Review: The Hundred-Year Barn by Patricia MacLachlan

The Hundred-Year Barn by Patricia MacLachlan

The Hundred-Year Barn by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Kenard Pak (9780062687739)

One summer, the townspeople got together and raised a large barn. The narrator was a little boy at the time and he watched them create the foundation, build framing for the windows, and nail the shingles. In the process, his father’s wedding ring was lost and no one was able to find it. The family worked to finish the inside of the barn with spaces for each of the animals. They ended by summer by painting the barn red. The boy grew up, went away to school and came back to help with the farm. He got married in the barn, there were generations of sleepovers, and kittens were born there. Storms came, and the barn weathered them all. Then one day, the owl left its nest and inside was his father’s wedding ring!

In this picture book MacLachlan pays homage to the huge undertaking of raising a barn on the prairie. The neighbors who worked to make it possible, the continued work even after the structure was up and the dedication it took to work the land. Her writing is filled with details and delights from the fox watching the barn go up to the kittens and chickens around to the moment of seeing an opossum looking for shelter.

The art by Pak takes the isolation and flatness of the prairie and exaggerates them, leaving the huge red barn to dominate the landscape. The deep red of the barn, its stateliness and the way it stands to protect a family and a farm is beautifully depicted in the images that are quite haunting.

A barn that lasts 100 years is something quite special and so is this picture book. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Creekfinding by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Creekfinding by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Creekfinding: A True Story by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Claudia McGehee (9780816698028)

This picture book tells the true story of a lost creek that used to cross a prairie meadow. Then a farmer bulldozed dirt into the creek to create more farm land. Years later, another man purchased the field and heard from a neighbor about the creek that used to be there. He decided to try to find that creek. So he dug a creek bottom after consulting historic photographs of the land. He hoped that the water would return and it did. But a creek is more than running water and now it was up to him to bring more rocks, more plants and eventually trout in his newly rediscovered creek.

This book focuses on a compelling topic. That the land we live and farm on once used to be very different from the way it is now and that we can work to return it to its more natural state. The picture book has wonder at its center, the amazing notion that water once buried will return to a dry creek bed. It also focuses on the hard work that it took and the incredible problem solving that went into rebuilding the creek from literally the bottom up. Slowly it become reality with lots of work and patience.

The illustrations by McGehee are based directly on her visit to the land the book is about. Done on scratchboard, the illustrations have a wonderful weight to them, capturing the deep greens of the prairie, the richness of the biodiversity, and the transformation of the land.

A fascinating topic that is just right for environmental units or Earth Day, this picture book is a celebration of nature and man working together. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from library copy.



Elsie’s Bird: Prairie Perfection

Elsie’s Bird by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Small

Elsie had lived in Boston all of her life.  She loved its curving streets, the horses hooves clopping on the roads, and she loved the birds that sing.  She even sang their songs back to them.  But after her mother died, her father decided to head west to Nebraska.  The two of them took a train out west, accompanied by Elsie’s new canary named Timmy Tune.  When they reached Nebraska with its wide open prairie and silence, Elsie was overwhelmed by the vastness around her.  She stayed in their sod house, only Timmy Tune bringing a smile to her face.  Then one day when her father was gone, she accidentally left Timmy Tune’s cage door open and he escaped outside.  Now Elsie had to decide whether to stay safe indoors or entre the overwhelming prairie to save her friend.

Yolen’s verse here is exceptional.  She captures Elsie’s feelings honestly, managing even in the format of a picture book to show Elsie’s perspective rather than tell it.  When Elsie discovers the beauty of the prairie for herself, the words descriptions of the noises she hears are crystalline and wondrous.  Yolen’s use of the lack of sound to impart the way that Elsie is overwhelmed is very well done.  Readers themselves will hear the sudden clamor of sounds as she realizes that the prairie is far from empty. 

Small’s watercolor illustrations are filled with movement, whether it is a moving train or blowing blades of grass.  He captures the wind, the vastness of the prairie and the mood in each illustration.  As Elsie enters the prairie, the images of the tall blades of grass that threaten her safe return are dark, tangled and mysterious.  Then when she realizes the beauty of the prairie, the sky opens wide and bright and the grass is bedecked in blooms.  His illustrations are truly married to the story, managing to capture in pictures what Yolen has written with sounds.

Highly recommended, this is a book that has great historical interest and a superb story line.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

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