Cover art by Matt Westrup
If, like me, you’re a fan of novels written for younger readers with a nature theme, you’re likely to know the name Jean Craighead George. She wrote dozens of them. Before her breakout novels, “My Side of the Mountain,” and “Julie of the Wolves,” her earliest novels were co-written with her then husband, John George. This is the first of those I’ve found, and I enjoyed it just as much as her solo work, though the latter is a little better in my opinion.
Doug is a teenager who comes to spend the summer with his uncle in a high valley of the Colorado Rockies, an otherwise abandoned mining town. Uncle Bill is still prospecting there, and occasionally finding enough gold ore to live on, barely. When Doug arrives, he’s ready for adventure, but is surprised to find how much he enjoys the native wildlife, particularly a family of Dippers.
American Dippers, as they’re now called, are very unusual birds who can actually walk and fly underwater, where they find insect food in competition with fish! Their lives and habits are fascinating, and well documented in this book, along with many other animals of the area. The book gives about equal time between the humans and the animals, with the largest focus on a young male dipper and his mate. There are adventures, trials, and danger in both narratives, which join when Doug tries to capture and raise a young dipper in Uncle Bill’s cabin, with unhappy results for everyone.
The approach in the writing is little clinical, with the animals often named by their latin nomenclature, but the book is still a good read and entertaining as well as informative. This copy is a reprint from 1996, so possibly still in print.