Book review: Champion: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree, by Sally M. Walker

Walker, Sally M. Champion: The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree. Holt, 2018. $17.99. 136p. ISBN 978-1-250-12523-1. Ages 8-11. P7Q9

In the early 20th century, the eastern half of the United States lost almost four billion American chestnut trees from a mysterious fungus that girdled the trees. Walker explores the loss to the nation, including the devastation of wildlife that counted on these trees, because of their many uses. The trees have had a slow comeback from extinction following identification of the fungus that caused the blight, the discovery of a method of inoculating trees, and the dedication of people determined to bring back the American chestnut trees throughout half the states in the country. In exploring the work to proliferate the trees, Walker also explains backcross breeding and engineering transgenic American chestnut trees.

Verdict: A fascinating and passionate read about how something as seemingly inconsequential as a tree can change the entire culture of a nation and how determination can solve the mystery. In accessible writing, the book melds scientific and social studies to show how they are connected and the importance of protecting endangered species. An important addition to the author’s collection of histories about a submarine, the Halifax explosion, and much more.

May 2018 review by Nel Ward.

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