In graphic-novel style, this supposed autobiography reveals details of John Muir’s life.
The table of contents lists nine chapters, intriguingly titled. The light tone continues on the next two pages, showing four loose-limbed, comical figures under the heading “Key Characters.” Three of these characters are John: “as a child…a young man…an old man”; the fourth, a dog, bears the label “Stickeen.” (More characters do follow.) As John tells his story, the text cleverly intersperses brief quotations from his own writings with phrases that he and the people in his life might reasonably have said. During early childhood in Dunbar, Scotland, the wee lad already relishes the natural world and hates studying indoors. The format accentuates the reactions of John’s schoolmaster and his father, as they “THWOP” and “THWACK” John’s curly head. When he moves to the United States, Muir’s passion for nature accelerates, eventually leading to a “thousand-mile walk” from Indiana to Florida. He assumes the roles of inventor, husband, father, farmer, explorer—and always conservationist, eventually establishing the Sierra Club and lobbying for the first national parks. The art works well for some scenes, such as a harrowing, near-death experience in Alaska. However, it is a major disappointment that Muir’s descriptions of overwhelming natural beauty are illustrated with the same comical style and that readers must peruse closing notes to learn which words are Muir’s and which are Bertagna’s.
Readers are treated to Muir’s life journey—but, artwise, nothing resembles the source of his inspiration. (chronology, glossary, note on parks) (Historical fiction. 8-12)