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Book Review: Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species, 2nd Edition, Kindle Edition

Review of the best mammal tracks book yet!

Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species
By Mark Elbroch and Casey McFarland
mammaltracks
Review by Kim A. Cabrera

Review:

This review is for the Kindle edition of this book.

Wow. All I can say is wow. The first edition was phenomenal. The second edition, if you can believe it, improves on the first dramatically! I never thought I’d say there could be a better tracking book than the first one. But, here it is.

There is no one I know of in the tracking community that is better qualified to write this book than Mark Elbroch and Casey McFarland. The tracking community is small and everyone tends to know everyone else. We all know that these guys are the true experts in this field. This book allows their expertise to shine through on every page.

It’s got expanded sections that go into way more depth than the first edition did. There’s a section on runs, one on interpreting prey remains, sign on the ground such as scrapes and beds, and much more. It’s chock full of good solid tracking information.

The species accounts have been somewhat condensed, without losing their accuracy or detail. In fact, there is even more detail packed into each one. This was done by combining species that have similar sign, like large, medium and small ground squirrels. Each has its own section with measurements broken down by species within it. The descriptions were combined because of the similarity of the sign found. This allowed the authors to pack even more information into the book, which is awesome! If there are differences, they are pointed out in each account, so it’s super helpful to be able to compare across similar species.

The sign chapters have been grouped together so you can compare similar things you find in the field easily. Find a run and want to know what animals could have made it? Go to that section and you have plenty to compare it too. Scratches on a tree? Scratches on the ground? Same thing.

Here is a list of the chapters in order:

Ch. 1 – Introduction
Ch. 2 – Mammal Tracks and Track Patterns
Ch. 3 – Runs, Paths, and Eskers
Ch. 4 – Scats, Urine, and other Secretions
Ch. 5 – Nests, Lodges and Other Constructions
Ch. 6 – Sign on the Ground: Beds, Scrapes, Wallows, Digs, Burrows, and Dens
Ch. 7 – Sign on Fungi, Herbaceous Plants, and Cacti
Ch. 8 – Sign on Trees and Shrubs
Ch. 9 – Interpreting Prey Remains
Ch. 10 – Species Accounts

The Species Accounts are incredibly detailed. Each one includes a drawing of the animal’s feet, and its tracks, and common gaits too. The track illustrations now include arrows pointing to key features of interest, and even lines to help one visualize the orientation of the toes. It’s just like how we use our fingers or nearby sticks in the field to look at these toe orientation features! (Trackers know about this!) Only now it’s in the book to help us see it better. Key features in the drawings are numbered and each number is referred to in the text description. Each species account includes the measurements and the descriptions, but they now also include all the details shown in the chapter headings above. That’s right! Each species account shows you all those details: Run, Paths, Eskers; and Sign on Fungi, Herbaceous Plants; Interpreting Prey Remains; and Scats, etc. etc. (All of those chapter headings are used in the species accounts to provide a very thorough look at the signs left by that animal.) All described right there in the species account! No more flipping through the book for the description of the scat or burrow. It’s described right there. The photos of the signs are grouped together in their respective sections so you can compare them. The detailed descriptions are now found in the species account. I like this arrangement much better. I think it will be even more helpful in the print edition than in the Kindle edition. More on that later.

For example, here is an outline of the headings in a typical section of the Species Account chapter.

-Tracks and Trails (measurements, images of tracks and gaits, etc.)
-Notes
-Runs, Paths, and Eskers
-Scats, Urine, and other Secretions
-Urine and Other Scent-Marking Behaviors
-Sign on the Ground: Beds, Scrapes, Wallows, Digs, Burrows, and Dens
-Sign on Trees and Shrubs
-Interpreting Prey Remains

For each species, this outline is customized. For example, some won’t have prey remains, some won’t have sign on grasses etc., some won’t make lodges or other constructions. Nicely organized and easy to use!

One helpful thing I noticed in this edition is that some of the track photos are now labeled so you can see which foot is LF, LH, RF, RH. That’s super helpful, especially when you are first learning to tell them apart. The descriptions also help a lot with this. Many of the photos also include rulers or coins in them to provide scale. The other thing that I like is that each animal’s feet are shown in the account so you can see what features of the feet make what features of the track. Super helpful!

Gait diagrams have been moved so they are next to each other where you can visually compare them easily. There are also photos of most of the gaits.

