This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon is a biography of Audubon for YA readers. I really enjoyed this book! It is well and concisely written, and while it’s not exciting per se, his life is definitely one that keeps you interested! Author Nancy Plain manages to weave in the parts of history that overlap with Audubon’s life (such as the French Revolution and the Trail of Tears) in a way that shows their significance and impact on his life, without doing them a disservice. This is not easy to do! It’s hard to address enormous topics like that that have books of their own written about them, yet still stay true to the story you are telling. I thought that Nancy accomplished this well.
I would recommend this book as a great companion book to Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt. I think that they would be really good to read together, to see how the real book (The Birds of America, by Audubon) is used in Gary Schmidt’s fictional story. I also think that if you have readers who like nonfiction more than fiction, you could start them on This Strange Wilderness and then suggest Okay for Now (or vice versa, for those who prefer fiction!).
The book is filled with illustrations and photographs. There are 27 reproductions of Audubon’s paintings for The Birds of America, as well as several from his follow-up book, The Viviparous Quadrupeds. In addition, there are paintings done by other artists, paintings he’s done of his family, various sketches of his, and a photograph of his childhood home. The bird paintings that were chosen to be included all beautifully illustrate the various parts of John James Audubon’s life that Nancy Plain describes to her readers.