Claudia McGehee, McGehee, . . University of Iowa Press, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-87745-897-5

McGehee's debut picture book offers iconic portraits of flora and fauna indigenous to America's Midwestern prairies in the form of an alphabetic primer. The artist takes readers through the changing seasons with scratchboard illustrations tinted with watercolors; her rough-hewn pictures lend an appropriately folksy charm to the flowers and animals unique to the prairie. With entries such as the "dickcissel" (described in the endnotes as resembling a "miniature meadowlark") and the "regal fritillary" butterfly, the book seems less intended for beginning readers as for those who treasure this once abundant wilderness. However, the book's reverence for the ecosystem is undermined by inconsistent depictions of the prairie animals. While McGehee renders most of them realistically, other creatures are anthropomorphic (a sly-looking coyote and a grinning box turtle, for instance). Hikers, birdwatchers and other trailblazers who observe and explore in several scenes underscore the message about respecting and studying this habitat. The closing "Prairie Notes" gives brief information about each species featured. McGehee writes, "Much of this natural richness is gone forever, but remnants survive, and many people are working to preserve them and to construct new prairies." This book may help budding naturalists see the value of protecting the lands depicted in its pages. All ages. (May )