By Phoebe Vreeland, The Children’s Book Review
Published: November 17, 2010
by Laurel Croza (Author), Matt James (Illustrator)
Reading level: Ages 4-7
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Groundwood Books (February 23, 2010)
Author Laurel Croza knows what it is like to uproot and relocate as a child. She moved nine times by the time she was 14 years old. As children, we prefer the familiar, the known, that which can be predicted. Change is unsettling. How do we adapt, learn to embrace change and welcome the unknown? In her poignant and uplifting debut book I Know Here, Croza provides an insightful roadmap for children faced with this difficulty. With the support of gifted artist Matt Jones, she tells the story of a Canadian third grader living in the remote prairies of the Saskatchewan Province. Her father’s work on the dam will soon be completed and the family will move to an unknown location called Toronto which the child knows only as a red star placed on a map by her teacher.
While her older brother explodes with excitement at the news, the girl kicks her boots in the packed dirt, clings to the known and then promptly narrates a love poem to her home. Croza’s beautifully written text depicts a young child immersed in her senses. The feeling of the fallen pine needles “soft like a quilt under my feet,” the sound of the wolves howling in that forest at night, the smell of a fox’s damp fur are all imprinted on the child. “Here” is deeply known.
The camp where her family has been stationed is tiny and remote. She can count the trailers and her classmates on her two hands. “Here” has the predictability of event and familiarity of face on which children depend. She has discovered the best tobogganing hill and uncovered the squishy spot near the beaver dam where one can catch frogs. She has even looked down on her home from a five-seater airplane. She knows “Here” through and through.
Soon a curiosity of the unknown springs up and the girl asks her teacher, “Have people in Toronto seen what I’ve seen?” Her world may be small and her memories few, but they are intensely felt and precious. They are the world to her.
Croza’s text is varied—spare on some pages and then generously effusive on the next like a child spilling out her important feelings and thoughts. Launched by a thoughtful suggestion from her teacher, the girl has an epiphany. We see the child smiling broadly, framed by a bright blue sky. Full of conviction and optimism she says, “I know what I will do.” Perhaps she has sensed that her ability to experience deeply—to know—is not what keeps her bound to this home but that which will enable her to know and love each new home. Perhaps she is learning that the ability to know is the thing to be cherished, as it enables us to love each new home.
Matt James vibrant acrylic and ink illustrations give the environment the rich support necessary for this story. His pride of trailers—each unique and stately—shout “home.” The blustery weather of the Canadian prairie can be seen in the play of the child’s hair and the lean of the pine trees. There is plenty of motion, light and imagination. (Check out his frog.) His paintings achieve a childish quality while still remaining rich and weighty. The pages alternate nicely between full coverage for plot and torn vignettes reflecting snippets of memory. His handsome endpaper maps are effective.
Perhaps you remember as a child drawing maps of your “here,” your street, your neighborhood. Maps can be lifesavers—especially those “maps” in which we carry our precious memories. Maybe this is how we learn to move on. I Know Here may just become a survival guide for children in families on the move.
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