Book review: 2 beautifully illustrated books for children present the worlds of glaciers and one special wolf

“Glaciers Are Alive”

By Debbie S. Miller; Illustrated by Jon Van Zyle; Charlesbridge Publishing, 2023; 32 pages; $17.99.

“The Story of Romeo”

By Joel Bennett; Illustrated by Lue Isaac; Daytime Star Books, 2023; 34 pages; $19.99.

Two new books for children, each of which will be appreciated by adults as well, celebrate Alaska nature and the wonders, surprises, and great beauty to be discovered in our world. The two take different approaches — one very scientific and the other imaginative.

In Debbie Miller’s “Glaciers Are Alive,” the scientific understanding of glaciers and their role in ecosystems are foremost. Designed for ages 4-8, the book explores in clear and accurate language the world of glaciers, from their formation and movements as frozen rivers to their role in supporting life from bears to sea otters and seals, whales, seabirds, even algae and ice worms. The illustrations by Jon Van Zyle, with whom Miller has collaborated for numerous other books, are beautifully presented with similar scientific accuracy. The curiosity and intelligence of young readers are always respected.

Miller, for example, describes how summer temperatures cause the surface of a glacier to melt. “The melting ice brings freshwater rushing into the sea. This water is full of rock flour — minerals from the mountains that the glacier crushed. These minerals help tiny plankton and little fish grow.” Van Zyle’s gorgeously blue glacier is shown melting and calving with a “BOOM!” while the next pair of pages show a tufted puffin flying off with small fish lined up in its large beak and a murrelet diving underwater after a single sliver of fish.


A glossary in the back defines terms used in the book, although the story in context is sufficient for even a young child’s understanding. In the last pages, the text mentions that glaciers are melting ever faster “because of rapid climate change” and that some will eventually disappear. Miller, appealing to everyone’s interest in baby animals, asks, “Where will the murrelets raise their chicks without tidewater glaciers? Where will these harbor seals have their pups if there are no icebergs?” She doesn’t stop on that depressing note, however, but continues, “From high mountains to sea, from valley to fjord, from moraine to underwater sill, this powerful river of ice creates a special world where life flourishes. Glaciers are alive!”

In her author’s end note, perhaps aimed at parents rather than young readers, Miller details her own adventures with glaciers, lays out her concerns about the loss of ice, and suggests ways of mitigating climate change to help the environment.

Joel Bennett, a Juneau filmmaker with a deep connection to wildlife and wild places, has written a children’s book with a different approach but similar appreciation for nature, and a call for tolerance and compassion. “The Story of Romeo” adopts the voice of the black wolf that for six years was a frequent visitor to Juneau’s Mendenhall Lake, where it played with dogs and was comfortable around people. (It was illegally shot and killed in 2009, a crime that saddened and outraged the people of Juneau.) Such anthropomorphism is certainly not scientific and won’t appeal to many adult readers, but it’s not uncommon in children’s stories. Bennett knew Romeo well and explains in his author’s note, “I knew the story had to be told from his point of view. I wanted to imagine what he was thinking. Gazing up at the starry night, what wonderment did he feel? What joy came to him from the sun setting over the glacier, or the first birdsong of spring? And what did he see in other living things that instilled trust?”

Thus, the story begins with Romeo’s birth in a den in a hidden valley. “It was a magical spot, as snug and secure as could be, with the warmth of my family all around me.” Romeo meets a raven who becomes his most trusted friend. “Raven knew that I was different. ... Raven came to me and said we should go down to the valley below.” Romeo and Raven begin living by a lake where people walk and ski with their dogs. Romeo meets and follows his special “dog people” friends. “We would find wonderful things to see and smell, or lie in sunny spots and fall asleep together.” (The various dogs in the story bear the names of real dogs that were known to interact with Romeo.) In the end, a blinding white light ends Romeo’s life and takes him to a dream world “where all the wolf people that had ever been lived in beauty.”

The lovely illustrations by Lue Isaac, an artist who lives part-time in Juneau, are colorful and impressionistic. Romeo appears on nearly every page, curious and friendly, with his tail held high. A map at the start paints “Romeo’s territory,” and a brief foreword by Nick Jans, author of “A Wolf Called Romeo,” leads with the factual circumstances.

[With a propulsive style, Alaska author Paul Greci hopes to keep reluctant young readers engaged]

[Book review: A new history of sled dogs in North America is vast and intriguing read]

[How author Tom Crestodina’s passion for boats and sea life found the page]

Nancy Lord

Nancy Lord is a Homer-based writer and former Alaska writer laureate. Her books include "Fishcamp," "Beluga Days," and "Early Warming." Her latest book is "pH: A Novel."