Most of the journal-type writing and stories in the first edition have been removed to make room for just straight track and sign information. The stories were helpful and interesting, but not as helpful as the detailed accounts in this edition are. There are still some stories, but not as many. The ones used were chosen for their usefulness to describe a concept, it seems.

There is a lot more research included in this edition too. There has, of course, been ongoing scientific research into many aspects of biology and tracking. This edition incorporates more of that information into the text. Recent studies are cited and their information included. Also, researchers, biologists, and other scientists are credited as such on the photos they donated to the project, which is nice. They deserve the credit for their work.

Some really interesting new photos were included showing cool behaviors or just unique features. I love the photo where an otter rolled and left behind whisker marks!

Specific Kindle parts of the review:

Drawbacks to Kindle edition: the Kindle edition requires a Kindle and who is going to carry one into the field? Not me. Too much risk of getting it wet or damaged. I prefer a book for the field. (I bought both for this reason.) The Kindle edition loses the formatting that you have on a page. So, references to upper right corner of the page make no sense on a Kindle since all photos are inline and you just scroll to see them. As always with Kindle editions, there are some formatting errors. Pictures not right where the accompanying text indicates, etc. But, that’s a minor issue and users of Kindle are probably used to that in their books. For field guides, it can be annoying though. However, those are formatting issues and really not anything to do with the quality of the writing or the information contained within the book. So, if you can ignore some minor format issues, Kindle is fine. Otherwise, I’d recommend getting the paperback. Well, I recommend getting that either way, but if you want a copy on your Kindle, do like I did and buy one of each! I’ll admit that it’s something only us truly obsessed trackers do, so your mileage may vary. Ha!

Good features of Kindle: You can highlight the text in different colors. My copy is already highlighted throughout in yellow, pink, orange and blue. Your highlights and page progress can be synced to the cloud so you don’t lose them. If you ever delete it off your Kindle, you can re-download it and your highlights will be there if you’ve synced it. You are allowed to put it on two different devices, in case you have two Kindles, you know. Or put it on Kindle and your laptop like I did. Sync them and your highlights and page progress are saved to both devices. On Kindle, you can also do keyword searches. So, if you want to look up a species, you can put in the name and find all instances in the book. The bad thing is, you have to spell the name right or search doesn’t work. Kindle also allows you to make your own notes in the text. These are hidden and you have to click to open a little window and read your notes. But it’s a useful feature to have.
So, overall, I recommend this book 100% and five stars. Or should I say, five paws! If you are a tracker, biologist, naturalist, or just plain nature nerd, you need this book. Why is it not on your shelf yet? Just kidding. Buy this book. You won’t regret it. If you study it, you will become a better tracker. It’s full of the experience of two of the best trackers around, plus all the contributed experience of the other scientists, researchers, biologists, naturalists and trackers who contributed in the field. Hundreds of years of tracking experience is right here in your hands. It is 680 pages of the best information money can buy. Get it. You will not regret it. No buyer’s remorse here. It’s worth every penny!

NOTE:
Because I’m an affiliate, if you use the link below to purchase, I get a tiny kickback. But, that in no way influenced this review. All the opinions above are genuinely mine and I stand by them. Five paws up!

Link to purchase at Amazon.

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Book Review: Come be Wild with Me

This is the post excerpt.

Come Be Wild With Me is a cute story book for children. It will appeal to younger readers and encourage them to go outside and play in nature, which is always a good thing.

The book contains a short, lyrical story about a mother and son who venture out into the forest to learn about the wild. They immerse themselves in the nature experience and have fantastic adventures exploring and being wild. The message is a positive one and shows kids that nature is a great place to be and that you can have imaginative adventures without being plugged into a device with a screen. They climb trees, throw stones into a lake, dress in leaves and eat berries. A full sensory experience of nature.

The story is accompanied by beautiful watercolor paintings depicting the storyline. The paintings are fanciful and colorful. The animals are cute and not scary for young readers. The characters are shown with smiling faces so that young readers will understand that nature is not a scary place; it’s a place that makes people happy.

The positive message of this book seems well-suited to readers of any age, and indeed adults will enjoy the poetic story and the accompanying paintings. The story is told in words that younger readers can sound out and spell, so it’s appropriate for the age group. Parents can read it to children who are too young to read on their own yet. It’s one of those books that a child might ask for as a bedtime story each night and memorize so that they can read along with the parent.

