Prairie Days by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Micha Archer (9781442441910)
The master of prairie-based books offers this picture book glimpse of life on the prairie. It is a land of huge skies that change color at dawn. It smells of “cattle and bluegrass and hyssop” with wild roses too. There are small towns with fascinating names, filling stations with cold drinks, and farm horses to ride. There are all sorts of prairie birds and creatures. There are farm dogs to cuddle and admire, rides on grain carts heading to the mill. There are trips to town and in the summer, swimming in the pond. Games at dusk and into the dark until you are called in to bed. As the huge sky changes colors once again.
Newbery medalist MacLachlan’s text captures the beauty of growing up on a working farm in the prairie states. Through a series of small moments, she shows the incredible beauty of the land and sky. She also shows how these small moments string together to form a day, a summer, a life. It is a quiet picture book, with glimpses of wildlife and time spent on horseback or snoozing on a porch.
Archer’s illustrations are deep and beautiful. They are done in collage with acrylics and inks combined with handmade papers. They fill the pages with the textures of grasses, the epic sight of sunrise and sunset, the golds and greens of summer, and the deep blues of the sky.
So many of us will recognize our own childhoods here on the page, whether we grew up on the prairie or in another sort of farming community. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Plant a Pocket of Prairie by Phyllis Root, illustrated by Betsy Bowen
Prairies used to cover vast swaths of the United States, but are almost entirely gone now. In this nonfiction picture book, young readers are invited to create their own small prairies at home. Root offers ideas for what native prairie plants should be planted first and then ties each plant to a type of wildlife that will arrive along with the plants. Butterfly weed invites monarchs to your yard. Asters and rough blazing star bring even more butterflies. Toads, birds, mice, bumblebees, and more may appear in your little garden. And who knows, if lots of people plant a little prairie, eventually we may have prairies back across the nation.
Root has written this book in poetry that rhymes at times and others not. There are rhymes at the ends of lines, then internal rhymes within a line, and other times it is the rhythm and flow of the words themselves that create the structure. It has a strong organic feel to it, the names of the plants flowing into those of the animals they will bring to your yard. The book ends with information on all of the plants, animals and insects mentioned in the book as well as further information on the state of prairies in the United States and where you can go to see a prairie.
The illustrations by Bowen are light and free. They focus on the plants and animals, showing them clearly. Along the way, one bird moves from page to page, planting seeds that grow into the garden and building her own nest in the new habitat. There is a sense of the garden expanding and building as the book continues, yet that light feel continues throughout.
A song of the prairie, this book will inspire young gardeners to try native plants and is a great addition to curriculums in schools doing their own garden programs. Appropriate for ages 5-8.
Reviewed from digital galley received from University of Minnesota Press and NetGalley.
Prairie Chicken Little by Jackie Mims Hopkins, illustrated by Henry Cole
One day out on the grasslands, Mary McBlicken the prairie chicken heard a deep rumbling. She ran off to tell Cowboy Stan and Red Dog Dan that a stampede was coming! That is the set up for this prairie version of Chicken Little. The prairie chicken soon has a prairie dog, jack rabbit, and meadowlark running with her to report the oncoming stampede. Then they meet the coyote, Slim, who offers to show them a shortcut. The friends realize what is happening before they enter the coyote’s cave and attack, drawing the attention of Cowboy Stan and Red Dog Dan who come to their rescue. In the end, the source of the rumbling is not a stampede of course!
Hopkins has written this book to be read aloud. The entire book has a rhythm to it that works very well, quickly setting a playful but fast pace for the story. Readers will not need to have read Chicken Little to enjoy this new version, but children who know both versions will enjoy this one immensely too. Hopkins also uses rhyming names that take the place of rhyming lines. This is combined with nice rhyming repetition in some of the text, making this a treat to share aloud.
Cole’s illustrations are playful and filled with action. The animals are all cartoony and friendly, even the sly coyote is more sly than fearful. Thanks to his bright colors and large format, the illustrations will work well with a group of children.
Energetic and funny, this book is a good one to share with children learning about habitats as well as those looking for a good giggle. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.
May B. by Caroline Starr Rose
May has grown up living out on her family’s homestead on the Kansas prairie. When money gets tight, she is sent to become live-in help for other homesteaders, but just until Christmas. May finds herself in a small sod house fifteen miles away from her own. The young wife, who is almost May’s age, is unhappy on the prairie and runs away. The husband heads after her and neither return. May is left alone on the prairie where at first the days are lovely, sunny and warm and she enjoys the freedom. Then winter comes, and May is alone on the prairie with a dwindling food supply, just a little wood for heat, and only the prairie itself for company. This book written in verse is a look at the dangers, hardship and courage of homesteading.
Rose has written a book that pays homage to the Little House on the Prairie books and reads a lot like The Long Winter. At the same time, it also has a stark reality about it that makes it gripping. The format of a verse novel works particularly well here as most of the story is May’s reaction to her situation. What could have been lengthy treatises on loneliness instead are verses that speak to the harrowing nature of abandonment.
The book also deals with May’s dyslexia which makes her almost unable to read. She had one teacher, shown in flashbacks, who treated her with respect and worked with her. But after that, another teacher arrived who used shame to try to get May to learn to read. It is the story of an obviously bright and very resourceful girl with dyslexia. Her struggles to read strike a delicate balance in the book, showing an inner battle that plays against the external forces at work.
A taut, frightening novel of solitary confinement set in wide-open spaces, this book would work well with reluctant readers or as a classroom read. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.