Friday, November 8, 2013

Nora's Chicks by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Kathryn Brown

This is a little longer than I'd usually like for a picture book, but it's so good that I'll overlook that and use it with kindergarteners.

Nora is miserable when she and her parents and toddler brother immigrate from Russia to America. There are no trees on the prairie, no hills and worst of all, no friends. She briefly meets a girl from the neighboring farm, but they're both shy and she doesn't feel like a friend. As they slowly make the prairie their home, each member of her family finds where they fit and meets a friend, from dogs to cows. But not Nora. Then her father gives her a flock of chicks and ducks and suddenly Nora isn't alone any longer. Gradually, she makes the prairie her home as well and finds friends with the help of her beloved chicks.

What I like about this, and why it's different than most of the historical picture books I turn my nose up at, is that it's relatable. There's no mention of how Nora is probably suffering from culture shock, how different America is from Russia. Rather, the story focuses on how hard it is for her to move to a new place where she doesn't know anyone and where things are different than what she's used to. Kids can empathize with having to move to a new place and even those kids who haven't moved will understand the longing for a friend and something that belongs just to them.

Kathryn Brown's illustrations are soft and colorful. Her watercolors deftly include the motifs of Nora's Russian heritage, but the simple clothes and landscapes have a familiar feeling and the soft focal points of animals in many of the pictures will catch children's eyes.

Verdict: If, like me, you only buy a few picture books for older listeners I would definitely make this one of them, especially if you live in the Midwest. Pair this with Elsie's Bird by Jane Yolen for a storytime about pioneers (or birds).

ISBN: 9780763647537; Published 2013 by Candlewick; Borrowed from another library in my consortium; Added to the library's tentative order list

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