A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Rocky's Wilderness

Fourteen years ago I discovered the wonderful book Wilderness: A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska by the artist Rockwell Kent. In 1918 Kent and his nine-year-old son, Rocky, spent seven months living in a trapper’s cabin on Fox Island near Seward, Alaska. I remember the book for its evocative writing and illustrations, which seemed to perfectly capture the experience of living in isolation, surrounded by wild nature, with an attitude of both realism and appreciation for the magnificence of the landscape. The book, published in 1920, helped establish Kent’s reputation as a significant American artist.

95 years later, author-illustrator Claudia McGehee has created a beautiful companion and homage to Wilderness with her picture book My Wilderness: An Alaskan Adventure. Based on Kent’s memoir and other historical sources, McGehee imagines the story of their time on Fox Island from Rocky’s point of view. It’s a brilliant approach to a fascinating story, all the more fitting for the scratchboard illustrations that echo Kent’s drawings. Though different in format, medium, and execution, both illustrators convey the energy and grandeur of the environment, as well as humor and attention to details of daily life.

My Wilderness: An Alaskan Adventure by Claudia McGehee
Sasquatch Books, 2015
McGehee’s text is as evocative as her art: walking in the forest with “the soft bed of leaves and pine needles velveting my steps” or tasting the "first steely snowflakes” of winter. Readers will identify with the juxtaposition of Rocky’s imagination while exploring the island (“Was it a grizzly bear?”) with the realities of the environment (“No, it was a porcupine!”) and respond to McGehee’s effective use of page turns to build and release tension.

"I was a little lonely."

Delightful details, such as snow baths and an odd pair of hiking boots, ground the story in a child’s point of view. Emotional truths, such as loneliness or the somber exhaustion that follows a close call at sea, balance Rocky’s exuberance.

"A terrible storm arose."

An Author’s Note provides historical information about Rocky and his famous father, including several photos. A brief teacher’s guide ends the book. McGehee writes about her inspiration for the work, gives additional information about resources, and dishes up a few staple recipes from the Kents' wilderness menu at her website.


  1. Thank you Ann! I appreciate your words, particularly about my WORDS! Enjoy your summer of extended outdoor reading light!

  2. Thanks, Claudia. It always makes me happy to see creative, accurate, well-crafted books about Alaska and the North. I envy your ability to both write and illustrate!

  3. Back at you! I am familiar with your good works as well! I'm glad "My Wilderness" hit an accurate note. It was from the heart- you have a stellar state spirit that speaks to me!