CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 17. . . .January 6, 2012
Winterberries and Apple Blossoms: Reflections and Flavors of a Mennonite Year.
Nan Forler. Paintings by Peter Etril Snyder.
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2011.
40 pp., hardcover, $24.99.
Mennonite cooking-Juvenile literature.
Grades 1-6 / Ages 6-11.
Review by Betty Klassen.
And then it starts again,
the clatter and chatter of women, the laughter, the talk –
Lucinda scolding me to keep my stitches even,
while hungry needles scoop up fabric
in tiny, equal bites.
That night, I crawl into bed beneath another quilt –
from another winter, other chatter –
wondering what stories this quilt has heard,
and who will be warmed by the one we're making.
I press my cold feet against my sister's legs;
she grumbles and rolls away.
back to back, heavy with dreaming,
I tuck my toes beneath her legs,
and run my fingers over rows of stitches,
counting them to sleep.
This appealingly illustrated picture book invites readers to spend a year with Naomi, a young, Old Order Mennonite girl. Each monthly poem captures an event of Naomi's day to give readers glimpses into her life, a life that is both different and the same in many ways as any young girl might experience. January, as seen in the excerpt above, relays Naomi's first time quilting with the women in her community.
The poems are detailed enough to tell a story, and each facing page effectively illustrates the event. In February, readers see Naomi and her mother shopping in the General Store. Naomi is holding a bolt of lilac flowered material while her mother has pulled out a bolt of plain navy blue, saying, "This should do for you now, Naomi, for church-going."
March has Naomi stopping by the sugar bush on her way home from school to taste the sap. April's poem relates the back-breaking job of clearing stones from a field, while integrating a number of biblical references to stones. In May, Naomi grabs the chance to ride her brother's bicycle, but her dress gets caught in the chain, ending the fun with bloody knees. A long hot morning in June changes to fun and excitement as they all make ice-cream together. Other monthly poems invite readers to experience highlights of a typical year of Naomi's life.
Both the writer, Nan Forler, and the artist, Peter Etril Snyder, live in Waterloo, ON, and, therefore, they have occasions to see the lifestyle of Old Order Mennonites in their community. Together, they capture the simple lifestyle in poetry and pictures while also relating the excitement of a young girl being included with the grownups, getting a special smile from the hired boy, hitting a home run, and driving the horse and buggy alone for the first time. The events in Naomi's life are reflected in many ways in the life of any child growing up and gaining responsibilities, while also looking for ways to have fun and occasionally ignoring the voice that is calling you to do your chores.
Snyder is an internationally recognized artist who has been painting Mennonite life since 1969. The emphasis in each picture is clearly placed on Naomi and reflects her as the main character of the book. The acrylic on masonite medium lends itself well to the picturesque landscapes and the background details in every picture, but the brush strokes used to create the faces on some of the people could be more subtle, since picture books are not viewed from across a room.
The book ends with a recipe section featuring monthly recipes, additional illustrations and a coding for difficulty. One bonnet represents an easy recipe that could be made independently, while a three bonnet recipe should be made together with an adult. The recipes include clearly numbered steps and many ingredients that would be harvested locally such as berries, maple syrup, and pumpkins.
A brief introduction provides the reader with some information about Naomi's Old Order Mennonite community to assist in understanding the significance of the poems. Readers who are currently living in the country, on farms or not, or who have childhood memories of living in the country will appreciate reading these poems and examining the pictures. Readers who have no experience of life in the country can learn about the joys and responsibilities such a life can offer.
Betty Klassen teaches in the Faculty of Education in the Middle Years Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.
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