Out on the Prairie
written by Donna M. Bateman; illustrated by Susan Swan
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher
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Out on the prairie where the grass and flowers mix
Lived a mother sharp-tailed grouse and her little chicks Six.
"Scurry!" said the mother. "We scurry," said the Six.
So they scurried after beetles where the grass and flowers mix.
Set in the Badlands of South Dakota, Out on the Prairie features flora and fauna found in this prairie area. The first two page spread shows a mother bison and her single calf wallowing in the dust while surrounded by pretty purple coneflowers known as snakeroot. Bateman explains in the back matter that this flower was used by Native Americans to treat snakebites and other ailments such as stings, toothaches, and sicknesses like measles. Susan Swan's mixed media illustrations don't catch your eye. They capture it and demand that you scour every square inch so you notice the big and little details. I believe the word for this is sumptuous. Each spread that follows repeats the pattern of showcasing a mother animal and her young in action on the prairie. The number of young increases by one (2 pronghorn fawns, 3 meadowlark chicks, etc.) as you continue through the book. I like the repetition as teachers of young readers will be able to use these four line poems for shared readings with their students. I would write these poems on chart paper and ask children to find the action words. Then you could have them reenact the action as they pretend to be the animal. One of the nice things about Out on the Prairie is that you can use this book with several grade levels. In North Carolina, students study ecosystems in the fifth grade and there is plenty of information in the back matter for lessons on living things on the prairie. I learned several facts as I read this including information about the bison (not a buffalo) and grama grasses which were new to me. An important fact to pass along is that only 1 percent of native prairies exist in North America. Hopefully, what is remaining can be preserved. This book also serves as excellent background information for novels such as Sarah, Plain and Tall and the Little House series of books.
It has been over 30 years since I visited the Badlands of South Dakota. I knew very little about the region at the time and I remember being pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the area. Out on the Prairie shows us that this is not a desolate area, but a vital ecosystem full of life.