I recently discovered the 2004 picture book On This Spot: An Expedition Back Through Time, written by Susan E. Goodman and illustrated by Lee Christiansen. (I did not discover it in an actual time capsule, though it would be ironic to include it in one.)
That cover is like a scene out of Night at the Museum: The True Story.
On This Spot is one of the few picture books I’ve bought impulsively based solely on the concept, without first investigating the quality of the execution.
The micro-gamble paid off.
In focusing on the landscape of a single spot over millions of years (if not pages), the book a quiet but standout approach to nonfiction. There’s not much reaction to it online, most likely because of its publication date. (The mid-2000s seem just on the cusp of when everything began to get over-covered online, due mainly to blogs.) But it’s a captivating book.
It starts in present-day New York City. The thought did cross my mind that the author could’ve depicted Bloomingdale’s or Barney’s in that spread, guaranteeing at least some glitzy special sales, but she obviously has integrity.
The next spread startlingly jumps back not a half-century as I would’ve guessed but nearly 200 years. The spreads after that—European colonization and indigenous population—are my favorites. Those two spreads show most dramatically how quickly an environment can change.
Then the flux capacitor really begins to spark as the book gobbles up thousands and eventually millions of years with each turn of the page.
It becomes somewhat abstract for me as I began to wonder how we know what the terrain looked like so far in the past. Animal and plant life re-creation I understand; we have fossils to go on. But the rest seems almost like wild fantasy. In that sense, at least in my mind, it is not quite nonfiction but rather speculative nonfiction.
In any case, it’s an essential book for any library and a fun way to blow the mind of your own elementary schooler.