Naturalist Sara's Book Pick: 'The Camping Trip That Changed America'

“The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir and our National Parks” is the story of a president, a passionate nature lover, America’s wild places and the legacy we are left with today.

Photo by Sara Russell

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt, a native New Yorker, had a large family in the White House. He was the youngest-ever president of a country that had industry on the brain and wanted to build up fast. There was so much space, people didn’t think it would ever end. Across the country in California, outdoorsman John Muir was a world-famous naturalist who loved the Yosemite wilderness.


Muir reached out to the president in a letter. If land wasn’t protected, the forests could disappear from America, he wrote. Please help the trees!


Roosevelt asked Muir to lead him on a camping trip in Yosemite. He wanted to see it for himself.


This illustrated book, aimed at children in first through third grades, starts out how you would expect a longer-form storybook based on history would. The charm shines through, though, when Roosevelt and Muir gallop off on their horses, with the president proclaiming, “I feel like a runaway schoolboy!” And as you turn the page, the horizontal pages turn vertical as the scale of the giant sequoia trees loom large over the campers.


The book, written by Barb Rosenstock and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein, plays with different sizes and types of text, texture and scale of illustrations to showcase the magnitude of this landscape and what could be lost.


At the end of the trip, which included a spring snowstorm, campfire stories of grizzlies and amazing vistas of the famous Yosemite Valley, Roosevelt was convinced nature was worth fighting for.


“With John Muir’s spirit as his guide, Theodore Roosevelt saved more wild land than any president in history.” He created national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and national forests that we still enjoy today.


Even if you can’t head out to Yosemite anytime soon, you can spend time in nature at the different forest preserves around Will County. Take a walk, read “The Camping Trip that Changed America” and enjoy the changing seasons. These pleasures are possible because the Forest Preserve District of Will County and YOU see the value in protecting nature — for today and for future generations.