2006 Winner: Middle Grades Science Book

The Prairie Builders: Reconstructing America's Lost Grasslands, by Sneed B. Collard, III. Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

This book's title, The Prairie Builders: Reconstructing America's Lost Grasslands, applies only to a relatively small plot of land and not to the vast tallgrass prairies that once covered most of the Midwest. Regardless of this small discrepancy, the project that is discussed is unique by virtue of the fact that a tallgrass prairie was reconstructed on former cornfields. Equally impressive is the fact that the project developed primarily through the efforts of a single individual and the foresightedness of a local congressman who obtained funding for the establishment of the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge.

Undeterred by the immense obstacles involved in this project, its director had the experience and perseverance necessary to see the project to fruition and a sustainable future. The greatest obstacle confronting the director was obtaining tallgrass prairie seeds to plant that were free of noxious exotic seeds. This feat was accomplished by hiring "seed seekers" who were trained to find seeds of desirable species. Then a legion of volunteers assisted in sorting out the seeds and planting them in the prepared soil. The first two years produced no plants, but in the third year prairie plants sprouted in thick, green carpets in all of the planted sites.

In order to maintain the tallgrass prairie, controlled burns were employed to create the blackened soil surface that warms quickly and spurs plant growth in the spring. An added touch of realism was the introduction of free-ranging buffalo, which then went on to graze in an open area, simulating natural conditions. The site also proved attractive to upland plovers, bobolinks, and a myriad of other birds during their migration.

Read a special review of this book written by Karishma, a student at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri.

About the Author

Sneed B. Collard III has written more than fifty books for young people, including the popular picture books Animal Dads, Leaving Home, and Animals Asleep, as well as in-depth science books such as Monteverde: Science and Scientists in a Costa Rican Cloud Forest. His books The Forest in the Clouds and Beaks! were both named Teacher's Choice Books by the International Reading Association, and many of his other books have received similar recognition. Before beginning his writing career, Sneed graduated with honors in biology from the University of California at Berkeley. To research and photograph The Prairie Builders, he spent two weeks in Iowa, interviewing scientists and accompanying them into the field. Sneed lives in Missoula, Montana, where he enjoys identifying butterflies in his own butterfly garden.