I enjoyed the story and its message about nature. I recommend this to anyone who wants to introduce their kids to nature and give them a storybook that will almost certainly become popular a favorite.

I would like to thank the author, publisher, and NetGalley for allowing me to see an advance reader copy in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: Into the Inferno

by Stuart Palley

Review by Kim Cabrera

This book is one that all Californians should read. Our climate is changing drastically and now we have a “fire year” rather than a “fire season.” This can be a difficult (at times) book to read but the author has seen and documented many of our catastrophic fires and gives a firsthand look at how California’s fire landscape is changing.

Stuart Palley is an incredibly skilled photographer, and you will recognize some of his iconic images of California wildfires, which are included at the back of the book. The dramatic images bring home the story of each fire with an emotional impact. These are our communities and our wildlands that are burning. For those of us who live in the wildland urban interface, which is quite a large swath of California, these images bring home the point that we are all at risk now. None of us will escape the effects of climate change. Drought and wildfire are the new normal for California.

I have seen several large wildfires and been evacuated due to approaching fire, so I really felt these images and the stories behind them viscerally. If you’ve experienced wildfire in California, you know what I mean. Most of us pack up and run from fire, but Palley runs toward it with cameras ready. He brings stunning images from the fire lines to show the world the real and dramatic effects of climate change in the state of California. Many of his images are shot at night, creating surreal and dramatic views and lighting effects. I wish that there were more of his images in the book, but I also think that might be too much. The images are beautiful, but what they document is tragedy and terror. Even in something so destructive as wildfire, the photographer has managed to find the beautiful moments, the lighting that tells the story. He shows us the human side of fire too. The story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and their loss is a grim reminder of the dangers firefighters face when they go into these infernos. Honoring the lost firefighters is important and I was glad that Palley included this story in the book, so that we can remember them.

There are stories here from Paradise, Woolsey, and so many more. The book also shows how the author grew as a photographer, from beginning to photograph fires, to becoming a seasoned pro with firefighting training and equipment of his own. His story of personal growth is set to the background of the growing wildfire crisis in California after decades of drought has led to increased fire danger up and down the state.

The writing style is eloquent and I loved the author’s way of bringing the story to life with visual language. You almost feel like you are there. It can be an emotional subject to read about, especially if you have experienced any of these large fires, but this book is worth the read. Five stars plus.

Find it at Amazon here.

Book Review: Animal Tracks of the Midwest Field Guide

By Jonathan Poppele

Review by Kim Cabrera

Excellent book for the Midwest region and beyond!

This book is well thought out and organized. It’s got high-quality images and illustrations that will be helpful to trackers of any skill level. The information presented is useful, and the author did thorough research for this guide. This is my new go-to guide for tracks!

The book is compact in size, but densely-packed with information. Each animal account includes the tracks illustrated to life size, a super handy size range reference next to the track pictures, and a textual account about the animal’s life history and associated signs a tracker may find. The track descriptions are succinct and easy to understand. The size of this book makes it very easy to carry in a pocket or a backpack so you will be more likely to have it with you in the field. My absolute favorite feature in this book is the size reference diagram next to each track illustration. That is a very creative way to show visually the size variation in the tracks of each species. As a visual learner, I found this a very helpful feature to visualize track sizes.

The appendices at the end of the book have a section of excellent diagrams showing the common gaits of the animals. Accurately depicted gaits have been lacking in previous field guides, but more modern ones are now including this important piece of information for trackers. Animal gait choices can help a tracker identify the maker of the tracks, just as can a clear track. They are vital clues when making an identification decision.

This guide also includes full-color images of the animals themselves (many of them are very cute). There are photos showing scats and feeding signs and more. A glossary gives you definitions of terminology. There is also a section that lists other useful tracking resources, including other field guides and social media sites that offer track identification.

The author, Jonathan Poppele, is a recognized expert in tracking. The information in this guide can be trusted as it comes from a reliable source with excellent tracking credentials. There are plenty of guidebooks out there that are full of misinformation. This is not one of those. This one contains reliable and accurate information that will make you a better tracker and naturalist. If you want to learn tracking, you need this book in your library.

I pre-ordered the Kindle version as well. Unfortunately, the Kindle version has disappeared and seems to no longer be offered for sale, after being delayed for several weeks. I wrote to the publisher to find out where the Kindle version is and have not heard back. I will try to update if they ever get back to me. I really like having Kindle versions of all my field guides since I can keep them all in one place that way. It makes cross-referencing so much easier than carrying all the books around. This should be a good thing for the publisher, since they will make two sales in one! For now, I have the print version and it is a great guide.

