The Skydiving Beavers is a great title–especially when you know it’s also a nonfiction story. (The only thing that I, as an Idahoan, think might have made it better would have been to keep it in its original form–The Skydiving Beavers of Idaho.)
This is the story of airlifting beavers, but it’s also the story of how scientists think and work through problems.
The story is set in 1940s Idaho–the era is signaled with the wonderful illustrations with vintage clothes and automobiles–when McCall, Idaho was growing and encroaching on beaver habitat. I loved the refrain that Wood uses to start the story:
“It all started when the folks of McCall, Idaho, realized they ahd a problem. A big problem. A big, beaver-type problem.”
A little later she changes the refrain to show another side of the story:
“Now the beavers had a problem too. A big problem. A big, people-type problem.”
When a local Department of Fish and Game official, Elmot Heter, decides they should move the beavers away from humans, she uses this version of the refrain:
“But Elmo had a problem. A big problem. A big, transportation-type problem.”
The refrain has elegantly set up the problem and then moved us into the heart of the book.
The story shows Elmo mulling over the problem, thinking about the difficulties of moving wild animals, and coming up with different ideas for solutions. We see him drawing plans on paper and building prototype equipment in his workshop and then testing it in the field. It’s really a great inside look on the real work of daily science, and one that would go well with a class on the scientific method.
The Author’s Note expains that Elmo’s solution would be considered unwise today and explains why it’s good for humans to make room in their world for beavers. I love that the book celebrates Elmo’s ingenuity but also shows the way added knowledge can change what we consider good practices.
It’s the rare picture book that’s set in Idaho. I feel lucky that we get such a fun one!
The Skydiving Beavers: A True Tale by Susan Wood, illustrated by Gysbert van Frankenhuyzen. Sleeping Bear Press: 2017.