Book Review: Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Ireland
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Pages: 93 (NOOK version)
[Disclaimer: I was provided and ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and honest review of this book. I was not compensated in any way and I was not required to write a positive review of the book.]
Travels with Gannon & Wyatt: Ireland, is one book in a series of books featuring Gannon and Wyatt, two young men who have the good fortune of being able to travel around the world visiting new places and doing all sorts of adventurous things. The series of books are 'loosely based on real-life travels' of a real-life Gannon and Wyatt.
Their travels have taken them to many different places including Egypt, Botswana, Greenland, and the Rain Forest. The current iteration of these adventures takes place in a more low-key environment: Ireland.
The book is written in the form of a journal with the entries of the journal alternating between the two protagonists–Wyatt and Gannon. This is an interesting format because we end up getting two perspectives on nearly every event and we certainly get to experience different personalities in this way. I did wonder about a couple of features. First, I wondered about the style of journal entries and how so much could be remembered about, for example, conversations between people in the story. That's just my thing. Perhaps we are supposed to suspend disbelief or maybe some people really write journals in that format and have prodigious memories. Second, each journal entry includes a date, time, location, temperature, weather conditions, and specific GPS locations. This is fairly succinct information that, again, might be a style of this sort of journal keeping. Journals are usually written after the fact and with all the adventure going on in the story, I wonder how they had time to keep track of such information.
Maybe that's just how adventure journals of home schooled children are written. It does add a certain realness to the story which, however strange, made the reading a little more fun. It might also be fun for students reading these books in a classroom or otherwise to use the coordinates to look up specific locations using GPS or Google Earth. Again, it adds depth to the story and makes the reading an interactive experience which will help engage reluctant readers.
Another important feature of the book is the photographs that are scattered throughout. I enjoyed seeing pictures of real and historical aspects of Ireland (and much more besides). I especially liked the picture of the library at Trinity College. I think the pictures add significant depth to the story and help keep the reader in touch with the comings and goings of the two young men. They give the story a real feel which will certainly help young readers make a connection. In a word, they are engaging.
A lot of stories that are written for children today are just absurd because they are devoid of anything smacking of culture. Many of these works tend to be fairly narcissistic stories about how to overcome some personal defect or how to become 'truly oneself.' The characters are real and even if they have certain defects, they are what I call strong characters. I didn't find any of the narcissism that plagues a lot of children's stories in this story. I read about the history of Ireland, about famous people from Ireland, and about some of the more significant aspects of Ireland. I was encouraged to read about famous locations in Ireland and about some of the significant traditions that our Irish friends have given us. I was hopeful when names like Monet and Cezanne and Van Gogh made passing appearances. Space is made for Oscar Wilde and James Joyce. I was also happy to learn about "Three Studies of Lucian Freud" and conduct a little of my own research on this magnificent piece of art. And finally, the interspersing of Irish lingo throughout the book was fun (thankfully the authors provided a glossary of these terms for the lingu-ignorant among us.)
So as far as it goes, there is a lot to commend with this book, but if I am to be truthful in my review, I will quickly add that I didn't find the overall story very compelling. It seemed a little heavy on the 'preachy' side of things. The authors note at the end that '[F]armers must deal with issues of volume and efficiency. Not to mention make a profit. All legitimate concerns. So, what's the solution? We don't know. What we do know is that there are humane and healthy ways to go about it." I can appreciate this and if the book happens to provide a somewhat outrageous and convenient solution to these problems, I can at least confess that the story does raise a significant and legitimate concerns that humans from all countries need to address. Animals should be treated ethically and our environment should not be destroyed at the expense of farmers making a profit. Contrasting the corporate mega-farm with that of the smaller, local farm was a nice touch and maybe therein is part of the solution: local farms working with renewable and sustainable resources to provide for local families and communities. Maybe such wisdom can be shared and perpetuated around the world. Perhaps some readers would be interested in reading the work of Wendell Berry who provides a great deal of commentary on such matters.
In the meantime, having the conversation is important and perhaps young readers will sense the urgency of these issues and begin to think of solutions that us adults have yet to consider. At least the authors are candid enough to admit their own ignorance; I stand with them in ignorance. But there are thoughtful young people in the world who will help us overcome our ignorance. Perhaps books like this will serve as catalysts for growth and change as our individual and collective conscience is raised in awareness.
All in all this was a fun book to read. It was also a quick read and shouldn't pose any problems for its intended audience. This would be a good companion story to read along with a unit on Ireland and I can envision all sorts of side projects to go along with it in social studies–geography, history, conservation, environmental issues, language, local polity, and more. It would be exciting to watch a group of students take the main issue in the book and debate it and/or present solutions to solving it. Suspend disbelief and enjoy the story because even if there are a lot of strange, outrageous things that happen in the story, it is still worth the effort if it helps students do things like write their own daily journals, explore the world around them, or begin thinking about how we might solve some of the more problematic issues our world continues to encounter in the face of unrestricted greed.