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Stories from Where We Live-The Great Lakes: A Literary Field Guide Review by Wendy Walker

Edited by Sara St. Antoine
Milkweed Editions
1011 Washington Avenue South, Suite 300
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55415

What happy days our family has spent wading through delicate yellows and vivid purples, field guide in hand, ready to identify the myriad wildflower blooms. On other occasions we've gathered glistening "gems" from hillsides and used our guidebooks to differentiate mineral specimens. What then, I wondered, would a literary field guide offer? Having spent our entire lives on the United States west coast, my children and I knew little of the Great Lakes. Sure, we could, if pressed, name the lakes. And with a little prompting, we might even remember a few of the states and cities surrounding them. But if asked to describe the climate, the wildlife, the people, or the terrain, we'd have been at a loss--until now.

Designed for adults and children ages nine and up, The Great Lakes: A Literary Field Guide is one of six books in the Stories from Where We Live series. Far from a collection of scientific data about the Great Lakes ecoregion, the book is instead an anthology of literature written by authors who have lived in the region and experienced the land itself. The guide invites readers to explore the natural environment through poetry and prose: a day in the prairie rain, a view from the shores of the Milwaukee River, or a peek at the shimmering breasts of native birds in motion. Legends from the Ojibwe girl Neengay, stories of a summer working on an organic farm, and contributions by naturalists are just a sampling of the stories that round out this varied collection.

The book offers detailed appendixes, including maps and descriptions of the habitats, plants, and animals mentioned in the book. For those who live in the Lakes region or who are planning to visit the area, the book offers a listing of parks and preserves and an index of stories referenced by state or province. For an enhanced study, Milkweed Press offers on their website a free detailed teaching guide. Easily adapted for home school use, the guide includes related vocabulary, word mastery lists, comprehension questions, field trip ideas, and activity suggestions (including writing prompts).

Since most of the contributions are lovely, quality pieces, the anthology lends itself well to being read aloud. However, before you simply turn the book over to a child, I suggest that you read it closely. There are a few comments and attitudes that may reflect values contrary to your own, including an instance of flirtatiousness, an example of poor sibling relationships, and a conversation with reincarnation undertones. Second, while the book does an exceptional job of presenting the natural world and the history of a particular region, it fails to acknowledge the Creator of those lands. With that said, I wouldn't hesitate to use the book with parental oversight. The writing inspires delight in nature, and with proper guidance and perspective, children will be inspired to delight in the Creator Himself.

Our family may never make the long journey to the ecoregion described in this book. But thanks to Stories from Where We Live, the Great Lakes and the states, provinces, and cities around them are more than just marks on a two-dimensional map. They are communities full of life, color, and vibrant history.

Product review by Wendy Walker, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, October 2006