Find at Amazon

Book Review: These Silent Woods

These Silent Woods

by Kimi Cunningham Grant

Review by: Kim Cabrera

Cooper and his daughter, Finch, are living off-grid in the Appalachian woods. They never go outside and live in a heightened state of awareness. Once a year, they get a delivery of supplies for the coming year from Cooper’s friend, Jake, a military buddy who also owns the place where they live. However, Jake did not show up this year.

Cooper is a veteran with PTSD and has difficulties at times with flashbacks to his war experiences. Finch understands and knows what to do if her father has one of these episodes. They have a great system worked out for surviving in their remote cabin. Cooper loves his daughter and would do anything to keep her safe. She is part of the reason they are hiding out in the woods. Their neighbor, Scotland, sometimes drops by unannounced, much to Cooper’s dismay. Scotland also says he keeps an eye on the father and daughter with his spotting scope. At first, this seemed creepy, but in the end, it makes sense.

Finch is at home in the woods and knows them better than anyone. She writes in her journal about things she discovers out there. But keeping the gate always locked does not stop some trespassers and this leads to a cascade of events beyond their control. One day, Finch sees a strange girl in the woods. She doesn’t tell Cooper about this at first. The girl in the woods brings great changes ahead for all their lives.

This story is suspenseful and taut. The tension is palpable. The author does an excellent job recreating the experience of living alone in the woods. The hyperawareness, the attention to every detail, the need to keep safe from outside visitors. The atmosphere was so detailed, I felt like the author had lived it. I have lived alone in the woods and the details are spot-on.

Some chapters give glimpses into Cooper’s background, his military experience, his life with Finch’s mother, her parents’ efforts to take his child from him, and more. Gradually, the reader begins to understand what Cooper is so afraid of and why he is hiding in the woods with his child.

Overall, this was a story of grace, honor, sacrifice, and redemption, of learning to face consequences of past actions and being willing to live life to its fullest. The ending is one I did not see coming. It is a surprise but it does make sense. The real hero is not revealed until the end. It is a beautiful story with rich, full characters. This one will stick with you long after you close the last page.

I would love to see this one made into a film. It’s the best novel I have read this year.

Find at Amazon

Book Review: The Other Forest

The Other Forest
by Danielle Koehler
Review by: Kim Cabrera

The Other Forest is a wonderful book that takes you into a unique, enchanting world. Set on the farthest tip of South America, at the tip of Chile, the story follows Olivia and her friend, Diego, on an adventure into a forest unlike any other.

Olivia is dealing with quite a lot of grief after having lost her father. She and her mother have moved far away from all her friends, and to a new country, where she doesn’t speak the language. She is struggling with her grief and anger. Olivia and her dog Max meet Diego and they become friends. One day, they set off to explore the forest, where rumors say that strange creatures lurk.  

The forest itself is populated with a variety of animals, however the animals have all disappeared from the forest that the humans live nearby. In the other parallel forest, the animals can all talk with the kids. The kids learn about the destruction of the forest that caused the animals to abandon it and move to the other forest. Olivia’s dog, Max, has disappeared, and she and Diego set off to find him, running into various forest inhabitants along the way. Some are helpful to their quest and some others are not.

Olivia has special abilities inside the other forest. Her emotions have a powerful affect on the forest world. She is given a task, to take the last canelo berry and plant it so that the forest will be restored. She and Diego set off on their journey, but they run into many complications along the way. Will they be successful?

The story is full of great themes to explore with kids. Conservation, preserving nature, dealing with grief and death, emotions, friendship, love, and more. There are plenty of details about the forest itself and the reader becomes immersed in the world where animals and humans can easily communicate. Good and evil populate this world as well.

I loved the author’s illustrations! Highly detailed and in full color, they had me gazing at them to absorb all their incredible details. My favorites were the puma cub and the otter. But they are all fantastic!

I highly recommend this book. It’s part adventure, part fantasy, and full or immersive scenes that draw the reader in. You will love it!

