Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

A Restoration

For those of us living in the state of Michigan we are familiar with the power found in the things for which we have no control.  Many, if not most, of our inland lakes and the five Great Lakes were formed during the last glacial period.  Also as a part of the solar system our planet is subject to the effects of the sun and the forces of nature each and every day.

For any number of reasons changes to our landscapes happen, too, due to human interference.  Creekfinding: A True Story (University of Minnesota Press, March 7, 2017) written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with illustrations by Claudia McGehee follows the efforts of one man to unearth a cherished treasure.  Nature is resilient if we honor our stewardship.

An excavator is a machine
that chomps dirt.
Excavators dig holes for basements,
trenches for water pipes, paths for roads.

Sometimes excavators help find lost creeks.
How do they do that?

The word lost is generally not applied to a creek.  A creek is there or it isn't but man has powerful tools at his disposal.  With them he can take away what nature has formed.  A creek is more than water running down a path.  It's an entire small world composed of a variety of flora and fauna.

The creek in question did not get up and leave, it was covered over with dirt so a farmer could plant fields of corn.  The spring which fed the creek was buried under layers and layers of soil.  Years went by and the land was sold to a man named Mike.  Mike had a dream of turning the land into a natural prairie.

To Mike's surprise when he was working on his property one day, another man came by to say he had caught a brook trout in the exact spot where they were standing.  Now Mike had a new dream.  He was going to locate that creek regardless of what others said.  One person did not feel Mike was following a task doomed to failure.  He was given an old picture; a picture of the creek.  This was all Mike needed.

Friends with big machines came.  Friends with a willingness to plant came.  A spring bubbled back to life and brought other life with it.  Brook Creek was born.

As you read through the conversational paragraphs penned by Jacqueline Briggs Martin you feel the same marvel she must have felt doing the research for the writing of this book.  In her author's note she states:

I have always been drawn to stories of finding and fixing, stories of patching what has been broken.

Jacqueline Briggs Martin begins by connecting us to the creek.  We feel the loss when it and the plants, birds, insects, and frogs disappear under the dirt from the farmer's bulldozer.  This sadness makes the knowledge of Mike's chance meeting and new dream even better.  Page by page she builds on this excitement.  As the months and years pass she uses specific examples to build our hope for the revived creek, Brook Creek.  In addition to the main narrative, we are privy to further facts about a creek, the plant life around a creek and the animal inhabitants.  This text is italicized and written in a smaller font.  Here are some passages.

Mike and his friends tucked cordgrass
and other green shoots into the creekbanks.
Three summers grasses grew.
When the creek bed needed more rocks
Mike had a problem.

Heavy trucks crossing
to the creek would press
deep ruts into the ground,
kill new prairie plants.
How could he get more
rocks to the creek?

Small rocks protect the soil under the streambed and are home to many tiny plants and creatures.

When you open the matching dust jacket and book case, you have to wonder at the intricate detail achieved using the scratchboard and watercolor artistic technique.  All the elements on the front and the back are telling their own story.  The first picture is issuing an invitation as it promotes questions.  To the left on the back, a close-up of a red-winged blackbird brings us directly to the creek.  Can you hear the birdsong?  Can you feel the soft prairie breeze against your skin or see it blow through the grass?  Can you hear the hum of insects?

The opening and closing endpapers are a gorgeous display of the creek edge; flowers, grasses, and cattails in motion.  The first is as night closes and the sky begins to lighten.  The second is filled with the orange shades of a setting sun.  On the inside of the opening and closing first pages is a diagonal pattern in gray and white of swimming trout.

With each page turn readers are treated to either a single page picture or marvelous two page vistas or a series of explanatory smaller visuals.  They flow flawlessly to supply a soothing but expectant pace.  Claudia McGehee alters her perspectives, sometimes within the same image.

One of my many favorite illustrations spans two pages.  It is a full moon night in winter.  Claudia uses a pleasing blend of white, black, gray, purple, spots of brown and yellow to fashion a breathtaking expanse of the creek winding through the prairie.  The creek and the land near it are in the foreground.  Above this is a line of trees and shrubs.  A night sky with a few stars fills the top of the picture.  On the right the moon shines down.  On the left an owl glides over the snow-covered grasses.

Although published more than one year ago this title is new to me and new to my local public library.  I am very thankful to have found Creekfinding: A True Story written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin with illustrations by Claudia McGehee on their shelves.  It is a story sure to inspire readers to never lose sight of their dreams.  It is a story reminding us to care for our planet.  I highly recommend this title for your personal and professional collections.  Included with the author's note is an illustrator's note and more about Mike.

To learn more about author Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrator Claudia McGehee, please visit their respective websites by following the links attached to their names.  Both Jacqueline and Claudia have blogs.  Claudia maintains an account on Instagram.  This title is the recipient of the 2018 Green Book Award, Picture Book category.  It is also one of several books honored with a John Burroughs Association 2018 Riverby AwardYou might enjoy listening to Creekfinding: A True Story About a Creek that was Lost, Found, and Restored on Iowa Public Radio.  Both the author and illustrator are interviewed.  Bookology has an interview of Jacqueline Briggs Martin about this title.  Enjoy the video showcasing the artistic process of Claudia McGehee.

Scratching a magpie from Claudia McGehee on Vimeo.

Please take a few moments to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to view the titles selected this week by others participating in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. I adored this book, both quite informative but simply gorgeous. I'm glad you and your library finally have it! Your review gave me a chance to "almost" read it again! Thanks!

    1. I adore it too, Linda. I'm glad we will have it too. Thank you for your kind words.