The Range Eternal

The Range EternalI 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.

from The Range Eternal
illus­tra­tion from The Range Eter­nal, © copy­right Steve John­son and Lou Fanch­er,
writ­ten by Louise Erdrich, Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2019

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

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