Gopher to the Rescue! A Volcano Recovery Story

NSTA Recommends - January 2013

The importance of a keystone species in the maintenance and restoration of habitat is illustrated for the youngest naturalists in this story. This picture book is based on observations of succession after the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. Gopher survives in its underground burrow and then gets to work, digging through the ash, and mixing it into the soil below. The gopher's role in providing microhabitats and maintaining soil becomes clear in this personalized story that never misses the science.

This NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book makes a true historical and scientific event of a volcanic eruption and the years of habitat recovery interesting for elementary children. While "gopher" takes on a personality, its behavior is never unscientific. Students who follow gopher's tale will be better observers of the gophers, tortoises, moles, and other burrowers in their own neighborhood.

Science Books and Films - October 2013

Don’t judge a book by its cover. The bright-eyed gopher with the toothy grin is hardly the gopher we meet in the following pages. He doesn’t perform supergopher feats, but his normal behavior is enough to insure his survival as the forest is destroyed, and enough to help the forest recover. Although the eruption of Mount St. Helens in May 1980 is not specifically mentioned until after the story is told, the narrative and illustrations are based on 33 years of research documenting the eruption, the devastation of the surrounding habitats, and the forest’s recovery. Portrayed in skillfully blended narrative and illustration the rumbling of the awakening volcano disturbs the routine of many forest creatures, culminating in the eruption that levels acres of trees and sends the nimble fleeing in an attempt to escape the heat and immense clouds of smothering ash. In cutaway illustration we see gopher in his underground burrow and tunnels going about his everyday digging, eating, and storing roots and bulbs, sheltered from the devastation above. Gopher is not the only survivor. Mice, beetles and ants have been sheltered underground or under forest debris. Salamanders and toad pollywogs have survived in the mud of ponds protected by an ice cover. (The eruption occurred in May and there was still some snow and ice cover.) Some seeds and plant seedlings also survived under the snow. Gopher’s continuous borrowing mixes the underlying soil with the surface ash helping prepare for seed germination and plant growth. Insects and spiders quickly invade the desolate terrain, providing soil nutrients, and food for visiting birds from the nearby undisturbed forest. Seeds also blow in from the nearby forest and after many years and several decades the tree growth and brush has increased to support birds and large mammals. The new forest is developing but will not be a true copy of the old. Has the volcano ceased its activity? Gopher hasn’t. For Creative Minds is following material that allows parents and teachers to take the basic story in directions for students with a diversity of interests, including natural history, ecology (forest succession), and geology (Volcanoes in the USA?).
Frank M. Truesdale, emeritus, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA

Horn Book Guide - October 2012

This story about how the destructive effects of a volcano are mitigated over time follows a gopher, whose natural digging behavior helps with the recovery of the habitat. Though the detailed art is realistic, the animals appear concerned then fearful as they run from the eruption. Information about volcanoes and tectonic plates, a quiz, and a couple of experiments are appended.

School Library Journal - April 2012

Full of interesting facts, this picture book introduces youngsters to the eruption on Mount St. Helens. Through the point of view of a gopher that lives on the mountain, readers are told of the effects of the disaster on the habitat of living and nonliving things. The story describes how certain plants and animals survived the volcanic blast and how others were unable to find food or shelter after the explosion. It explains how nature rebuilds and recovers after years of devastation. Realistic drawings depict wildlife in all stages of survival. Full-page spreads and earthy hues will capture children’s attention and show the interconnectedness of nature. Back matter includes educational supplements and activities on natural disasters, habitat changes, pressure and melting, and tectonic plates.
Melissa Smith, Royal Oak Public Library, MI

Library Media Connection - August 2012

Meet a real lifesaver-gopher. A volcano erupts in the forest, killing many of the animals and all of the plants. Gopher is one of the few animals to survive. He helps with his tunnels by providing shelter to animals and nutrients to the soil. Eventually, the mountain is again teeming with life. This book would enhance the science curriculum: it touches on plants and animals in the U.S., habitats, and volcanoes. The back of the book contains educational activities such as an experiment and quiz. There are free online resources at the publisher’s website that coordinate directly with the book, and are available in Spanish and English. The illustrations are detailed and realistic; the text is large and bold so a young reader can easily read it. Children will like this title for the story, and teachers will find the factual aspects valuable to instruction. Patricia Walsh, Educational Reviewer, Norfolk, Virginia