Cover Art

Find book at Amazon

Book Review: Tracking the American Black Bear

Tracking the American Black Bear

By Preston Taylor

Review by Kim Cabrera

This book is perfect for any tracker who wants to learn more about trailing black bears. Bears can be challenging to trail over different terrain types, but Preston is one of the few recognized experts in doing just this. He is also a trailing evaluator for CyberTracker North America, which is the only international organization that certifies trackers. He is one of the best trackers in the world. This book offers his unique insights into following and finding black bears. He is a bowhunter who uses his trailing skills to get within a few yards of the bears that he hunts, something that takes tremendous skill. If you are a hunter who wants to hunt the traditional way and become a skilled outdoorsman, I can’t recommend anyone to teach you better than Preston Taylor. Get this book and study it well. If you implement these techniques, your trailing will improve immensely.

Find it at Preston’s web site: Tracker Longbows

Or find it at Amazon

Book Review: Awakening Fire: An Essential Guide to Waking Flame, Wood, and Ignition

Awakening Fire: An Essential Guide to Waking Flame, Wood, and Ignition

By Nate Summers

Review by Kim Cabrera

This is not a book about how to make fire in the sense that you get directions on how to make a bunch of primitive fires. It’s way more than that. It’s a book that helps you understand what fire is, and what it needs to catch and grow, knowledge that is not that common anymore. The author gives an example of campers trying to place full-sized logs in a campfire pit and lighting them with a match. This won’t work.

The book goes into detail on how to begin building your fire. Campfires are probably the way that most of us would use this skill, but you can apply these same principles to building a fire in a woodstove or fireplace too. The author, Nate Summers, begins by explaining why we need to start with the small stuff, kindling and tinder, before we can add big logs. It seems basic, but most folks don’t live as close to the land as our ancestors once did, so we have lost this kind of wisdom. Maintaining a campfire is not a skill that most of us use often enough to have developed proficiency with it, so this book fills a niche in the literature on that account.

There is a whole section on what kinds of wood are good to make fire, broken down by region. You also learn many different styles of fire. Who knew there were so many? If you were ever to get lost in the woods, this skill would certainly come in handy.

I enjoyed this book and learning the different techniques for making and maintaining a campfire. I will be able to put this learning to use this summer when I go camping, I hope. It is a useful book and one that outdoorspeople will find useful to have on their shelf.

Find at Amazon

Book Review: Keeping a Nature Journal, 3rd Edition: Deepen Your Connection with the Natural World All Around You

by Clare Walker Leslie
Review by Kim Cabrera

Drawing from nature seems difficult, but this book gives you some great tips on how to do it. I’ve always wanted to learn to draw and have felt that my drawings are awful. Using the techniques in this book, I improved my drawings a little bit. It’s not as tough as it looks. Clare Walker Leslie has several books on nature and nature journaling and I have wanted to read her work for a long time. I am glad I finally got one of her books! I will be reading some of the others in the future.

There are exercises that show you how to begin learning to draw, such as doing a blind contour drawing. That is pretty fun. You draw something without looking at the paper and without lifting your pen or pencil. It looks messy when it’s done, but you really can see the shape of whatever you drew in those messy lines! I was surprised at how that worked. Next, the author moves on to show you techniques to draw various natural things, like birds and mammals. Finally, you learn to draw landscape scenes.

I doubt I will ever be a professional artist, but I did find that these techniques worked well. I was able to see that drawings don’t have to be perfect. They are really sketches that convey the idea of the object you are drawing without being photographically accurate.

The whole idea behind the book is to learn to make a nature journal. In it, you can record your observations and make sketches of what you see. Phenological observations help you to track various events in nature over time and you can go back to older journals to make comparisons. This can help document things like climate change and how species are adapting by changes in the timing of their life events.

I think the idea of keeping a nature journal is interesting. The very act of drawing or writing something down really helps solidify the observation and you will remember it longer because you are creating a neural pathway. Studies have shown that hand writing notes helps the note-taker remember longer than just typing them. So, I agree that keeping a record of your nature observations can be very useful to anyone who is studying the natural world.

The illustrations in the book are by the author and her students. They are all excellent. It’s amazing to me that, with a few lines, an artist can convey an image that looks like a rabbit, or a bird, or a tree.

Overall, I found this book full of excellent advice and tips on how to improve techniques. I look forward to trying more of these ideas out when I go on outdoor excursions! I give this book five stars!

