Frances and Gloria and I have been traveling for the past three weeks across the United States to visit family. Since we moved to Montana, Frances has spent a lot of time observing what is going on around her, and equating it with what she has known previously. “In Phoenix, there was a Chuck E. Cheese, but in Montana we don’t have one.” “Remember in Phoenix we went to swim school? Why don’t we go to swim school here?” As we then began to travel across the United States, she has done the same thing – “Is there an airport in Helena?” “Can we get this kind of fruit snacks at home?” Life changes as children move from community to community, and while they adapt to new things (“We didn’t have snow in Phoenix”), they spend a lot of time comparing their new lives with the security of their old lives.
That is exactly what happens in I Know Here. The young girl is on her way to school when her brother gives her the news that they will be moving to Toronto. Their father has been building a dam in a remote area, across the North Saskatchewan River. There are only ten trailers along the building site, and the girl’s teacher only teaches nine children. This area is all the little girl has ever known, and it will be a complete change to move to metropolitan Toronto. She is visibly worried about the change until her teacher gives her a way to take her memories with her.
I Know Here came to my attention through the Horn Book’s 2010 Fanfare list. We didn’t get it at our local public library, most likely because it is from a small press (Groundwood). While this book is based in a remote area of Canada, the little girl’s worries about moving and bringing her experiences to a new place are very universal.
Laurel Croza is a debut author with an amazing poetic, lyrical style. The little girl watches a truck jouncing toward her on the rutted dirt road, “bits of gravel jumping up and dancing under the tires.” She can recognize a fox’s “damp fur smell” behind another trailer. The young girl has learned this place well – she has experienced everything it has to offer, just as most young children do. The sensory memories the little girl holds dearest are what her teacher assures her will move with her. What she knows, what she loves, is the comfort she will take to a new home, and her appreciation of the nature around her will shape who she will be forever.
Her teacher tells the little girl to draw all the things she loves and wants to remember. Matt James is the illustrator who brings all the young girl’s memories to life. His illustrations are varied, creative, but most importantly, child-like in perspective. The teacher, Miss Hendrickson, stands tall over the students. The girl’s younger sister, Kathie, waits to catch an enormous, page-filling frog, whose tongue curves over its own back, lazily aiming for a fly. James’ acrylic paintings are luminous, and echo the dam’s wooded setting with star-filled nights and gray cloudy skies. But the paintings have a twist – an airplane flies overhead on improbably skewed wings, a forest all leans to one side, that impossibly large frog. The endpapers are decorated with a whimsical map of Canada, including a red star marking Toronto.
The combination of Croza’s descriptive language and James’ creative illustrations bring rural Canada to life for readers here. They might look at the things that are unfamiliar to them – the moose the girl spots, the lone television for the community broadcasting outside under the stars. But they’ll also hold on to the things they find familiar about their own communitiies. Just like Frances did when we moved, this young girl will bring the best of her old life with her.
I Know Here. Laurel Croza; illustrated by Matt James. Groundwood Books, 2010.