Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Children's Books that Think Big

Who could resist the charms of a “joyous, ample gal” who could churn butter from a river of milk or stir up a cyclone by shaking her floor rugs? Paul Bunyan sure couldn’t, according to Marybeth Lorbiecki’s charming folktale picturebook about a larger-than-life romance in Minnesota’s north woods, Paul Bunyan’s Sweetheart. Raised by bears, Lucette Diana Kensack grew and grew as environmentally aware as she was tall, leading toward a delightful twist on traditional renditions of Bunyan’s lumberjacking ways. The illustrations remind me of Garth William’s glowing covers of some versions of Little House on the Prairie and evoke a time of wide open spaces and even bigger dreams.

I like this book so much that I’m going to recommend it for Orion Magazine’s Bibliography of Nature Stories for Children. Orion, a leader in promoting environmental literacy around the nation, argues that stories more than fact-based texts or field guides engage children’s imaginations and inspire them to care about nature. While I disagree somewhat with that position—I think different kids respond to different types of books, and all kinds of good books can equally play valuable roles—I heartily agree that stories like Paul Bunyan’s Sweetheart can fulfill Orion's goal to “bring the world alive and establish nature as our home.” After all, if you can believe a giant blue ox’s footprints made the Great Lakes, the idea that people could learn to restore and protect a piney wilderness doesn’t seem farfetched anymore.

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