Michael Bedard. Illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully.
Grades 1 - 6 / Ages 6 - 11.
Grades 1 - 6 / Ages 6 - 11.
In the last few years, there have been several memorable picture books published celebrating the unique beauty of the prairies. Jo Bannatyne Cugnet's A Prairie Alphabet (1995) and David Bouchard's If You're Not From the Prairie (1994) are just two outstanding examples of what could be on the way to becoming a genre all of its own. Michael Bedard's new picture book, The Divide, lovingly and lavishly illustrated by award-winning artist Emily Arnold McCully, falls neatly into such a genre. It is the story of nine-year-old Willa Cather who, in 1883, moves with her family from the wooded hills of her beloved Vermont home to the barren and inhospitable flat lands of Nebraska. At first, Willa is repelled by her new environment. She sits on her bed surrounded by the treasures she has brought from her old home... "A music box, a scrapbook of cloth, a few books and seashells - memories. She would not put them out; she could not stay. No one could live in such a place." Slowly, however, with the arrival of spring, the landscape comes to life. During the long, hot summer that follows, Willa begins to explore her surroundings on the back of her pony. She discovers a pond where ducks come, a solitary elm beneath which she sits to watch a hawk turn circles in a sky "... as bright as blue enamel." She meets her neighbours, settlers who are "...scattered like wildflowers in the low places on the land." and who love this strange harsh country. She begins to see the land with their eyes. "It seemed beautiful to her now, strong and still and free." Bedard's poetic language stimulates the inner eye of our imagination while McCully's delicate and richly-hued illustrations provide our outer eyes with a complementary visual feast. The Divide is a truly beautiful and soul-satisfying marriage of prose and pictures.
The connection between Willa Cather, as a writer, and her years on the Nebraska prairie is made clear by way of an "Afterword" in which the author tells readers that Cather's most famous novels were about the first settlers on the Divide; their courage, strength and devotion to the land. In The Divide, as in his previous picture book about Emily Dickinson, entitled Emily, Michael Bedard has given us a wonderful opportunity to interest young people in a great literary figure. Parents and teachers should find The Divide's lyrical text and poignant paintings a joy to share with children.
Valerie Nielsen is teacher-librarian at Bairdmore Elementary 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.
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TABLE OF CONTENTS FOR THIS ISSUE - October 31, 1997.
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