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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Nora's Chicks, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Kathryn Brown. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2013. $18.00 ages 3 and up

"The prairie farm was not beautiful to Nora. There were no trees like the Russian trees, only one cottonwood by the river. There were no hills like the Russian hills. Nora cried. "Don't cry, Nora," said her father. "We'll plant trees." "You can't plant a hill!" said Nora, crying harder."

Patricia MacLachlan sure can tell tender and heartwarming stories, whether in a picture book or a short novel. This illustrated book is a page taken from her family's history, and tells the story of Nora and her family who emigrate from Russia to America's prairie land. For Nora, it is a lonely and isolated life.

She finds little to like about this new place and tries desperately to find something to keep her company. Her mother is busy caring for the family, her father has his cattle and horses to keep him busy during the long days, her brother Milo is too small to offer conversation and somehow makes friends with a stray dog that Nora had her heart set on loving.

She is lonely. She knows about the house nearby:

"It was far, but near enough to call whoever lived there a neighbor. One day a woman came from the house to visit. She brought a pie for Nora's family. And she brought her daughter, Susannah."

Both girls are shy, and have little to say to each other. They don't visit often. No, Nora needs something of her own. When her father brings home chicks and geese to be fed and fattened for the dinner table, Nora finally finds her calling. After some convincing, her father agrees that they can be hers.  She names each one; and those chicks follow her everywhere she goes. She is content with their company, but remains lonely.

When they even follow her to church one day, she arrives home to find she has lost one. It is  Susannah to the rescue. She returns the lost chick to Nora's delight. It is the beginning of a new and much needed friendship for both.

This is a beautifully told story, with not one word more than is needed to tell it. Kathryn Brown's watercolor illustrations are just as beautiful, and certainly add to the appeal. The rural setting and the historical time period give young readers context for the loneliness that is such a part of Nora's new life. I love the delicate details and the warm feelings evoked by the soft pastel palette.

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