee for consideration.  It is anticipated the series will include between 20 and 25 titles; the order which they are being presented in is arbitrary, as every book in this series is a contender.

    Until he passed away on June 24, 2012, when he was around 100 years old, “Lonesome George,” a giant tortoise and descendant of the ancient Giantess George, was known as the poster boy of worldwide conservation.  People visiting this rarest of reptiles at his enclosure on the Galapagos Island archipelago were greeted by a sign that read “Whatever happens to this single animal, let him always remind us that the fate of all living things on Earth is in human hands.”  Indeed the scholar Henry Nicholls likened George’s story as one of  “a conservation icon about a creature who touches all who see and hear about him, an animal whose plight embodies the practical, philosophical and ethical challenges of preserving our fragile planet.”  Repeated efforts to awaken the long dormant procreation drive of the reptile ultimately failed, but the efforts can aptly be described as herculean.

The renowned award-winning author, naturalist and environmentalist Jean Craighead George was the perfect fit for this kind of story, and in an unlikely coincidence even her marriage name provides a fitting label in relating a narrative that began a million years ago, when the vegetarian Giantess George roamed a desert terrain, eating cacti and low-lying greens.   A storm eventually engulfs the tortoise and some relatives into an ocean current that leaves it to surface on a raft that touches lands on a small arid and rainy island near the equator later known as San Cristobal.  Giantess George laid eggs, and eventually ran out of ground plants, a situation that forced her to extend her long neck to eat tress leaves.  She died at around 200 years old, but her off spring -whose necks were even longer as evolution continued to progress- began to inhabit some of the other islands.  By the time of the 1500’s some Panamanians discovered the island and the reptiles.  In short order sailors and pirates plundered the tortoise population, eating some, while unleashing rats, pigs and goats who helped to diminish a 200,000 strong population to one of only a few thousand. (more…)

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