Tuesday, December 15, 2015

My Reading Life: Raven's End (Gadd)

Raven's End came to my shelf as a rabbit-trail result of my first-time visit to the Canadian Rockies this year. Bibliophiles, you know how it goes . . . one book leads you to another, and that one to another, almost ad infinitum.

After learning a little about the book and first searched for it, I could not find it inexpensively as a used book, but checking again later, there were a bunch of copies. So, I broke my self-imposed and bendable rule of "No more book buying until I finish reading my shelves."

I had a wee trouble getting into the book because the story was more of a children's one with talking birds. I wondered how similar it was to Watership Down which other reviewers had been reminded of, yet I personally didn't care for. I pressed on knowing the high ratings from adults for this story.

I spent some time (probably way too much) on Google maps locating the mountains described and looking at the available "street-view" pictures and photos taken by hikers. Plus, Google Earth helped me live the story through a raven's eyes as flying above the land. That's when the story took on some real life. Having finished the book, I'm sure that part of my interest in this whole story was my oft-consuming interest in physical geography; maps can absorb my attention for hours.When I finished reading, I went back through the book and found many those mountains mentioned and mapped them...why?, I don't know. I just wanted to! (The link to the map is here.)

Raven's End begins with the introductory "Yamnuska," then "Autumn," and follows a raven's seasonal year in the Canadian Rockies. It is enjoyable and mostly instructive for both adults and children. For children below sixth grade, I'd suggest it as a read-aloud with map activities. If I were teaching earth science, especially if I were living near the Rockies, this book would be a literature component of my curriculum. What better way to learn than through an enjoyable story!

I loved finding out that some of the buttress names mentioned in Raven's End originated with Tolkein and are actual climbing designations.

On Google Earth, as I followed Colin's journey north to Maligne Canyon to find the mythical (or is it?) "Mountain with Feathers," I role-played some. I "ascended" a bit as a raven might and then scanned the surrounding mountains, looking for those feathers. While doing so, the names of the mountains comes up via Google Earth. When I scanned just north of Maligne Canyon, a Mount Colin appeared. Now this question has haunted me:  Did the author choose the protagonist's name from that mountain? If so, it was fantastic! If not, then the coincidence is almost incredible! I like to think that Mount Colin is really the "Mountain with Feathers." In fact, many of those mountains look like they have feathers on top when snow is trapped in their upper nooks and crannies. 

While this might appear as just a children's / young adult storybook, it is feeding me with something right now, and I love it, probably because visiting that area recently has been a real highlight, and this story has only nudged me more to make a return visit or two to this magnificent part of the world.

Author Ben Gadd must be a really interesting fellow!  According to his resume, he is an authority on the natural history and geology of the Canadian Rockies and its wilderness preservation. He is an author with academic background in writing. Among some of his books are ones on hiking, backpacking, and climbing in the Canadian Rockies. His favorite mountain, not surprising when you read Raven's End, is the Yam, or Yamnuska. I really wish I could hear the author speak; somewhere I read that he describes himself as "rent-a-naturalist." Not only is he an excellent writer, he knows about all this stuff that he writes. And he lives right where he writes.

I would like to give this story five stars; I thought it was delightful. I will be generous with four only because the ending was too fantastical to me when compared with the rest of the story. But then, again, it's simply fairy tale-esque.

Caveat: If reading aloud to children or given as assigned reading to older ones, you might want to particularly pre-read the last chapter regarding the creation -- fairy-tale-esque but in the strangish sort of way. 

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