cover image What You Know First

What You Know First

Patricia MacLachlan. HarperCollins, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-06-024413-2

Newbery Medalist MacLachlan's minimal, deeply resonant text centers on a girl whose parents have sold their farm on the prairie-clearly not by choice. As she anticipates all that she will miss and devises plots to avoid moving (""Or maybe/ I'll live in a tree./ The tall cottonwood that was small/ when Papa was small...""), the child pieces together the sights, sounds and tactile sensations of the only life she has ever known. Her parents' attempts to soften the blow don't appease the determined narrator: ""Mama says there's an ocean/ In the new place./ And Papa says there are trees./ I don't need trees,/ Only the one./ I don't need an ocean/ I've got an ocean of grass."" But there are words that do offer solace: ""What you know first stays with you, my Papa says./ But just in case I forget/ I will take a twig of the cottonwood tree/ I will take a little bag of prairie dirt/ I cannot take the sky."" Echoing the mournful tone of MacLachlan's poem are Moser's etchings, which place the story in the Depression. Finely detailed, each tinted subtly with a different color, the illustrations project austerity; they may be a bit severe for the average picture-book audience. The especially handsome book design weights every word with significance. Despite its somber tone, the first collaboration between this deservedly acclaimed duo touches the heart. All ages. (Sept.)