David Bouchard. Illustrated by Peter Shostak.
Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.
Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.
In Prairie Born, David Bouchard has given readers another paean to the prairies. Teaming up with artist Peter Shostak, the writer has created a series of rhyming quadruplets intended to evoke the essence of his beloved prairie. Shostak's beautifully detailed paintings are reminiscent of Kurelek in their nostalgic themes. Harvesting potatoes (without gloves!), courting "booters" in the spring, making snow angels under the Northern Lights and hauling wood with horses - all are scenes which evoke the memory of a more innocent time before the advent of television. Shostak is particularly gifted in his depiction of that "vast open bowl of the sky" so characteristic of the prairie landscape. Examining his paintings, with their attention to the play of light and shadow, readers can almost feel the sting of sub-zero air in their nostrils and the scorching heat of the mid-summer sun on their backs. Unfortunately, the poetic text of Prairie Born does not live up to the paintings. Awkward grammatical constructions, wrong words and uneven scanning make the poem difficult to read aloud. For example, this refrain is repeated five times throughout the book:
And the prairie continues to live in my heart
It's much more than memories that tell me apart
It's the wind and the sun, the cold and the snow
Only things that a child of the prairie will know.
Each time it appears, the reader is jarred by the author's use of the word "tell" - surely he means "set" - as well as the incorrect placement of the word "only" in the last line. Prairie Born has been referred to as a sequel to Bouchard's 1989 bestseller If You're Not From the Prairie. Certainly it repeats the message of the first book loudly and clearly, i.e. that only folks who are prairie born and bred can truly appreciate the harsh beauty of prairie land and climate. People battling elements of wind and sun and cold and snow in other geographic regions of Canada might be forgiven for muttering "Excuse me!" on closing Prairie Born.
Many teachers today are finding that the study of picture books is a wonderful way to spark student interest and impart information in all areas of the curriculum. As an example, Grade 5 students in some Winnipeg schools have begun their study of the prairie by reading a variety of picture books. Since Shostak's paintings are certain to inspire discussions on many aspects of prairie experience, school librarians would be justified in adding Prairie Born to their collection as a way of augmenting social studies resource material. If you have the first book, however, and are on a tight budget, you could easily give this one a miss.
Recommended with reservations.
Val Nielsen is a teacher librarian at Bairdmore School in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © 1997 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
The Manitoba Library Association
TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - NOVEMBER 28, 1997.
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