I am delighted by the re-issue of The Range Eternal, a picture book that reaches back into history and connects with our senses, our families, our fears, and our reassurances. I have read all of Louise Erdrich’s books for adults and children. She never fails to bring me new ways of looking at the world. So it is with this book.
The Range Eternal has a number of meanings. It is a wood-burning stove, the landscape where animals thrived, and the continuüm of time. We meet a young girl whose mother cooks at the stove, which has “The Range Eternal” embossed on its metal door. Family life is intertwined with that stove. It heats the house (even in the summer), cooks their food, keep them feeling warm and safe, and it must be stoked, taken care of like a member of the family.
Sights, sounds, smells, … they’re all woven into the text, which makes it a good one for teaching the five senses. The book is also appealing for the classroom because the title has so many meanings. It would make an engaging predictive exercise.
What do children think about in the quiet minutes before sleep claims them? When fears of the dark and the unknown are present? That’s another discussion to have for social-emotional learning, prompted by the story told so expertly by Ms. Erdrich.
The author is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwe. Her main character sees range-roaming animals within her imagination. The family in the book walks to school. There comes a time when The Range Eternal is put out to pasture because electricity has been connected and a new stove helps the family cook. But it doesn’t have the same character as The Range Eternal and our young girl feels its absence strongly. So strongly that … well, you’ll want to read the book to find that out.
When I was growing up, my great-aunt cooked on a woodstove. We ate Sunday dinner at her house many times and I was fascinated by that gigantic stove which I was warned not to touch because it was always hot. They ran a dairy farm, had many acres of crops, grew their own food, and canned, cooked, baked, and fermented many vital foodstuffs on that stove. This book has a shining meaning for me as I’m sure it will for readers and listeners everywhere who have a love of food and family. As shiny as that bright blue Range Eternal.
The layered and light-suffused paintings of Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher are well-matched to the story. The predominantly blue and orange color palette speaks to the extreme cold and warmth of the story. But it is the animals and birds woven within the snow, wind, clouds, and fire that contrast so magnificently with everyday life. Their paintings give a sense that we are a part of a much larger, eternal world, reaching back and reaching forward.
Highly recommended. A treasure for its warm-hearted writing and luminous artwork.
The Range Eternal
written by Louise Erdrich
illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher
reissued by The University of Minnesota Press, 2020
originally published by Hyperion Press, 2002