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Travels With Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana by Patti Wheeler and Keith Hemstreet

Travels With Gannon and Wyatt is something different in the world of children’s books. At least, I’ve never seen a book or a series quite like it. Travels With Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana is the first book in a prospective series of fictional travel adventures featuring homeschooled twin brothers, Gannon and Wyatt Wheeler, sons of the co-author Patti Wheeler. The idea, as I understand it, is to take the adventures of real brothers, Gannon and Wyatt, and cast them into a story that will hold kids’ interest and at the same time teach them something about the world and its inhabitants, both animals and people. In this first book the brothers go to Botswana where they see and photograph all kinds of wildlife on safari and encounter the most dangerous animals of all, human poachers.

So how successful is this first book in the series? Well, great literature it’s not, but Ms. Wheeler and Mr. Hemstreet do tell an engrossing adventure story featuring a couple of intrepid young explorers. The story unfolds in the form of journal entries, alternating between Gannon’s voice and Wyatt’s. Each boy tells the story of their African adventure from his unique point of view: Gannon, the philosophical people person and Wyatt, the scientific fact gatherer. The boys have a LOT of adventures for one book: seeing all of the Big Five (lions, cafe buffalo, rhinos, leopards, and elephants) and also several more dangerous and fascinating animals, visiting a Bushmen village, rescuing a wounded lioness, and foiling poachers, among other events. Wyatt gets sick at one point in the story with an unknown African illness, and he almost dies. Gannon is charged by an aggressive lion, and then when they run out of food on safari, the boys get a taste of roasted black mamba.

By the way, mambas seem to be popular in kidlit this year. Trendspotter that I am, I’ve noticed the prominence of the nasty poisonous buggers in three of the books I’ve read so far for the Cybils Middle Grade Fiction: Mamba Point by Kurtis Scaletta, Belly Up by Sturart GIbbs, and now Travels With Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana. I also learned a lot about hippos from this book and from Belly Up!. Did you know that hippos are among the most dangerous animals in the African bush and that they have a penchant for overturning boats? Both books agreed on this fact, so it must be true.

I think boys in particular who have a yen for travel and adventure will get a kick out of these books. The first book comes with a DVD with video footage of the real Gannon and Wyatt on their trek through Botswana. And if kids are really into the whole travel/adventure/series thing, they can go the Travels With Gannon and Wyatt website where they can join the Youth Exploration Society, read the boys’ blog, or purchase Gannon and Wyatt merchandise. Future books in the series will feature Gannon and Wyatt in The Great Bear Rainforest, Egypt, and the Serengeti.

Other takes:
Carrie at 5 Minutes for Books: “I found Travels with Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana to be imaginative and engaging. It reads like a positive adventure story with lots of geographical facts thrown in so the reader is picking up information on the country or continent in focus.”

Roberta at Wrapped in Foil: “It becomes apparent the adventures in the book are fictionalized. The boys would have to be pretty unlucky to encounter all the things that befall them. Starting out with a close call with a mother white rhino that knocks their own mother out of the vehicle they are riding in, the boys run up against everything from frightening giant crocodiles to being held hostage by an angry poacher.”

Travels With Gannon and Wyatt: Botswana has been nominated for the 2010 Cybils Awards in the Middle Grade Fiction category.

If you could travel anywhere, where would you go first? Civilized or wild? Culture and history or wildlife and roughing it? You probably already know I’m in the first category. I’d head straight for London and Oxford and Stratford-on-the-Avon if I could. But I did enjoy reading about Gannon’s and Wyatt’s exploits in the African bush.

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