Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Tracks in the Wild

Tracks in the Wild

Betsy Bowen
Nonfiction Picture Book
For ages 6 to 8
University Of Minnesota Press, 2015   ISBN: 978-0816698837

Animal tracks tell people who see them a story. They identify the animal that made the tracks, and sometimes tracks even tell us what the animals were doing at a certain point in time. For example, we can see that they were running, that they were sleeping in a hollow, or that they were dragging prey across the ground. Tracks are not just paw and hoof marks. They are also other traces that animals leave behind, such as scraps of fur, a broken twig, or tooth marks in a log of wood.

In this beautiful book Betsy Bowen takes us into the northwoods of Minnesota, and she introduces us to some of the tracks that she has seen in the woods. The illustrations of the tracks are life size, and in each case she shows us a picture of the animal that made the track and tells a little about that animal.

We begin our northwoods visit with white-footed mice, whose tiny prints dance across the page. These diminutive, thumb-sized mice scuttle from tree to tree. They build nests in trees and spend many nights storing seeds in tree hollows, in burrows and other small spaces.

The next animal we meet is an ermine, a member of the stoat and weasel clan, which has a white coat in winter and a brown one in summer. Like its relative the skunk, ermines give off a strong smell. They are skilled hunters and seek out mice, chipmunks, and birds.

Another animal that changes the color of its fur as the year rolls round is the snowshoe hare. These shy fleet-of-foot animals don’t have permanent homes and are “always on the move.” They tend to sleep during the day, coming out at night to eat plants. Their name refers to the way in which their “spread-out toes” work like snowshoes to help the hare stay on the snow surface.

On every spread of this gorgeous book we are given the track marks of the featured animal, its common and Latin names, a Native American quotation, text about the animal, and a woodblock print showing the animal in its environment. What makes the book extra special is the way in which the author injects the descriptive text with personal comments. Through her words we see that she has a deep and abiding love for her northwoods home and the animals that live there.