A mix of titles currently on my shelves.

Monday, July 4, 2016

An Almost-True Alaskan Adventure

A recent picture book by Erin McKittrick and illustrator Valise Higman, My Coyote Nose and Ptarmigan Toes, melds nature and imagination in a child’s-eye view of a family’s outdoor adventures.

McKittrick, who has authored three books for adults, was inspired to write her first picture book while on a family expedition. Her son coped with the rigors of an unexpected blizzard in an unusual way: he pretended to be a wild, wooly mammoth, impervious to snow and cold. The result is an “almost-true Alaskan adventure” in verse about the joys and challenges of wilderness backpacking, boating, and camping. The young narrator imagines himself as numerous wild animals — the coyote and ptarmigan of the title, as well as a beaver, sparrow, bear, mountain goat, and others — each suitable for adapting to a specific challenge on the family’s journey.

Published by Little Bigfoot/Sasquatch Books, 2016

Higman fills black, cut-paper silhouettes with colored paper and paint to create bright, bold illustrations with texture, depth, and definition. The pictures give a feeling reminiscent of both stained glass and block prints. Each two-page spread throughout the book creates a scene of the family interacting with nature, rich with accurate natural details as well as whimsey, as the boy “becomes” a new creature.

Rhythm and rhyme generally flow smoothly, although inconsistencies in the pattern of the verse and number of lines sometimes contribute to confusion as the transition from reality to imagination is occurring. That said, My Coyote Nose and Ptarmigan Toes is a welcome addition to the relatively small number of books that celebrate children and their families interacting with wilderness in ways that are both realistic and imaginative.

As attractive and imaginative as it is informational, the book will be enjoyed by children and families, as well as useful in educational settings. It’s an exuberant reminder how powerful pretend can be and how nature fosters creativity.

For more information about Erin McKittrick, her books, and her family's outdoor adventures, visit her website.