Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. Carol Shields Republic of Love

“A compelling up close perspective”: Loon

Nearly two weeks ago, author Susan Vande Griek and illustrator Karen Reczuch took home the $10,000 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction for Loon.

Groundwood - House of Anansi, 2011

This post’s title comes from the jury’s description of the book, and the cover alone, with its rich, tapestry-like image, declares that this bird is about to get some well-deserved up-close attention.

You can actually see the canvas, the texture of the baby loon’s feathers seeming to reach beyond the page.

But the story itself begins with eggs, on the front endpapers, and charts the life cycle of the loon, the final endpapers placing it in the wider ecosystem with twelve other creatures (no two-legged ones).

The story is, as such, not only the perfect guide to understanding loons, but also to understanding seasonality (which triggers migration among other changes) and different kinds of Canadian landscapes.

(Karen Reczuch has illustrated another book which also traces the life cycle of a single creature: Salmon Creekwritten by Annette Lebox.)

Susan Vande Griek’s poem varies as the birds change and grow. When they are chicks, for instance, the phrases are short, as though mirroring the tentative motions of the young creatures, approaching the world in fits and starts.

“Two small matching loon chicks,
in darkest downy gray,
poke and peck
and pester the net
for just one day.

Mama and Papa
have both sat
waiting,
waiting,
incubating,
listening to the lap, lap
of the lake’s lullaby,
while watching for thieving weasels, gulls, raccoons and crows.”

For the young chicks do face predators. These are included in the images, showcasing the subtly of the artist’s style in the shadows beneath the water, depicting the loon’s submerged forms and the shapes of predators with precise and clear lines.

As striking as the images of the creatures themselves, however, are the details in the illustrations, particularly the variations in light patterns (from full sun with bright blues and greens to the dark edges of day with mauves and pinks).

By the time the loons have grown to the point where they can travel and join with others of their kind, the poetic lines are longer and more complex and the season and landscape has also changed.

The back of the book contains two full-length pages of information about the five types of loons, including the common loon. For instance, they are water birds, meaning that “they live and feed totally on the water” except when nesting, and they may live from three to thirty years of age, though the species may have lived for millions of years. The facts are clear, accessible to readers of a wide range of ages.

Crucial for its species’ continued survival, however, is the involvement of more citizens in the loons’ protection.

This could take the form of increased awareness about the causes and impact of global warming (which affects the birds via changes in habitats and an increased number of storms), acid rain, toxins in the environment, and oil spills.

Or, various interventions are discussed (from choosing to build fewer properties near lakeshores to providing nesting platforms), and advice is dispensed (for instance, keep your distance from nests and worried parents). Suggestions for further reading are also provided.

Or, it could take the form of introducing books like Loon into the lives of young people you know.

Project Notes: 
Day 18 of 45: Spending time with a book like this reminds me of just how amazing picture books are: for readers of all ages. (This isn’t the first time I’ve been reminded of this recently, even before beginning this project: here, here, and here.) The other day, when I was returning some library books, one of the books on display in the children’s section caught my eye, and I thought I’d just leaf through to look at the art, but then leafed back to the beginning, put down my bags and stood and read the story just a few feet from the door. Now I wish I’d gone back to the counter and borrowed it, so I could have spent more time staring at the artwork.

What’s the last book you read that reminded you that you want to read more of “that”?

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6 comments to “A compelling up close perspective”: Loon

  • the artwork and the prose sound deftly turned in this one, and I can imagine that I would love to stare at this one, even just for a little while. I recently picked up a historical fiction book, that had me saying, man, I really need to read more of this stuff.

    Sorry I’ve been away. There was a death in the family, and I had to fly out of town for the week. I’ve missed your on point reviews!

    • I’m sorry to hear that, Zibilee: thanks for letting me know, and I hope you and your family are doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances.

      Yes, the illustrations are just the sort that you could meditate on for a bit, let your blood pressure ease. Historical fiction always makes me feel that way, but I never listen to the edicts I issue about it!

  • Perhaps if we have always had these marvelous birds in our lives, we can take them a bit for granted. But “taking for granted” is a dangerous state of mind. Loons, and all other wildlife, play into such delicate cycles, and the more we know about them, the better equipped we are to get involved in their protection.

  • Sandra

    Inspirational review: thanks. Especially pleased to learn of the informative material at the back of the book. Has all the attributes of a perfect gift including a very appealing cover.

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