cover image The Divide

The Divide

Michael Bedard. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32124-2

As in his Emily, Bedard celebrates another legendary female writer, Willa Cather, and focuses on the event she judged most influential upon her writing (according to Bedard)--her move west at age nine to the harsh plains of Nebraska. Children who have been uprooted may understand Willa's transition from sadness to appreciation of the gifts found in her new home. McCully (Mirette on the High Wire) mirrors her emotional growth in graceful, evocative watercolors: gloomy gray clouds about to burst into tears; a vast, monochromatic prairie that dwarfs Willa's weather-beaten house. But as Willa's eyes open to the land's beauty, the colorful nuances of the prairie emerge. Bedard writes with clarity and sensitivity befitting his subject, as in this metaphor for the hidden beauty of Willa's new life: ""Willa took the [sea] shells out of her trunk and turned them in her hand. They were so plain without, so pearled within."" However, some children may be disappointed not to discover more about Willa's everyday life or to see more of the interactions with neighbors that Bedard tells about rather than shows. The book's elaborate descriptions of the land and careful pace (it takes half the book just to make the journey to her new home), while interesting to Cather fans, may leave children wanting. They may be more intrigued by the magical attic with a peaked roof or the rose-patterned paper on its walls--details Bedard circumscribes to an afterword. Ages 5-8. (Oct.)