Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Book Review: North Country Spring

North Country Spring by Reeve Lindbergh, illustrated by Liz Sivertson is one of my favorite spring time picture books.
The text is lyrical, rhythmic verse in the vocative, calling each kind of animal to come out for spring. My favorite stanza, and a good example of the singing voice of this poem, reads,
Strut out, tall moose, from your stand of spruce.
Walk around, feel the ground, let your bones get loose.
Have you seen a moose? Have you seen a gangly young bull after a long winter? She really uses the cadence of her verse to describe the specific gait of each animal. Compare the above lines with the following:
Lope out, wild wolves, come out and prowl.
It's a fine shiny night for a yip and a howl.
This combined with the painting of wolves, under a large moon, with long shadows on the yet-snowy ground, gives such an impression of the pace and gait of a pack of wolves. I love the way the sounds of the words used to describe the wolves are so wolfish themselves. A wolf wouldn't be a wolf without both doggy yips and detours in his path; and that wild, sustained lunar chorus.
The pictures fall right in line with this.; lush, pastiche-y and expressive paintings. They show just enough detail to paint a personality--the tumlbey-ness of bear cubs, the cupped form of fluffed up chickadees on a branch. These images are every bit as lyrical as the text.
I would like to emphasize that picture books are not only for children. Long before mine came along, I haunted the children's section of the bookstore. As an adult, a reader, and an artist I built my fine picture library book by book out of admiration for the fine work coming out of this genre. There is a lot of twaddle in kids' books, but discarding that, the best of writing and illustrating for children is of the highest quality. I wonder if this may not be because children read for the sheer joy of it, so those who write and illustrate best for them have not the pretensions that drag down much adult literature. Paul and I often still use children's non-fiction as a starting point for research, when we need an overview of a new topic. I often read young adult novels and children's stories for my own pleasure reading.
At the sustainable neighborhoods conference, I attended a most excellent workshop on community gardening with youth and one important point I absorbed was that our children need a sense of place. This articulates for me why we keep reading books that sing of our seasons, our plants, our woods and waters and animals, here in Minnesota. Ruth, a founder of my beloved Swede Hollow Cafe's wonderful community children's garden talked about how we must teach our children to read the land here, to know it's story and understand its ways. She said she has found in her work with Twin Cities children that they may know something about the rainforest, but almost never know anything about our own mighty Mississippi.
We're reading it as a clarion call to spring--come, come, wherever you are! Come out from the corners, come out of your lair!

1 comment:

paul said...

I can attest to Libby's pre-kid love of children's literature. When we were getting to know each other, I once couldn't find her in the Eau Claire public library because I didn't try looking in the kid's section. There she was, surrounded by piles of kids books!