A year in the life of a two-year-old beaver is the story frame in the nonfiction picture book What Goes On Inside a Beaver Pond? by Becky Cushing Gop, illustrated by Carrie Shryock (Storey Publishing, September 2023). She leaves her childhood lodge in the Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary along the Yokun River (a real place in Massachusetts) to begin her adult life in her own pond downriver. Each spread in the picture book highlights essential facts or possible challenges a young beaver would face. Occasional sidebars on the edge or bottom of the spreads give additional facts about other creatures that live in the beaver habitat, making the book a helpful educational narrative for learning about this unique wetland habitat.
Box panels show the details of a challenge the beaver faces, with text narration to clarify how she survives. For example, on one two-page spread, the main text in a black bar says that the beavers must prepare for the next winter, and the general background shows beavers swimming in the pond. Overlaid on top of the background are box panels that show detailed illustrations and narration showing the steps as the beavers begin by digging and tunneling in the bank of the pond to build a lodge.
Although the majority of the picture book focuses on a beaver’s body, abilities, habits, diet, and specific needs, the entire beaver pond habitat is highlighted. In both the explanatory narrations and in the helpful sidebars, we learn about other animals that live in the habitat, including predatory mammals, friendly mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and even some macroinvertebrates (bugs!) that are all an important part of the ecosystem.
Most importantly, in my opinion, we see the influence of humans on the beaver’s environment, with illustrations showing how human pollution and building have impacted the pond animals, specifically once the river has left the sanctuary. I learned from the sidebars explaining good and bad culverts for rivers to tunnel under roads, and the illustration of the beaver walking across the street (because she couldn’t travel through the narrow culvert) made me feel a bit uncomfortable as I thought of all the road kill I’ve seen in my own area! What types of culverts does the creek by my house provide for the animals?
The broad range of information in What Goes On Inside a Beaver Pond? makes it a highly valuable information book, not just for people interested in beavers but also for anyone interested in the wetland habitat. Realistic illustrations emphasize the nonfiction aspect of the book, and the unique layouts on the pages — including the general background, detailed comic-like box illustrations, and sidebars — make it engaging.
The author’s note at the end emphasizes our need to ask questions and be curious of the world around us. Her book both answers some of our questions and leaves the door open to our asking more as we see how so many aspects of nature are connected.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance review copy of this book provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.