The Camping Trip That Changed America by Barb Rosenstock is an interesting piece of American history wrapped up in a wonderfully illustrated picture book. The subtitle of the book sums it up well: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Our National Parks. Rosenstock opens the story by introducing the main characters as their families knew them: as Teedie and Johnnie, boys who loved the outdoors and grew up to become the president of the U.S. and a world-famous naturalist, respectively. Written as a series of dated entries, this picture book shows them meeting in person for the first time, exploring the sequoias together, sleeping under the sequoias, and taking in the glorious panorama of Yosemite. We learn at the end of the story that this crossing of their paths results in our National Monument, National Park, and National Forest systems, as well as the founding of bird sanctuaries and game preserves across the nation. Muir tells Roosevelt many, many stories of the natural world and urges him to help keep the wild in wilderness. The book ends with small portraits of the trees under which each man is buried–Muir under the incense cedar trees near his home in Martinez, California, and Roosevelt under sugar maples in the family plot in Oyster Bay, New York–and a fitting (if a little touchy-feely) epitaph:
For all time, under the trees, Teedie and Johnnie sleep–
and their shared spirit protects our wilderness forever.
While that last line sort of gives me pause, overall I give this book a Highly Recommended. Although it’s technically not a factual story, Rosenstock based the story on the letters of Roosevelt and Muir, Muir’s books, and newspaper reports of their meeing. Her author note at the end of the story helps separate the purely factual from the imagined. Mordecai Gerstein, illustrator of the 2004 Caldecott Medalist The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, joyfully captures these two larger-than-life American personalities. (Dial, 2012)