Back from the Brink, by Nancy F. Castaldo, is a collection of stories for older kids (10 – 12 years old) about animals that have come very close to extinction. Due to efforts from conservation researchers and passionate individuals who want to see these species survive, their populations have increased again. I recommend this book for students who are interested in conservation and learning about how researchers help save species that are on the verge of extinction. It would make an excellent addition to a school library.
The book starts with an introduction to the legislation that helps protect species, including the Endangered Species Act. It is then divided into chapters that cover seven different species that have faced extinction: whooping cranes, wolves, bald eagles, Galapagos tortoises, California condors, American alligators, and American bison. The chapters discuss causes of population decline from issues such as hunting, poisoning, habitat loss, and competition from invasive species. Castaldo follows that with information on how the populations were turned around and brought back from the brink through hard work by passionate individuals. The book ends with child-appropriate ideas to help save species.
The beginning and ending of each chapter is written in first person, recounting Castaldo’s visit to see the species of focus and where they live now. The use of first person was an interesting choice. I think it will help students get the feel for actually being there and seeing these species.
The book is also filled with a lot of wonderful pictures of the animals. Images that help support the information discussed in the text are also included, such as what a hacking tower looks like, which is used to fledge bald eagles, and what crane puppets look like, which are used to prevent chicks from imprinting on humans.
The book has a lot of detail, so it is long, as would be expected for older kids. I do not recommend it for bedtime reading. The longest chapter is 30 pages. It is ideal for independent reading, reading for research projects, and for stretches of time when you can sit down for a while to read a chapter with your child. I read this book with my daughter during the time between her brother’s bedtime and when she goes to bed about an hour later, reading just one chapter each night. It led to some great discussions about conservation. One night after we finished the chapter on whooping cranes I told her I was excited because the chapter the next night was going to be on wolves. She was not happy. She told me she did not like wolves, but couldn’t elaborate on why. I pulled out my phone and showed her the video by Sustainable Human about how wolf reintroduction has had a wonderful impact on the environment in Yellowstone National Park. She seemed more interested after watching it. When we went to read that chapter the following night she was excited and really engaged in the story of the wolves and the pictures in the chapter. I was glad to see her more interested in wolves and why it is important to save them.
Overall, I thought this was a great book to help students understand how species conservation has worked for these species, and the hard work involved in conserving a species. Hearing these stories may help budding conservationists envision a future where they could do the same.
Heather is the Chairperson for the Strategic Planning Committee for the Society for Conservation Biology’s Conservation Genetics Working Group. She also teaches biology classes online for Colorado State University – Global Campus.