Hello Magnifying Glass family! Many apologies for my long absence from this space; life got unbelievably busy for just a bit and it was hard enough just to make sure that we could find everyone a clean shirt in the morning, let alone give deep thought to children's literature!
But here I am again, popping in to share one of our very favorite pieces of children's literature with you all. Although it feels a bit like cheating, the review that follows is mostly stolen from a post I did on my own blog about this wonderful book last year. After some thought, I decided that there was no way I could deny you the pleasure of getting to know this amazing title just because there might be a bit of overlapping readership. It's just too good for that. So, here goes:
Today's On the Shelf title is a unique and beautiful book; Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World by Wendell Berry with illustrations by Davis Te Selle. Given to us a year ago or so by some very dear friends, Whitefoot was immediately loved by both Mariam and I (although for different reasons, I suspect), yet I have somehow overlooked it when writing these posts. This is probably because I have always kept it on the living room bookshelf, nestled among my own favorite books, rather than on the shelves in Mariam's own room where I often dig around for book review material. As some longtime readers of my blog might have noticed, I am a lover of all things Wendell Berry and would easily cite him as my favorite poet, as well as this poem of his as one of my absolute favorite pieces of writing ever. He is an amazing poet, writer and from what I can tell from the one time I saw him speak in person, an exceptional human being. So, it follows that his foray into writing for a younger audience would be just as beautiful and brilliant as everything else that he does...
Whitefoot is the story of a small mouse, set adrift on a log during a flood which follows a rainstorm in the little corner of the world that she calls home. Before the flood, Whitefoot had been nicely settled into the short life provided to her by nature. Her nest had been made, her routine of daily survival established, her world explored thoroughly enough to feel comfortable. The coming of the flood sets Whitefoot off on an adventure that she didn't really want, but that she will approach with the same unflappable acceptance that any wild animal would demonstrate in similar circumstances. This story is unique among children's books in that it approaches storytelling from the perspective of an animal, like so many stories do, but without assigning the animal human characteristics or personality. Whitefoot is a mouse, and she behaves like one. This fact makes this tale read almost more like narrative science than anything else, and this precision is something which I can see my daughter's inquisitive mind appreciates.
Like all of Berry's work, this tale reads like poetry, but Whitefoot also has just enough story to keep little listeners interested. Yes, the prose is lyrical and beautifully descriptive and includes probably more than one or two words that small ears might not yet know. But it also has a flowing quality to it and that paired with the simple and expressive illustrations seems to be enough to help young readers appreciate just what is happening. Nature is the main character in this tale and I believe that there is something about this that makes the story come alive for kids, even if they can't define each individual adjective. There is also an honesty to this book that is seldom reflected in other stories for children; the life an animal is perhaps short and not entirely easy or comfortable. But it is the life that they have, and each animal follows it's own set of instincts and lives that life accordingly.
I don't know how widely available this book is, and I suppose that some smaller city libraries may not have copies. That being said, it is certainly worth a search effort as it is a lovely book that can be enjoyed by children of many ages as well as by the adults who read to them. I also just discovered (added bonus) that the illustrator lives here in Burlington. Some people get excited about the possibility of running into famous actors or musicians. I, apparently, am much more interested in the idea that the person who illustrated the book written by my favorite poet lives in my city. To each her own, right?