________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 6 . . . . October 9, 2009


Life in the Boreal Forest.

Brenda Z. Guiberson. Illustrated by Gennady Spirin.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2009.
40 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-0-88899-956-6.

Subject Headings:
Taiga ecology-Juvenile literature.
Taigas-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-6 / Age 8-11.

Review by Gillian Richardson.

***1/2 /4


Grrowll! The bear needs a thirteen centimeter layer of body fat to survive a long winter sleep. In one frenzied day he gobbles seventy thousand berries. His droppings spread seeds that grow into new bushes.

The lynx is hungry for snowshoe hare. The cat huddles quietly, waiting for one to pass. Last year there were thousands of hares. This year there are only a few. It is a bleak time for hare hunters.


This lavishly illustrated picture book addresses a most important topic: the value of the boreal forest as "home to a unique ecosystem of plants and animals." The reader is guided through a whole year, from the spring thaw that brings birds flocking to raise nestlings, through a summer of abundance that prepares all species for the harsh winter when migrants head south and resident animals struggle to survive.

     A sensory feast is offered through both informative text and detailed paintings. Hear the calls of a Tennessee warbler and whooping crane, and the sharp crack of ice. Feel the plunging temperatures that send birds winging south, and the warmth of the snow blanket that protects the squirrel in its nest. Taste the berries gobbled by the bear, and the fresh greens found by the moose in the beaver pond. Animation in the paintings draws the reader in and helps create a strong sense of place.

internal art

     Woven through the book, details of interdependence show how the fluctuations of hare populations influence the lives of lynx, fox and owl. The reader will see how seeds are dispersed as they are eaten or carried away to perpetuate the growth of the forest. Photosynthesis is simply described. The vital role of each species is made clear, along with specific statistics that will amaze readers: "white pelicans fish for some of the sixty-eight kilograms of food needed to raise each chick."

     Threats to the boreal forest are a focus, including logging and mining, the decline in old growth trees and their crop of lichen as a food source, and the fact that it is the only wild nesting place for whooping cranes. An author note reinforces the dangers and value of this ecosystem, and offers suggestions for how we can all contribute to its survival. A list of websites of organizations involved in boreal forest preservation is included.

     Life in the Boreal Forest will give young readers a quality experience of learning about the boreal forest. Considering the precise attention to detail, in only one instance is inaccuracy evident: the illustration of a beaver peering through logs from within its lodge contradicts the text that describes this home as any Canadian child will know it: "…under insulating layers of snow, logs and frozen mud." This is a small error in an otherwise delightful and appealing book.

Highly Recommended.

Gillian Richardson is a freelance writer living in BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.