Where Things Come Back: Real-Life Lazarus Animals

One of the over-arching story lines in Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley is the notion that a once-extinct woodpecker has been spotted in the small Arkansas town where Cullen Witter lives. Throughout the book, Cullen is frustrated by the wave of “woodpecker mania” that sweeps his town and takes over the newspaper headlines — stealing the spotlight from the search for his missing brother.

In the book, the elusive bird is called the Lazarus Woodpecker, and while the Biblical implications of the name are deliberate in the story (there are various religious parallels drawn throughout the book) — there is such a thing as “Lazarus animals” in the real world. And in fact, there have been at least two cases involving woodpeckers!

So not only does Where Things Come Back offer plenty of literary fodder for the English classroom, there’s a great chance to use this book to open up discussions in the science classroom.

Here’s a closer look at what’s known as Lazarus taxon:

A “Lazarus taxon” is a group of organisms that appears from one or more periods of the fossil record, only to appear again later. It also refers to organisms that were widely considered extinct — and are then rediscovered to be alive. Examples of this include the ivory-billed woodpecker — which just so happens to bear a striking resemblance to the bird on the cover of Where Things Come Back.

The term “Lazarus taxon” comes from the Biblical story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (found in the Gospel of John). Exploring this story alone will also offer valuable insight into Where Things Come Back.

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