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Fire in the forest

Ricky's Atlas: Mapping a Land on Fire

Judith L. Li
Oregon State University Press
111 pp.
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Age Range: 8 – 12 years

Grade Level: 3 – 6

Maps, field notes, and illustrations enrich the body text in Ricky’s Atlas, offering much to be unpackaged and explored for readers of all ages.

At the book’s heart is the narrative of Ricky Zamora, who is visiting his uncle’s ranch in Oregon, east of the Cascade Mountains. Ricky and his mother arrive at the start of a thunderstorm— one that initiates a fire in the drier forests found in the high desert terrain. During his visit, Ricky explores the base camp for the firefighter crews at an active fire site, visits a fire tower, and later—joined by his friend Ellie—helps survey areas previously touched by fires for regrowth and restoration.

Readers learn about the normal life cycles found in forested areas, some of the effects that arise from human use and alteration of the normal species diversity, and also the ways that humans monitor and track the health of the land. Each chapter concludes with notes and maps recorded by Ricky as he summarizes the day’s adventures and many of the things he learned.

Drawings of plants and animals that include descriptive notes about their features, identifying traits, and normal behavior are interspersed throughout. Even without reading the main storyline, these illustrations aptly capture the richness of the landscape and terrain.

Superficially, the book is targeted at children in the preteen to early teen range, which approximately matches the ages of Ricky and his cousins. But there is such a richness to the illustrations and information that this book has much to offer to older readers and could even find use in a classroom setting as part of a science unit on ecology.