Find at Amazon

Book Review: The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees

The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees
By Douglas W. Tallamy

Review by Kim Cabrera

Oak trees are common where I live, and they are one of the most amazing species of trees. According to this book, they support a wide variety of kinds of life. Everything from insects to fungi and mammals. I’ve always loved Douglas Tallamy’s books and this one is right up there with the best of his writing.

I love that Tallamy emphasizes how our own use of native plants can help wildlife. The oak tree is native to most places in the U.S., so it makes a good choice for a native tree for a garden. The species that use oaks are immense! This book goes into detail about some of them, but there are far more than can be shown in a single volume. It’s amazing how much life there can be on one oak tree!

The book follows a single year in the life of an oak in the author’s yard. He begins with the Fall and goes month by month, talking about the biology of some of the species that live on his oak. It’s fascinating reading.

My favorite chapter had to do with galls. I’ve been fascinated by galls for many years and love reading about them. Tallamy does not disappoint! The chapter on galls was interesting and full of details. The gall-makers have such complex relationships with their host plants, and there are so many of them! The galls on oaks are some of my favorites because of their complexity and their many forms.

The author’s writing style is very easy to read, and his accounts don’t require an advanced degree in science to understand. It is very approachable and understandable for any audience. There is a handy list at the end of the book of oak species by region. (U.S. regions only though.)

If you love natural history or trees, I highly recommend this incredible book. You will find it hard to put down!

Find at Amazon

Book Review: Empire of Ants: The Hidden Worlds and Extraordinary Lives of Earth’s Tiny Conquerors

Empire of Ants: The Hidden Worlds and Extraordinary Lives of Earth’s Tiny Conquerors
By Susanne Foitzik and Olaf Fritsche

Review by: Kim Cabrera

Ants! The word conjures up many images. But, did you know that most ants are female? This fact and more can be learned in the fascinating new book, Empire of Ants: The Hidden Worlds and Extraordinary Lives of Earth’s Tiny Conquerors. These stories are not about the ants you picture raiding a picnic basket. These ants are the little creatures that run the world, to paraphrase the authors.

Ants are way more fascinating than you would think. This book makes their life stories come alive in an easy-to-read and understand format. You don’t need a science degree to understand this text. The author has a very conversational style and tells the ants’ stories in an engaging and intriguing tone that will make you want to read more. It’s not a thriller, but some of the ant stories read like one!

I had no idea how ants moved around the world on ships and got to other continents. There is an entire world to be learned about that is tiny and often ignored because they live beneath our feet, underground, but ants live some complex lives! They use scent to recognize each other and there are ants in each colony who have very specific roles. You will learn all about these in this great book.

My favorite anecdote was how the scientists had to explain their ant-collecting tubes to the airport security people! So funny. There are plenty of stories and illustrations to help you get into this micro world of the ants.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in nature and its fascinating inhabitants. Ants may be small, but they are mighty. Ants rule the world.

Find it at Amazon here.

Book Review: Up a Tree

By Richard M. Brock
Review by Kim Cabrera

That was a wild ride! Hold onto your seats because this book will grab you and drag you along for a ripper of a good tale!


Ruby and Quinn are 12-year-old boys living in rural Hackers Loon, NY, who dream of being pirates and going on adventures. When they have an accident and make a mistake trying to cover it up, they get their wish. The boys set off on a cross-country adventure that reads like a Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn tale for the modern day.

Once the action begins, it is non-stop until the very end. This one kept me awake into the wee hours of the morning, reading because I could not put it down. Some parts are unbelievable, but it is fiction, so that’s the point. It’s just a really fun tale!


As the adventurers make their way, they encounter various people and expand their horizons about the world outside their small community, and the wider social and environmental issues others deal with every day. They learn about corporate greed, environmental destruction, homelessness, racism, countercultures, and so much more. Through it all, Ruby, the narrator, maintains a positive outlook on life and yearns for more adventure.


Written in the voice of a 12-year-old who grew up in a relatively isolated rural area, the story shows our heroes coming of age on the road, much like Tom and Huck. They get into countless scrapes and find their way out them, making their way steadily westward. The scene with them frolicking in the Pacific Ocean was my favorite. I could just imagine their joy at finding the ocean and celebrating a successful journey where they got to be cowboys and more.


This book would be great for teachers to use in their classrooms to introduce some of the social issues. There are plenty of opportunities for good class discussions around the many themes touched on in this book.

I give this one a solid five stars. It certainly was, as Ruby would say, a ripper of a good tale!