By Jim Arnosky
One of the first rules for beginning writers is to write about what you know, what stokes your enthusiasm and hopefully it’s something that translates into an area that peaks the interest of others as well in a universal way. Jim Arnosky is definitely not a beginning writer having had great success with over ninety nature books for children. A self-taught artist and naturalist, Kirkus Reviews deems his work “first rate natural history for the youngest.” That’s quite an accolade. Some of his previous titles include “Grandfather Buffalo” and “Raccoon on His Own” and now meet “Little Burro.”
Jim Arnosky’s own experiences with wild burros in the American Southwest planted the seeds for this book as he observed a young burro walking single file along a canyon trail to a lake. The memory of that event stayed in the writer’s mind as he mused what it must be like for a small burro on his first trip.
In words and beautiful art, Jim captures the surroundings, sensibilities and even scary feelings that are part of the young burro as she haltingly travels with her band of burros from her familiar canyon home to a lake where she enjoys a swim in the cool water filled with fish swimming and frogs jumping. Now, she is a bit reluctant to travel back to the canyon that is home. She has experienced something new and a bit unfamiliar, but she adapted and even enjoyed it!
Young readers will find themselves identifying with the feelings and experiences of the young burro as she journeys outside her comfort zone. Kids will relate similarly to the experience of the safe feeling of the familiar in their lives and the challenge when they face something totally new. I think part of the subliminal message here for young readers is the safety of remaining where you are cuts off the opportunity for growth and change. Burro realizes that as she enjoys the beauty of the lake she was initially reticent to explore, she is happy to return home at the end of the day, but the memory of the lake will call her back for more visits. And that, in the words of the doyenne of domesticity, Martha Stewart, “is a good thing!”
Jim’s art captures for children the rich beauty of the Southwest where flowers bloom on cacti and the sky and land meet in a truly gorgeous mosaic of color and Little Burro has the whole of it to discover.
“Little Burro” is a sweet and special story of her life in the Southwest, her ability to grow and adjust to new places. Yet don’t be surprised if young readers say to you, after reading, “Can we go there?” I think there must be no higher complement for an author of nature for young readers than that!
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