Last month the University of Minnesota Press reissued in hardcover format The Big Island: A Story of Isle Royale by Julian May, illustrated by John Schoenherr – who won the Caldecott in 1988 for Owl Moon, written by Jane Yolen. The picture book, originally published in 1968 by Follett Publishing Company, tells the story of Isle Royale, a 205-square mile island in Lake Superior that lies between Minnesota and Michigan, and is a major part of Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park wilderness area. May narrates the natural history of Isle Royale through the centuries, with an emphasis on the cyclical predator-prey relationship between the wolf and moose populations.

Like the press’s reissues of the classic Nordic-infused picture books by the D’Aulaires, the acquisition and reissue of The Big Island came about because of a chance discovery by editor Kristian Tvedten. While reading an academic paper titled “The Wolves of Fate: Media Coverage of the 2018 Isle Royale ‘Genetic Rescue,’ ” Tvedten came across the following passage:

“Perhaps nothing represents charismatic megafauna in the eyes of the public more strongly than their featured role in a children’s book, and by 1968 the wolves and moose of Isle Royale were main characters in a book called The Big Island. Author Julian May told the story of a hungry, large moose who sees the island across the water in the distance and swims for it. Others follow, and still more come across later on an ice bridge. Drama ensues when overpopulation buffets the animals, and even humans cannot save them. Along comes the heroes, a wolf pack that is trapped on an ice floe and conveniently drifts to the island. And, perhaps because it was a children’s book (or especially biologically accurate), the wolf pack feeds only on old, weak, and sick moose, balancing the population, so the ‘wolves and the moose and other animals all live together. They all have plenty to eat.’ Those that are not eaten, the reader presumes, live happily ever after.”

Tvedten recalled, “I had never heard of this book before and so I looked it up. “I had never heard of a children’s book—and certainly one from that era—about Isle Royale.”

He felt confident that there would be a readership for the book even more than 50 years after its release, he said, especially because of the interest by many people in the re-introduction of wolves to Isle Royale by the National Park Service, which began in 2018 after the number of wolves had dwindled to two; the re-introduction is meant to restore an ecological balance to the island.

“We were just enchanted by the illustrations; they’re gorgeous and lush, but at the same time minimalist,” Tvedten said. “But we also were taken with the simplicity of the story. It’s valuable to give children a rounded look at ecology and what balance is like in nature and how certain populations balance each other out. There’s been a lot of talk about wolf populations, and since 1968, the [wolf] population has fluctuated a lot.”

Tvedten also admitted that the backgrounds of both author and illustrator intrigued him, as May is best known for her science fiction and fantasy writings, such as the Saga of Pliocene Exile series and the Galactic Milieu series. While renowned as a children’s book illustrator, Schoenherr is just as famous for his illustrations of SFF books for adults—including the first edition of the classic science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert.

The University of Minnesota Press’s edition contains an update on the back page written by L. David Mech, a biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey and adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota, who is regarded as one of the world’s foremost authorities on wolves. He began studying the Isle Royale wolves in 1958.

While the press was not able to gain access to the original artwork, Tvedten procured a first-edition copy in excellent condition from an online retailer and the press was able to reproduce the artwork from that book.

It might seem that the reissue of The Big Island by the University of Minnesota Press was somehow fated to be. Tvedten noted that when he asked Mech to read the book and provide a brief note regarding the current status of wolves and moose on Isle Royale, the 84-year-old biologist disclosed that May had contacted him back in the 1960s while he was studying wolves in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest early in his career. She had asked him to read the manuscript for accuracy.

“It was a long time since the first edition, and I hardly remembered that I’d read it,” he said, noting that he has read and reviewed many publications since then. “Once I got at it, I realized I’d seen this book many, many years earlier. I had finished the [first] Isle Royale study, but I was still working with wolves, in northern Minnesota instead of Isle Royale. It’s a very good book, and I was happy to write an update.”

“I really love the book,” Tvedten said. “The University of Minnesota Press has a longstanding tradition in terms of children’s publishing of doing books that are focused on natural history. This was a nice project, because it’s a reprint and a great story of nature, an excellent way to bring an ecological story to young readers. And even though it’s in Michigan, we would love to claim Isle Royale for Minnesota.”