My Marvelous Minnesota

The home of Fort Snelling, loons, timber wolves, and the U of M

M is for Minnesota
by Dori Hillestad Butler,
illustrated by Janice Lee Porter
Published by University of Minnesota Press, l998
$16.95

Five years ago in a seventeen-foot U-Haul--in the rain--my husband and I crossed the big blue bridge on I-94 West into Minnesota. We high-fived. We decided to move from Chicago to the marvelous Land of Lakes based on a good vibe and one vacation at a resort outside of Brainerd. The blue bridge is now family lore. We tell the story to our three-year-old with the pride of pioneers. We love our state. We love books like M is for Minnesota--a close, adoring look at our adopted home.

M is for Minnesota, the debut children's book from the University of Minnesota Press, will hit Minnesota bookshelves next month. Author Dori Hillestad Butler and illustrator Janice Lee Porter blend twenty-six thoroughly fact-packed points of pride with warm, jewel-toned paintings of carefully selected Minnesota scenes. Some favorites:

"K is for Kensington Runestone." In five swift sentences, Butler cuts a cross-section of Minnesota history all the way from a 1362 Viking exploration to an 1898 discovery by immigrant Olaf Ohman to the 1998 Runestone Museum in Alexandria. The illustration is eerie, tombstone-like, a refreshing symbol for Minnesotans weary of the loon-and-ladyslipper routine.

"L is for Loon." Well-worn icons that they are, loons get lauded here by Butler and Porter. Mama and bright-eyed babies glide over a deep green lake while daddy cries out something fierce in the background. Any dignity lost in Lottery advertisements is regained here: Butler tells of ancient, instinctual birds with "wild, mournful cries that can be heard across quiet Minnesota lakes most often at dusk or when a storm is approaching."

"O is for Open-Heart Surgery." The illustration is a show-stopper: a birds-eye view of eight green-masked physicians and attendants huddled around a prone patient with angry red-purple-black spots and dashes where a heart is either coming out or going in. It's an impressionist, G-rated portrait of "the first successful open-heart surgery [which] was performed at the University of Minnesota hospitals on September 2, 1952. It saved the life of a five-year-old girl and paved the way for future lifesaving heart surgeries."

"T is for Timber Wolf." Soft brown strokes give life to Butler's basic statistics on poundage, prey, and population. The facts that Minnesota has "more timber wolves than any other state except Alaska, boasts the International Wolf Center in Ely," and has succeeded in removing timber wolves from the endangered species, speak to proud stewardship of natural resources.

Part of the fun of reading M is for Minnesotais guessing if your own personal picks are included in Butler's and Porter's top twenty-six. The Twin Cities miss the cut, save "F is for Fort Snelling" and three full pages devoted to the University of Minnesota: "G is for Gopher State" (with a charming brown-toned illustration of 1880s Gopher football); the tribute to open-heart surgery; and "U is for University of Minnesota," featuring a spectacular rendering of the full moon outside the Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum.

The book is definitely heavy on the U of M and it tends toward the rural and the northern. It also waxes didactic at times--most notably in the very beginning, "A is for Agriculture," a lackluster opening ("Agriculture is the backbone of Minnesota's economy") fortunately saved by vibrant cows, pumpkins, a tractor, and autumn leaves.

Ah, but love letters are subjective. This affectionate ode to Minnesota is choosy, but its passion and depth make up for omissions. My blue bridge didn't make it in, but between the deep indigo-purple of "M is for Mississippi River" and the dim gray sky of "D is for Duluth," and I know Butler, Porter, and I are on the same page. M is for My Minnesota. M is for Marvelous!

Ann Rosenquist Fee will beMinnesota Parent's regular reviewer of children's book (starting with this review), and we're pleased. Oh yeah . . . she wrote this month's cover story, too.


In conjunction with national Children's Book Week, November 16-22, 1998, Governor Arne Carlson has officially proclaimed November 19, 1998 as "Read M is for Minnesota Day."

The University of Minnesota Press suggests some ways kids can celebrate:

* Create your own Minnesota alphabet

* Pick your favorite letter and list as many Minnesota-related words you can think of that begin with that letter

* Point to the area on a map where the things in M is for Minnesota are located

For a complete activity guide, contact the University of Minnesota Press at (612) 627-1937. Call your local library or bookstore for more information on "Read M is for Minnesota Day" events.

M is for Minnesota is available statewide at independent and chain booksellers including B. Dalton, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Hungry Mind in St. Paul, Northern Lights in Duluth, and selected Minnesota Historical Society sites.

 
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