Review: 3 Children’s books that highlight Minnesota’s Northwoods

Leah Ryan/Iron Range Today

On my way out the door, I grabbed several of our favorite children’s books: Antler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet Year, Begin with a Bee and Hush Hush, Forest.

As I flipped through them and realized that the three of them are not only created by Minnesotans, but how much their art exemplifies life in the Northwoods. 

Each book has a place in our family’s home, the heart of which is our library. These would be a great addition to keep around in your home or cabin library with the representations of the region in mind and the stories they tell. 

Below, I did a quick review of each:

Antler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet Year

Written and Illustrated by Betsy Bowen (ISBN-13978-0-618-22638-2)

Antler, Bear, Canoe tells the story of the changing seasons in the Northwoods through a nature-based alphabet. 

Just as the white pines fill the Northwoods flat block white pine was used in the creation of these woodblock prints. Woodblock prints illustrate this easy to read and easy to love book. 

Designs and letters were carved backwards to create the flat block. After rolling black ink onto the block the pages of this book were then printed with use of a letter press housed at the historic grand Marais art colony. Colors were then painted onto each print and text was added.

Just as the alphabet starts with the letter “A” the calendar starts with January in this book and takes us through each letter in each month of life in the Northwoods. At the beginning of the year, readers learn about antlers, bears and canoes. By the end of the year, you’re exploring yarn and the zero-degree temperatures we’re accustomed to in December.

The woodblock prints of Antler, Bear, Canoe bring to life the feeling of the rustic Northwoods with the blank spaces and uncarved wonders of the white pine block; the rough and primal feelings evoked bring readers deeper into the story.

This book was originally published in 1991 and even though many years have passed, the story still holds true. Life is steady in the Northwoods, each year the leaves change, the snow falls and the flowers bloom. The story, the life told in these pages, is the same today as it was yesterday and we can only hope tomorrow.

Begin with a Bee

Written by Liza Ketchum, Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Phyllis Root; Illustrated by Clauia McGehee (ISBN-978-1-5179-0804-1)

It begins with one single queen bee. Learn about the lifecycle of a rusty patched bumblebee and how a single queen is able to form a whole colony and a thriving generation before the snow falls.

Begin with a Bee is both children’s literature and an important exploration of the environment. It highlights the rusty patched bumblebee, the first to be on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife endangered species list.

Through Begin with a Bee children and families are exposed to the rusty patched bumblebee, they learn what it takes for the colony to survive and are offered a glimpse of what they can do to support this important bee.

The pages of this book burst with color and hope.

Just as Antler, Bear, Canoe is rustic, the simple beauty of the woodcut-like illustrations in Begin with a Bee are detailed and full of life. 

Claudia McGehee illustrated Begin with a Bee using scratchboard, which comes in black sheets. Using a sharp object, the artist scratches away the black to reveal their art in the white or colored layer beneath, much like a scratch off lottery ticket. The resulting illustrations have a quality much like that of woodcut block prints.

Hush hush, Forest

As the leaves fall, animals throughout the Minnesota Northwoods prepare for a deep winter’s sleep. Follow the animals as they prepare to migrate, hibernate and enjoy the adventure that is in winter.

This easy-to-read and calming children’s book shows how the animals of the Northwoods ease into their slumber as your child also (hopefully) drifts off to sleep.

The illustrations in Hush Hush, Forest are prints of handmade woodcut block prints. Unlike the other books, Hush Hush, Forest illustrates the delicacy of the art form. Here, the prints are not harsh or raw, but instead intricate, evolved, and serene.

The illustrator, Nick Wroblewski, works with the blocks of wood, using the grain as details to the darkening sky. The wood grain dances and accentuates the Northern Lights. As the snow falls, the words come to an end, and the hush hush of the forest is the settling of winter.

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