by Michael Bedard

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When Willa Cather was a girl, her family moved west to the open prairie of Nebraska, leaving behind a world Willa loved dearly. Gone were the wooded hills and the meadows marbled with sheep. In their place was a flat, empty land, as bare as a strip of sheet iron. Willa felt she had come to the end of things; she felt the land did not want them.

But then spring


When Willa Cather was a girl, her family moved west to the open prairie of Nebraska, leaving behind a world Willa loved dearly. Gone were the wooded hills and the meadows marbled with sheep. In their place was a flat, empty land, as bare as a strip of sheet iron. Willa felt she had come to the end of things; she felt the land did not want them.

But then spring came, and the silent land stirred to life. Summer followed, long and hot, and Willa roamed free over the open fields on her pony. Slowly she began to explore the hidden delights of this strange new countryside, and to make friends with her fellow settlers on the Divide. By the time autumn came, with its splendid sunlit colors, Willa understood that what she had thought was an ending was really a new beginning.

Michael Bedard and Emily Arnold McCully evoke the spirit of the American West in this lyrical story with delicate, richly hued illustrations. They celebrate, as Willa Cather did in her novels, the wild beauty of the vast prairie she came to love and the sturdy spirit of the pioneers who made it their home.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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 wallsdetails Bedard circumscribes to an afterword. Ages 5-8. (Oct.)
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 2-7Bedard dips into the life of Willa Cather, extracting an incident from her childhood that intrigues on several levels. At once, this is the story of a girl uprooted from her well-loved (Virginia) home and transported to a far-different (Nebraska) landscape, a tale of hardships faced by early settlers, and an evocation of the beauty of the prairie. Although Willa initially resents leaving her home and her dog (a heart-tugging scene depicts Old Vic straining at her chain as the Cather family's wagon retreats down the road), she eventually becomes enamored with the "strong and still and free" land. Unfortunately, even in the appended afterword, Bedard never identifies the Divide (a broad strip of prairie between the Little Blue and Republican Rivers in south central Nebraska), doesn't explain the reference to Old Vic's wearing leather shoes (Mr. Cather made them to soothe Willa's concern about the dog walking on rocky terrain), or tell how it happened that a ready-made house was available upon the family's arrival (relatives already lived there). What does come through is the sustenance the land gave Cather and, later, the inspiration it provided for her writing. With broad strokes and a sweep of colors that match the passing seasons, McCully deftly secures on paper the expansiveness of the prairie. Her one close-up of the young Willa captures the rounded face and determined-looking eyes found in Edward Steichen's later photographs of the famous novelist. For older students, a good link to Ann T. Keene's Willa Cather (Messner, 1994) and to Cather's O Pioneers! and My Antonia; for younger children, a look at a staunch protagonist with a great spirit for living.Barbara Elleman, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Kirkus Reviews
A picture book about what Willa Cather may have experienced as a child when her family moved west.

Winter on the plains, on the Divide in Nebraska, was a mean season: "There were no farms, no hills, no trees, only the flat, silent land beneath the vast, unbroken sky. She felt they had come to the end of things." But then came spring, "like a shy child bringing gifts of flowers to the door," and Willa melts. As Bedard (Painted Devil, 1994, etc.) tells it, Cather delighted in the china sky, the fresh-plowed earth, and the few scattered neighbors: Swedes and Danes, Bohemians and Norwegians. "Their speech was slow, their words were spare." The child comes to love the place: Spring slips into a hot, sunflowered summer, which gives way to a copper-colored autumn, the land "strong and still and free," and brought to life in McCully's watercolors, which can be pensive, expansive, or joy-filled, as required. The metaphors are overtaxed (Willa marvels over the shells she brought with her from the East, "so plain without, so pearled within"—just like her neighbors, just like the Divide), but a sense emerges of what it is like to be young and scared in a new landscape. The afterword makes reference to Cather's writings, but does not list specific sources for Bedard's text.

Product Details

DIANE Publishing Company
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Meet the Author

Born and raised in Toronto, author Michael Bedard didn’t spend his youth dreaming of being an author: he was too busy enjoying being a child, exploring the lush ravines and wild haunts of the city. His easy affinity with the thoughts of children and his appetite for exploration are evident in the subjects he chooses to write on. may of his books combine his love of literature with history, introducing to young children the elusive poetess Emily Dickinson, the cool but imaginative Brontë siblings and the strong-willed author Willa Cather as a child.

He is the winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award (1990) and the Canadian Library Association Book of the Year Award for Children (1991), both for his novel, Redwork.

The Clay Ladies tells the story of a young girl’s encounter with two well-known Toronto sculptors of the 1940s and 50s, Frances Loring and Florence Wyle. The book won the Municipal Chapter of Toronto IODE Book Award and the 200 Tiny Torgi Award, and was a finalist for the Mr. Christie’s Book Award.

Stained Glass follows the story of Charles Endicott and what he discovers about himself and his past as he follows a homeless girl through the streets of his hometown on a warm summer day.

Emily Arnold McCully is the author and illustrator of more than twenty books for young readers, including Starring Mirette and Bellini, The Ballot Box Battle, the Bobbin Girl, and Mirette on the highwire, which won the Caldecott Medal. She has also illustrated more than a hundred books by other authors. She lives in New York City and Chatham, New York.

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