CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 21 . . . . June 20, 2003
In her introduction to Where the Meadowlark Sang, artist Hazel Litzgus writes: "Through my paintings, I've discovered that almost everyone has a farm in their memory-perhaps their childhood home, or a grandparent's or an uncle's farm that stays in their mind. We all seem to cherish that time when we were privileged to be close to the earth." Litzgus' cherished scenes of farm life are set in rural Alberta, between 1927 and 1939, where she spent the first twelve years of her life. She recalls that time in the first paragraph of her book. "Until I was twelve years old, I lived on a farm near Lloydminster, Alberta. The house was furnished with a few pieces of second-hand furniture-and with love."
Litzgus has followed the rhythm of the seasons by dividing her book into four parts: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Each season is made up of a number of small vignettes describing an event or scene that will be familiar to adults who have grown up on a farm before the advent of electricity. Spring scenes include new piglets, marble games and snaring gophers. Summer storms, the school picnic and baseball games are among treasured summer-time memories. Fall activities illustrated and described by the artist include taking up the garden, feeding the threshing crew, canning peaches and that old-time fundraiser, the Box Social. Winter highlights show children huddling around the pot-bellied stove at school, making snow taffy and setting off in the wagon to the Christmas Concert.
In her use of bright colours and carefully detailed drawings, Litzgus creates illustrations that are reminiscent of those of William Kurelek. Drawn from the artist's memories, each of her 64 small stories is written in a simple, narrative style, unadorned with excess description. The accompanying drawings and paintings are done in a folk art style, with attention to detail overriding more formal design qualities. Such a style lends itself admirably to this record of a country childhood.
Where the Meadowlark Sang is a loving, backward glance at a way of life which has altered greatly over the last 65 years. Litzug states that when her daughter was born, she wanted to make a record for her of the childhood that shaped her, "and to see that small simple plain farm and love as I did." Older readers will be able to visualize that long-gone way of life clearly and feel with the author a sense of regret for its disappearance; however, transmitting nostalgia to the young is a tricky business. It is not entirely clear for just what audience Where the Meadowlark Sang is intended. Older elementary student will not be likely to pick the book up for recreational reading, nor would it be a good choice for a read-aloud. A successful sharing of this book with a child will depend entirely on the experience and knowledge that the adult has to bring to the reading.
What will make this memoir a valuable classroom book, however, is a teacher's guide which the publisher has included with the review copy. The guide includes excellent suggestions for pre-reading and post reading activities, all of which are easily adaptable to different levels of knowledge and skill. The activities integrate the language arts skills with other curriculum areas such as art, drama, science and social studies. With the guide in hand, Where the Meadowlark Sang should prove an excellent resource for teachers who include a unit on the prairies in their social studies curriculum.
A retired teacher-librarian, Valerie Nielsen lives in Winnipeg, MB.