Book Review: Meadowlands by Thomas Yezerski


Meadowlands by Thomas F. Yezerski

This nonfiction picture book tells the story of the history of the wetlands that are now known as the Meadowlands in New Jersey.  From hundreds of years ago, when the wetlands had 20,000 acres of marshes through to the 1800s when the land was drained and filled in with dirt to the 20th century when the industries came to surround the Meadowlands with their factories.  The wetlands were used as a garbage dump, filled with waste and filth.  It became a problem area in New Jersey until the state decided that it needed to be cleaned up.  By 1985 with the clean up and then the developers, there was less than 7000 acres of wetlands left.  But the wetlands began to recover, with time the lack of pollution and the rivers and tides cleaned the water and allowed plants, birds, fish and animals to return.  This is a celebration of wetland recovery and the strength of the ecosystem as well as a stirring call to action.

Yezerski offers just the right amount of information here for an elementary-aged audience.  From the brief history of when the wetlands were unchanged, readers see how steadily the impact of humans deteriorated the size and quality of them.  The garbage portion of the story is startling, stark and brief, indicating the small amount of time it took to do such extensive damage.  When the book turns to the recovery of the Meadowlands, the tone lifts and the text turns to celebrating the nature returning to the area.

The pages of the book are bordered with objects pulled from that illustration.  So the two-page spread of the 1800s is bordered with a knife, musket, scythe, trap, kettle, muskrat and more.  This adds to the feeling of time changing and the area changing along with it.  The watercolor illustrations are often looking at the wetlands from above, showing the devastation and changes.  Beautifully, as the wetlands recover, the illustrations become more close and intimate with the wetlands and the animals.

Get this one on your elementary nature and ecology shelves.  It is a readable and very successful look at wetland renewal for children.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.