Thank-you, friends and fellow bibliophiles, for waiting patiently for me to come back! I missed you all, I do assure you, and that was the first time an unplanned break has happened here. But I did enjoy myself on Tuesday with the election working, and finished got some very important work done that I had to sacrifice the blog post for. And now I'm back, with a couple of books today that our family has very much enjoyed. :)
Most bibliophiles enjoy a good animal story, but opinions definitely vary as to what sorts of animal stories are acceptable. Some people like talking animals, and some are made very uncomfortable by that. Many authors treat animals with a love almost bordering on worship, and write from the idea that we should love our ancestors that didn't evolve as far as we did.
Well, today's animal stories have none of these things, and they incorporate the best of everything. Young and old alike are fascinated by them, and they don't have talking animals, but every animal has a unique personality. Even better, they skip some of the more objectionable content found in the James Herriot books. Not that I dislike talking animals or James Herriot. But today's series is good, clean, educational fun, without questionable content, and I always like when I can say that in a review.
The books are the Living Forest Series by Sam Campbell.
They're written just like fiction, but they're absolutely true. The author started jotting down his stories during WWII, to cheer up the population at large, and they continue to provide laughter and the warm, fuzzy satisfaction that animal lovers are most delighted by.
A friend loaned the first book in the series to us, and we were enchanted by it. Junior B went on to read many of them, but I have only read two thus far, so I'll be reviewing those two today, along with a little bit about the author so the story-lines make more sense.
About the Author
Sam Campbell, born in 1895, lived in Illinois, and his fascination with animals quickly expanded as he explored the family farm he grew up on. He loved all living creatures, and had a strong bond with them that would last the rest of his life. Though he went to college and tried teaching music, along with several other jobs, the nature won out in the end. He took up residence in a little cabin on Four Mile Lake in Wisconsin, later marrying and bringing his wife Giny to live with him. He was so attached to his cabin that he took up writing to earn a living so he wouldn't have to leave, and it was a wise choice, for he certainly has the knack of making animals come alive on the page.
Campbell started out small, writing a book called The Conquest of Grief, which explored the topic of death, and giving nature lectures on the radio. His radio lectures, instilling the joy of nature into others, quickly grew in popularity, and he often drew on his experiences caring for wild animals near his cabin. Campbell's passion was to see people get out of their hurried city lives and quietly explore the lessons that nature had to offer. After his first book he turned to nature stories, and there found the niche that he would continue in for the rest of his life.
When an official from the Chicago and Northwestern Railway heard one of Campbell's lectures in the 1930s, he liked what he heard and offered to sponsor lecture tours. Over the next 30 years, Campbell toured all over the United States, lecturing throughout the winter and returning to care for his wildlife every summer at his little island cabin. He delivered over 9,000 lectures throughout that era of his life, truly a stunning number.
When he died of a heart attack, shortly before he planned to return to his cabin after a winter in Illinois, his ashes were scattered over the island. And his memory and love for nature are still alive, though sadly almost unknown, today.
Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo and Still-Mo
When they first take in the squirrels, they are also hosting a young man about to go off to the war-front. His name is Duke, and he's a joyful soul, always ready to laugh, very gentle, and completely innocent. When he leaves, Sam and Giny send him regular reports of the squirrels he loves so much, and the scrapes they get themselves in. They soon find out that Duke is reading their letters to the other soldiers in his division, and many boys in khaki are hanging on simply because of the thought that somewhere far away, there are five red squirrels enjoying a life untouched by combat.
Over the course of time, Sam and Giny notice a difference in Duke's letters. The laughter gradually disappears from them, and they are no longer the cheery epistles they used to be. War sometimes changes a man, and they worry that what he had to do did more damage to Duke than just physically. But there is great healing in nature, and they hope the five red squirrels will be just as good medicine after heartache as they were before it.
Still-Mo was our favorite. I think he was Sam's favorite too. (Though you never really do know if Still-Mo is a boy or a girl, as Sam refers to it as either throughout other books.)
The Seven Secrets of Somewhere Lake
Sam Campbell told his wife Giny one spring that, since they were going to be taking a trip to the Grand Canyon later that summer, they were absolutely not going to accept the care of baby animals that year. Campbell and his wife had a well-known wildlife haven, and often folks would bring them abandoned or hurt babies for them to nurse back to health.
Giny, of course, is very disappointed and doesn't believe a word of it.
And true to form, the fates were against them, and they had a baby fox, a baby deer, a baby skunk, and a puppy before much time had passed. Not only that, but Sam has the only safe location to keep seven young beavers in a lake near his cabin. If he doesn't, then they may very well be illegally trapped for their pelts. Sam can't refuse, of course, and takes in every one of them. Their antics are absolutely delightful, and make you feel as if you are really there observing the animals make unique friendships with each other.
When the time comes for Sam and Giny to go to the Grand Canyon to collect some photographs of the wildlife, they call on a young friend of theirs fresh out of highschool to care for the babies they've adopted, and to keep a strict eye on the beavers. But they wonder if the beavers will still be there when they get back, or if a neighbor of theirs will discover the Seven Secrets, and trap them for their valuable pelts.
What I love about Sam Campbell is that, though his books are a collection of nature observations and they aren't fiction, they all have a plot. By the time you get to the end it has the same build-up and climax as a regular story book. Each person grows in some way throughout the story, whether finding renewed peace at the cabin, or taking time away to wrestle with issues that they are dealing with at the time. Sam and Giny are always there, offering good advice, though sometimes making mistakes themselves as well. They are a truly amazing couple, working together, and their marriage is a beautiful example of what a man and his helpmeet can do when they are of one mind and purpose.
Sam draws many parallels between the animals and the Christian life, not in the devotional format, but in a simple outpouring of what they have taught him about their Creator. While he does acknowledge the Lord, and often mentions Him, we're not sure if he had a true understanding of the gospel or not. It's hard to say. Whether or not he did, his books are realistic, living portraits of creation that will point young and old alike to the Creator.
We live in a busy culture. But reading Sam Campbell's nature books is like taking a retreat to a little cabin in the woods, and finding rest ourselves.
Some libraries have film available that was collected by Sam Campbell himself, and narrated by him as well. www.samcampbell.com has more information on them and his other works.
You can find more about the author here.
I highly recommend that if you haven't discovered this series for yourself, you give it a try. They are guaranteed to be a good read, and whether or not you consider yourself an animal lover, a wide variety of interests and ages will find enjoyment in them.