Eclectic Homeschool Online - March 2012

I was in the area when Mount Saint Helens exploded on that pleasant morning in May. I've had a fascination for the mountain ever since. About a decade later, when our family drove to a viewpoint as close to the mountain as you could in those days, the blast area still looked like a moonscape, devoid of life, with scoured, burned earth and blown-down tall trees looking like scattered toothpicks on the distant slopes.

A few years later, you could see the signs of life returning, a green haze here, a bird flying overhead, a lizard; not too many years after there were saplings growing on what had been barren ground, and Spirit Lake was looking like a lake again, and not just a mat of blasted timber. Recently we took a nature hike through an area not far from the mountain that boasted a new forest, streams, even signs of beavers gnawing down trees and building dams and homes. It's amazing, to think how far the area has come in just a few decades.

Gopher to the Rescue: A Volcano Recovery Story tells what happened to the animals before and after the volcano erupted. Pictures are lifelike, though the animals are drawn with almost human expressions. The book deals with how life slowly returns to the devastated area, with a lot of help from small diggers like Gopher (who cultivates the ground with his digging), and birds dropping seeds in their waste as they fly over, until finally the landscape can support larger animals once more.

Literary Cafe, St. George, Utah - December 2012

Families and children whose lives have been affected by Hurricane Sandy will be inspired by this fictionalized story based on the surprising and profound observations of how life returns to an area that has been totally changed or destroyed.

Portland Book Review - June 2012

When a volcano erupts, how do the animal and plant life survive the devastation? How can a mountain ecosystem recover? In Terry Catasus Jennings’ Gopher to the Rescue!: A Volcano Recovery Story, the animals are shocked when a volcano explodes, destroying their natural habitat. Because of his natural instincts, Gopher survives by burrowing underground, storing food and keeping safe. But little does he know that when he burrows, he mixes the good earth in with the ash on the surface, giving the mountain a chance to support life again. It is a process that takes decades, and the book does an excellent job of describing the first few weeks post-eruption. Laurie O’Keefe’s illustrations scientifically depict the mountain’s return to life. Her inspirational drawings show how nature revives an ecosystem after a disaster. The recommended audience is children ages 4-9. But because of the scientific theme and a few pages that show the actual blast (scared animals running in the falling ash) and the aftermath (bodies of dead animals), this book is for older readers. In the “For Creative Minds” section, four pages of learning activities challenge independent readers and students in the classroom. Learn about how volcano formation, tectonic plates, how natural disasters change habitats and pressure and melting.

Learning Table - April 2012

Laurie O'Keefe's detailed illustrations bring Terry Jennings' story to life as the animals on the mountain scurry to find safety when the volcano erupts.  The story tackles the harsh reality of what happens in the immediate aftermath, but goes on to show how the area recovers and life returns over the years.  Some animals are able to find shelter, while others do not survive.  Though this may be disturbing for some readers, the realities are depicted in a straightforward way, with the focus on the little gopher who is able to hide under ground until it is safe to come out. 

This book is based on the true-life eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 and the scientific research that has been conducted there since.  Kids will be fascinated to see how the area has changed.  The "For Creative Minds" section of the book includes information on what volcanoes are and where they are located on the earth, natural disasters' effects on habitats, and a hands-on activity to experiment with pressure and melting.  Especially for boys or kinesthetic learners who like non-fiction, or for anyone who loves animals and nature, this book is sure to be a hit.

Literary Classics - May 2012

Gopher to the Rescue is an educational book full of interesting details about habitat revitalization in the aftermath of traumatic volcanic activity.  Scientists spent years studying life as it slowly returned to a liveable state following the affects of the volcano eruption at Mt. St. Helens in 1980.  This fictionalized story is based upon their research of the recovery of a volcanic region.

