Author: Hazel Hutchins
Illustrator: Ruth Ohi
Publisher: Toronto: Annick Press, 1999.
Genre: Picture book, fiction
Audience Age: 3-8
Themes/topics: Ducks, survival, nesting, predators, wildlife preservation, farming
at first light
feeds on a prairie pond.
Feeds only briefly
lifts from the smooth water
to the stubble field close by
Synopsis: The first two double page spreads are idyllic in their description and illustration of one duck flying in and settling on her nest in a stubble field. (That’s a field where the grain has been harvested, leaving just the cut stalks – the stubble.) A page turn shows us that a farmer on his tractor is cultivating the field, turning the stubble over, preparing for seeding time, and coming closer and closer to the duck’s nest with every round. A crow presents a natural danger – the crow would gladly have a meal of tasty duck eggs. The duck finally flies off the nest in panic, and the tractor stops, the farmer gets down and gently lifts the nest. The prose-poem style of the text and the rich illustrations take the reader deep into the emotion of the story. The farmer’s need to till the soil is shown as he rushes to beat a storm, needing to prepare the land so that he can feed and clothe his family. The duck’s need to raise her family is just as strong. The reader feels the tension between both needs, and the introduction of the natural predator, the crow, adds to that tension. Even after the nest is moved, will the duck return in time to save her eggs from the opportunist crow?
Why I like this book: This is a departure from the books I usually feature on By Word of Beth, but it speaks to me on so many different levels. My mother so often spoke of looking beyond the surface for the beauty of the prairie, and this book does just that as we discover the duck’s nest hidden in the stubble. My father was a grain farmer, and on at least one occasion, came upon a nest in one of the fields he was cultivating, and let it be. He took pictures of a snipe on her nest on that field, incredible closeups. This book touched me deep within, and I want to share that experience with others. The bonus is that the author and illustrator are Canadian!
Activity pages at Kidsparkz.
Activities and crafts at First School.
Resources for teachers and activities for families to teach about grain farms at Grain Chain.
Hazel Hutchins’ webpage has information for kids about how she writes as well as some guess-it quizzes and other resources.
Although Ruth Ohi’s website doesn’t have activities for this particular book, there are other activities for kids, based on some of her other books.
Availability: Readily available in paperback.
Every Friday, bloggers join together to share picture book reviews and resources, thanks to author Susanna Leonard Hill’s brainchild, “Perfect Picture Book Fridays.” Susanna then adds the books (and links to the reviews) to a comprehensive listing by subject on her blog. Find the entire listing at her “Perfect Picture Books.”