In 1948 World War II veteran Earl Shaffer decided to “walk the war out of his system” and became the first person to report hiking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail in one, continuous journey. This children’s book tells the story of Earl’s remarkable journey of five million steps across fourteen states for over two thousand miles. “So, on a blustery April morning in 1948, Earl stood on a Georgia mountain peak, beside a weather-beaten sign, with a pack on his back and only the birds in the trees for company.” One hundred and twenty-four days later he stood atop Maine’s Mt. Katahdin in triumph. In 1965, he hiked the AT from north to south and became the first person to report a thru-hike of the AT in both directions.
Andrea Shapiro finds happiness on mountain trails near her home in Maryland and throughout the Mid-Atlantic. Growing up in New York, she hiked some of the first-established portions of the Appalachian Trail with her family and also with the Girl Scouts. As an adult, she has been a long-time supporter of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Andrea writes nonfiction picture books and middle grade historical fiction as well as co-writing musical theater with her husband.
Originally from Colorado, Rebecca Harnish has spent a considerable amount of time traveling and living in different places throughout the country. In recent years, hiking has taken on an important role in seeing more and more beautiful places. She has through-hiked both the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail. She lives in Asheville, NC.
“They say you’re never too old to be immature. At least that’s what they say to me. That’s not the reason I was interested in reviewing a children’s book, though. It was due to having a toddler granddaughter.
As a granddad, I’ve read my share of children’s books. Most I’ve seen have been about talking trucks or interspecies farm animal families, so I was very interested to see one that is both backpacking oriented and tied to an actual, real-life event. Two Thousand Miles to Happy by Andrea Shapiro tells the story of Earl Shaffer and his, first-ever, thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.
As many readers of this site probably know, Shaffer served in the army in the Pacific during World War 2. To deal with what today might have been diagnosed as PTSD, he decided in 1948 to “walk off the war.” In doing so, Shaffer became the first person to report thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in its entirety. Yes, this is fairly serious stuff for a children’s book, but it is handled well.
While plots in some children’s books can be weak to non-existent, the plot here is straightforward and historically accurate. Shaffer spent much time in the outdoors growing up and even had plans to hike the AT. Those plans were interrupted by World War 2 but, “when he returned home, tired and sad, the Appalachian Trail called once more. Maybe those mountains could make him happy again.”
The hike itself is described as an adventure, but certainly not all rainbows and butterflies. There are storms, steep slopes, and knee-bruising rocks, but always, “Earl walked on.”
The AT’s route is illustrated, and the story mentions most of the 14 states traversed. In Tennessee, “he wandered past evergreens to the wind’s soft song.” Earl dealt with rain and mud in Connecticut, where, with 500 miles to go, “his pants were soaked from boot to thigh.”
The story and the hike continue all the way to Katahdin where (Spoiler Alert!) Earl completes his journey during which he found peace, felt free, and “Earl was happy!”
As with many children’s books, the illustrations are a big part of the experience, and the work of Rebecca Harnish does not disappoint. Most illustrations cover a two-page spread. They are colorful with a pleasant watercolor look, help tell the story, and often have small, interesting details to notice as the book is read and reread.
At the end of the story, Shapiro adds informational pages on both Shaffer and the AT. These would be handy for older kids, and adults, whose interest is piqued by the tale.
Two Thousand Miles to Happy is a great illustrated children’s book written at a level interesting for both children and adults. More so than many children’s books, it includes a realistic life lesson. The book illustrates, at least for Earl Shaffer, how tackling a big challenge and having perseverance can lead to happiness.
Of course, that conclusion is from an adult’s point of view. My test subject, two-year-old Lily, seemed to enjoy it as well. Animals on nearly every page were an obvious hit and she stayed interested throughout. In fact, once we were finished, she reopened the book herself to revisit several of the pictures; something she doesn’t typically do. I suspect she’ll be pulling Two Thousand Miles to Happy out repeatedly over the next couple of years.”—Jim Rahz, The Trek
"Two Thousand Miles to Happy is a great illustrated children’s book written at a level interesting for both children and adults. More so than many children’s books, it includes a realistic life lesson. The book illustrates, at least for Earl Shaffer, how tackling a big challenge and having perseverance can lead to happiness."