Tundra was the first book that I wrote and illustrated that was published, after sending manuscripts to publishers for about thirteen
years. It received some wonderful reviews-
Starred *review......"non-fiction at its finest", School Library Journal, September,
Outstanding Science Trade Book of 1986, Children's Book Council
The origins of this book, although I did not know it at the time, began when I lived in Alaska during 6th and 7th grades. We did not
live on the mainland, but on Shemya, a small, remote island near the end of the Aleutian Chain. My step-Dad, George Murphy was a mechanic
with Northwest Airlines. Shemya was a refueling stop on the way to Japan from Alaska. This was before commercial jet planes, which
can now fly very long distances without refueling. We stayed there for nearly two years, which enabled my folks to save money so they
could buy a house when we returned to the "lower 48".
Shemya was all tundra, meaning there were no trees on the island, only thick
grasses and small plants. One of the things I remember most about living on the tundra is the great openness of the land. From a small
rise you can see forever, all the way to Attu. At least you can see that far when the weather is good, which is seldom in the Aleutians,
known for wind and storms.
The idea of writing the book actually came to me many years later while visiting Rocky Mountain National
Park in Colorado. There, walking on the alpine tundra at 12,000 feet, well above the tree-line, I saw some of the same plants I recalled
from Alaska. And the views across the Rockies were nearly endless.
The next summer, after the Colorado inspiration, I took a three
week canoe trip in the Barren Lands west of Hudson Bay. This is a very cold region of Canada, and the tundra extends well south of
the Arctic Circle. Alex Hall, a wonderfully experienced guide, lead our group of ten canoes northward down the rivers and across the
lakes of this magnificent land. On the trip we saw caribou, moose, wolves, musk oxen, and many other birds and animals. At times we
were plagued by mosquitoes and black flies, which is why I am wearing a head-net and gloves while sketching fish we caught in the
Traveling on the tundra is not easy, but I was fascinated by the small, hardy plants and the enormous scope of the land
To supplement my first-hand knowledge, I spent many hours before and after the trip, reading everything I could about this
land of the north. The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. was very helpful in providing information about the tundra in Siberia and
the people that live and work there.
These experiences rekindled my interest in the Arctic regions. In the years since Tundra, I have traveled quite a bit in Canada and
Alaska. Once on a gravel road in Labrador, a construction worker asked me what I was doing in such an out-of-the-way place. I told
him I was going to catch a boat to Nain, far up the coast, and explained a little about my fascination with this remote land. "Ah,"
he replied, "You are drawn north." That is true, and very well put.
Tundra is now out of print, but is available in libraries and on
line. I have written two other books about the far north land for young readers: The Big Caribou Herd, based on my travels in the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, and Ookpik- the Journey of a Snowy Owl.