The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks

by Barb Rosenstock
illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

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“Teddie and Johnnie didn’t have much in common — but they shared a love of the outdoors. They both loved a good story, too. And that was enough to change America.” So begins author Barb Rosenstock in her picture book The Camping Trip That Changed America, as she brings to life an important four-day California wilderness adventure shared by President Theodore Roosevelt and the author-naturalist John Muir.

Roosevelt and Muir were united by their love for wild places, even though they came from very different sorts of families in different parts of the country. President Roosevelt read Muir’s books, and took seriously the author’s call for wilderness protection. When Muir invited the President to join him in California to see the land for himself, Roosevelt jumped at the chance.

Children reading at the second-grade level or higher will relate to the friendship Roosevelt and Muir established during their short time in Yosemite in May 1903. The Camping Trip That Changed America shows the two men as they revel in their adventures and learn from each other—sleeping out under grand old sequoias in the snow, sharing bear stories, and dreaming of a future that promised wild places for generations yet to come.

Even though they never saw each other again after the camping trip, the men remained in contact for the rest of their lives. In part because he was so inspired by his experiences with Muir, Roosevelt ultimately created the first eighteen National Monuments and doubled the number of National Parks in the United States. This and other factual information is deftly integrated into the story and explored in the back matter. The expansive illustrations by Mordicai Gerstein help the well-developed story gallop along, just like the horses the two men rode through the wilderness.

The Camping Trip That Changed America would be a terrific addition to non-fiction and historical reading lists. It is an uplifting story about two men who, over 100 years ago, worked to save the magical wilderness they adored—a wilderness that we still need and love today. Perhaps more importantly, the story shows that through play, dedication, and vision, we can work together to preserve beauty and wonder in the world. Even children who have never gone camping will enjoy the story. Maybe it will encourage them to pack up a bedroll, fill their pockets with jerky – or Cheerios – and head outside to sleep under the stars. That’s a story about the natural world that’s worth loving.

Resource: Lesson plan for teachers or parents.

  • Camping TripTitle: The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks
  • Author: Barb Rosenstock
  • Illustrator: Mordicai Gerstein
  • Publisher: 2012, Dial Books for Young Readers (Imprint of Penguin), 32 pages
  • Reviewer: Lisa Kahn Schnell
  • ISBN: 978-0-8037-3710-5
  • Genre: Non-fiction; history, environment

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