Gannon and Wyatt are twin brothers with a passion for exploration. Wyatt loves to learn about science and the natural world, while Gannon prefers to meet new people and learn about how they live. Their newest adventure has plenty to offer both of them, because they're going to the Okavango Delta in Botswana, home of the Bushmen as well as many different wild animals. When they arrive, though, they learn that a poacher has wounded a lion. Worse still, the lion is a mother, and her cubs won't survive without her. Gannon and Wyatt aren't just going to stand by when the lion needs their help, so they set off tracking her, hoping to rescue her from the poacher.
Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana by Patti Wheeler and Keith Hemstreet is a middle-grade adventure story featuring the eponymous twins, very loosely based on a trip taken by real-life teens Gannon and Wyatt Wheeler. An epistolary novel, the book is written as a series of entries in the boys' field notes, usually alternating between the two of them so we get pieces of the story told from each of their perspectives. Wyatt's entries often focus on the animals and environment, while Gannon is more interested in the people they meet and travel with. The entries are typically very short, so there's plenty of variety in the course of a few pages. There's a necessary lack of detail associated with journal entries, which keeps the book moving along pretty quickly; there's no time to get bored.
Though it is partly a strength of the novel, the epistolary format is also a weakness. The lack of detail may be unsatisfying for older readers, and the descriptions tend to put the action at some distance from the reader. Also, since Gannon and Wyatt are interested in recording events, we rarely get to see them interacting with one another. It often feels like the story is about their travelling companions, with Gannon and Wyatt standing in the background, taking turns documenting the journey.
For the adult reader, the book's didactic tone may be somewhat off-putting. For example:
"Some experts estimate there to be fewer than 40,000 lions left in the wild today," Chocs told us. "Their numbers have decreased significantly since the early 1990s, when it was believed the lion population was over 100,000."
In my experience, though, kids tend to enjoy reeling off factoids of that nature, and there are no shortage of them.
The book doesn't stand alone. On the series' official web page, you can find photos from Botswana, as well as a short video documentary about the real Gannon and Wyatt's trip. The documentary is well worth seeing, and anyone who enjoyed the book should also enjoy seeing the people and animals mentioned in the book on film.
For kids who enjoy wildlife or travel, Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana is an easy, fun read.
Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana was first published in 2010, with a second edition to be published by Greenleaf Book Group Press on May 28, 2013. It will be available in hardcover for $12.95. An edition of the book including the documentary on DVD is currently available from the series' official web page for $16.95.
Disclosure: this review is based on an advance copy received free for review.