As the young narrator, who is leaving her prairie home, describes the familiar surroundings, her sense of loss is palpable. When she muses about staying behind -- perhaps living in the cottonwood tree or in the attic -- her parents say she needs to come with them, to tell the baby about the place they are leaving behind. MacLachlan's poetic text is accented by Moser's dark wood engravings.
A superb writer presents the themes of leave-taking and memory that recur frequently in her novels, beautifully distilled into a picture hook. From Skylark (1994), MacLachlan expands one phrase (". . . she can't help remembering what she knew first") into a story about a family's wrenching departure from their prairie farm and a young girl's determination to remember every detail. The spare text and Moser's haunting engravings are poignantly nostalgic; adults reading this out loud will find the combination affecting, but it may be less meaningful to children, with their limited experience of change and more concrete ways of thinking. The circumstances compelling the family's move are never explained; drought isn't the reason, and the narrator's question, "Why are we leaving if everyone's so sad?" is likely to echo readers' thoughts. Black-and-white with the barest suggestion of tint and as still and posed as old photographs, the atmospheric illustrations may puzzle the young: A man is disappearing from the frame in the frontispiece; the heads of the adults are cut off by the cropping of a family grouping. With very little book-talking, younger readers will take away from this as much as older ones; no one will fail to appreciate the gentle flow of words and understated sentiments.
K-Gr 3--A child comes to terms with the fact that she and her family are leaving the prairie. She recalls the people and places she will miss--the blacksmith, the ocean of grass, the drifting snow in winter. As she talks herself into acceptance, her Mama helps her let go, commenting that the baby will need someone to tell him where he came from. So the girl gathers mementos--a bag of earth and a piece of cottonwood tree. There's no happy ending, no real anticipation of the new place--just a sense that the strength of family will carry them through. A novel hides in these few pages. As with Sarah, Plain and Tall (HarperCollins, 1985), the subtext vibrates. So much is told in each perfectly chosen phrase. The story is deep and specific, but the pain and denial of a child leaving a known and loved place is all too universal. Moser's finely wrought engravings, enhanced by moody tints, record the departure. The child is caught defiantly off center at first and later in the midst of the packing up. The people and places to be missed are given a solid reality. There is nothing sentimental in either text or illustration. These are strong people dealing with necessity. While this may not be the sort of light, charming book that has immediate group appeal, someone will find it. And for that someone, it will be just right.--Sally Margolis, formerly at Deerfield Public Library, IL