CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 6. . . . November 15, 2002
Out on the prairie, in the
warm spring sun,
If, as you read the excerpt, you had a feeling of familiarity, that's because Taylor's text is an adaptation of Olive A. Wadsworth's nineteenth century poem, "Over in the Meadow."
in the meadow, in the sand in the sun,
While Taylor has maintained the original poem's rhythm and rhyme scheme, she has substituted animals found in one or more of Canada's three prairie provinces. In ascending counting order from one to ten, the book's contents include the actions of antelopes, badgers, red-tailed hawks, chorus frogs, bank swallows, meadowlarks, gophers, prairie chickens, deer mice and coyotes. On the book's concluding page, Taylor supplies the music for those who would elect to "sing" the book to instrumental accompaniment. The final page also provides further, but very brief, information about the animals mentioned in the main text. The additional detail speaks to such matters as the animal's diet, physical characteristics, dwelling places or habits. In the cases of the gopher and prairie chicken, Taylor explains that, while these terms are used popularly, the two animals "correct" names are the Richardson ground squirrel and the sharp-tailed grouse. However, despite Taylor's accuracy regarding names, her need for a rhyme for "six" causes her to have her meadowlark raise her young "in a nest made of sticks" when, in fact, the Western Meadowlark, according to the National Audubon Society's Field Guide to North American Birds: builds a nest consisting of a "domed cup of grass and weed stems."
The book's subtitle identifies the work as a counting book, but Out on the Prairie is not a book for a child who is just learning her/his numbers. Instead, the complexity found within Stephens' acrylic and gouache illustrations suggests that Out on the Prairie would be more appropriate for those children who have mastered the concept of the numbers from 1-10 and who are now ready to test out their number skills in more challenging situations. Each double page spread contains one verse of the poem and an illustration containing the appropriate number of "baby" animals plus their "mother." Children, therefore, need to understand that it is the juvenile creatures that are to be counted and not all of the animals of that type in the picture. In most of the illustrations, the young creatures are clearly differentiated and so are easily counted. However, in at least a pair of cases, young counters will need to scrutinize the illustrations quite carefully. For the number seven, many children will likely include the mother gopher in their count as the seventh young gopher is standing quite apart and at a distance from the rest of the litter. With number nine, only the head of the ninth deer mouse can be seen. In eight of the 10 spreads, Stephens included prairie wild flowers, and it is unfortunate that the volume's concluding page did not identify what they were. Perhaps it was just this reviewer's imagination, but it appeared that Stephens also frequently included other items in an illustration which paralleled a spread's target number. For instance, four water drops adorn the lily pads above the "tadpoles four"; seven bird silhouettes and seven trees share the seven gophers' pages; nine flowers can be seen on the nine deer mouse pages; and 10 stars are in the sky above the 10 coyote pups. While the realistically rendered illustrations amplify the text, Stephens' portrayal of rolling hills does contradict Taylor's text in one instance:
on the prairie, on the hills so even,
Despite these little glitches, Out on the Prairie is a most worthy addition to the "concept" collections of school and public libraries that serve preschoolers and early years students.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and young adult literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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