Into the Woods: John James Audubon Lives His Dream is structured fictionally as a letter from Audubon to his father. “Be a shopkeeper,” his father advises. Into the Woods represents the young man’s answer.

The book is written as a combination of poetry and prose. Each page has a rhymed couplet from the young naturalist’s letter to his father back in France, describing his passion for observing and documenting the natural world through art. After several attempts in business, Audubon decides to follow his dream of exploring and depicting nature.

Accompanying each couplet is an excerpt from Audubon’s actual writings, describing the episode referred to — drawing a hawk or a dove, noting the changes to the land, his travels and ambitions. The illustrations by Wendell Minor are a beautiful complement to the text, and some of Audubon’s drawings are interspersed as well. The book concludes with a brief biographical note about John James Audubon and his significance.

My daughters found this book very appealing, and today dawns with my youngest planning a drawing session in which we’re all supposed to sit together drawing birds.

I couldn’t help but compare this book with The Boy Who Drew Birds, a book more narrowly focused on a period of the young Audubon’s life. Sent from France to his father’s Pennsylvania farm to escape being drawn into Napolean’s army, the 18-year-old boy wanders the countryside observing and wondering about nature. He even ties silver thread around the legs of some of the birds on his farm to see if they will return the following spring.

Both tales are good introductions to the life of a naturalist and artist who has made great contributions to the fields of ornithology and nature study in general. The combination of artistic enterprise and interest in the outdoors, highlighted beautifully in both of these books, is sure to appeal to any child through ages 11-12.

Though these two are the only books on Audubon that we’ve read so far, if the girls show interest in further reading there are others to choose from: