There’s a particular quote seared into my memory that stretches further back into my memory than I can consciously remember (for the full effect, imagine the voice of Thurl Ravenscroft speaking):
“That was the Grand Canyon as we know it today. But it wasn’t always that way.
Quiet now, as we travel back in time, back to the fantastic Primeval World:
Such was the impact of this portion of the Disneyland Railroad upon my wide-eyed boyhood that the Grand Canyon has always had an inextricable link to prehistoric times in my mind, even before I developed a true interest in the actual science of paleontology. (Incidentally, the Disneyland RR’s Grand Canyon diorama also introduced me to Ferde Grofe’s fantastically expressive Grand Canyon Suite. Why don’t you give it a listen while you read this review?)
Now, while you won’t find dinosaurs in this book, Jason Chin’s Grand Canyon perfectly encapsulates the majesty and scope of the eponymous Canyon’s natural history. That should really read “Natural History” with capital letters, mind you, by which I mean the original sense of the term, which includes modern ecosystems, plants and animals as well as fossils and rocks. The paleontological aspect of course captures my interest most, but just know that this book gives us a truly well-rounded presentation of the Grand Canyon. (In the afterword at the end of the book, we even get a very brief summary of the human history of this dramatic natural landmark.)
The book’s illustrations tell a story of a father and daughter on a backpack camping trip through the canyon. We join them at their riverside campsite on the canyon floor, and follow them on their hike back up to the rim and the forests above it. Along the way, the author describes the various habitats, wildlife, and geologic layers the pair pass by. Following them from the bottom up gives us the benefit of following the stratigraphic sequence with them in chronologic order, starting with the Precambrian layers at the bottom on up through the Permian layers at the top.
The family encounters several fossils in the rocks alongside the trail on their way up, and whenever she sees one, the girl’s imagination runs away with her, and she finds herself transported back to the time in which that organism lived.
My favorite feature of this book (which caught me quite by surprise) is the way in which each of the fossils literally “opens a window” into the past. The page is cut out around each fossil; when the page is turned, we see that we were looking at a real creature all along, now seen in its proper place in its original habitat. It’s a simple yet wonderful trick that really drives home the feeling of the canyon’s intimate connection to its long history through Deep Time.
Jason Chin’s “Grand Canyon” is nothing short of a masterpiece in children’s non-fiction literature, and deserves its place on everyone’s shelf, whether young or old. It’s very easy to find at Barnes & Noble, and of course on Amazon as well. It would be worth the purchase for the gorgeous fold-out landscape painting alone at the end of the book, but the fantastically comprehensive yet easily understood natural history presented within its pages makes it an absolute must-have. If any book has ever deserved the Dino Dad’s “Stomp of Approval”, it’s this one.
Be sure to support our National Parks! They protect areas like this for all of us to enjoy, and for all future generations to come. I’ll leave you with the wonderful music album that I think perfectly encapsulates the beauty and importance of this vital part of our collective experience!