I Spy with My Little Eye Minnesota. V is for Viking: A Minnesota Alphabet. The Voyageur’s Paddle. The Legend of the Loon. The Legend of the Lady’s Slipper. If you can’t find enough picture books to fill your child’s shelves with the hoariest lore of our great Gopher State, it is not Kathy-jo Wargin’s fault. For pete’s sake, she’s even given us The Edmund Fitzgerald: The Song of the Bell.
If the tale of a mass drowning seems like an unusally bracing choice for your kindergartener’s bedtime story, well, life ain’t easy here in the northland—just ask the 60 grubby miners who appear in Wargin’s counting book North Star Numbers, or the S.O.L. Dakota girl who stars in The Legend of Minnesota. The girl’s grateful tribemates name a state after the balsam poplar (mah-nu-sa-tia) she heals them with in a nifty trick learned from the Ojibwa boyfriend they force her to dump, but small comfort that must be as she sits growing “old and small, withering deep into the earth itself.” That’s right, Morning Fawn, swallow those feelings—it’s the Mahnusatia way.
|the legend of minnesota (2006) by kathy-jo wargin, illustrated by david geister. north star numbers (2007) by kathy-jo wargin, illustrated by laurie caple. both published by sleeping bear press. each book $17.95. wargin will be appearing on november 30 at 2 p.m. at the red balloon bookshop, 891 grand ave., st. paul. for information, see redballoonbookshop.com.|
The 60 aforementioned miners share space with other enumberable local icons including “3 doctors Mayo,” “7 friends of the prairie” (hint: think fertilizer), and “90 lush trees” in North Star Numbers, which proceeds by single digits up through 12 when, anticipating its readers’ antsiness, it jumps to 20 (boats bobbing) and then climbs through multiples of ten until it hits 100 (herring gulls). For the kids, each number is introduced with a rhyming couplet in oft-tortured syntax (“7 big flour sacks set in the train. We milled the most of such flour from grain.”); to relieve their boredom while the kids try to count, say, 50 glasses of milk squeezed by a little flaxen-locked farmgirl from her prize heifer, the grown-ups are provided with historical disquisitions. (“Carl Wickman, a Swedish miner laid off from the mine, used his Hupmobile to transport miners from Hibbing to Alice…today, Hibbing is recognized as the birthplace of the bus industry in the United States.”)
Reading Wargin’s wares to your kids is probably a less painful way to teach them where they live than the readily available alternatives—dropping them into a snowbank, stopping the minivan to read historical markers, replacing Baby Beluga with The Replacements Stink—but if you decide to forgo these books for something that doesn’t trumpet the virtues of Minnesota on every page, Wargin will probably understand. When she wrote these books, she was living in Michigan.