Gopher to the Rescue is a valuable teaching tool for children.  Readers may visit the publisher's website for further educational opportunities related to the topic of volcano recovery.  We recommend this book as a learning guide and as an aide in classroom settings.  Gopher to the rescue has earned the Literary Classics Seal of Approval.

Tif Talks Books - May 2012

Many years ago, I walked the mountain and discovered first-hand the destruction of the eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington State.  I saw the beginnings of life returning, but I never had the understanding of where or how the healing of the land began.  Gopher to the Rescue! has helped me to better understand the rebuilding process and has provided this adult mind a new perspective.  I have yet to share this treasure with my own children, but I look forward to doing it in the near future when my son begins this unit in school.

As usual with books published by Arbordale, readers can expand the story into real life with pages of additional activities as well as a multitude of resources available online.  Pair these with a trip to Mount St. Helens or other local volcanic site and you will have your children exploding with practical knowledge you can't get just anywhere!

Home School Book Review - March 2012

It is a picture book that is both fun to read and great as a launching pad for educational discussion.

The Reading Tub - May 2012

Gopher to the Rescue is nicely done with lots of good information. This would be an excellent way of getting a class interested in a science project or unit on nature. There is lots to share for different audiences. Although this is a fictional character, the science content is accurate and detailed. There is a lot of depth to this book - and activities in the back, too. You can discover / study: volcanoes, animals, natural disasters and their aftermath, as well as habitat restoration.

Books for Learning - April 2012

Gopher to the Rescue!  A Volcano Recovery Story is a good balance of engaging narrative and nonfiction information.  The text is straightforward enough that young readers will enjoy it, but dense enough to be a springboard for many science topics like environmental changes, volcanoes, habitats, landforms,, food chains, and so forth.  The illustrations (by Laurie O’Keefe) are rich and detailed, revealing not only the beauty of the woodlands but the desolation of the area after the eruption.  This book is a beautiful story of the resilience of nature and a testimony of hope in the midst of disaster.  I recommend it for ages 4-11.

Book Loons - May 2012

Based on the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980, Terry Jennings explains how the animals help life return to the mountain. Laurie O'Keefe's illustrations help show what happens before, during, and after the destruction.

Kids Book Review - April 2012

I liked when Gopher ran into Toad’s and Salamander’s burrows because it was funny. I learned that gopher holes can actually make the soil better. A person who likes animals would like this book. Teachers would also like this book. - Nathan Age 8

Heck of a Bunch - April 2012

A book that depicts animal life after a volcanic eruption, Gopher to the Rescue! tells how animals survived and how some were killed.  The book shows illustrations of several animal species. The Creative Minds section in the back of the book is informative and tells of volcanoes, natural disasters and habit changes, and a science experiment on pressure and melting.

Over a Steaming Cup of Tea

The slow recovery of a habiat after a volcanic eruption is a difficult subject for young children to grasp and one not often attempted in picture books. However, this author/illustrator team does an excellent job of bringing the topic down to where a child will be interested and able to understand. I appreciate the unique way in which this book shows the recovery of the mountain literally from the ground up. Children will be riveted by these beautifully crafted illustrations, and they will begin to grasp the order in which life returns to an area following a volcanic blast.

Reading to Know - February 2012

Gopher to the Rescue! A Volcano Recovery Story was Bookworm1's favorite because he's currently fascinated by volcanoes. When we finished the book I started to shut it, thinking that the back pages of additional scientific information (offered in each of these titles) about volcanoes would be over his head. He stopped me and asked me to read information about the earth's core and how volcanoes happen. "I want to learn about that!" he said. (You do not argue with your child when they say such things!)

In this book by Terry Catasus Jennings, we learn about how the gopher is useful in restoring the soil after a volcano and returning life to the mountain. I can't say that the illustrations in this book are my favorite (the gopher's smile on the front cover actually drives me a bit crazy) but this didn't seem to phase Bookworm1.

SWON-October 2012

"Detailed illustrations and large bold text show the impact of a volcanic eruption on the lives of animals and plants. This could be read aloud or used for research for younger students studying or interested in volcanoes and animals."