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Eva Public Library

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg

by D.B. Johnson

School Library Journal K-Gr 4-A nicely realized retelling of a short passage from Henry Thoreau's Walden. Henry and his friend decide to go to Fitchburg, a town 30 miles away. "I'll walk," says Henry, but his friend decides to work for the money for a train ticket and see who gets there first. Each subsequent spread marks their progress: "Henry's friend cleaned out Mrs. Thoreau's chicken house. 10 cents./Henry crossed a swamp and found a bird's nest in the grass. 12 miles to Fitchburg." The friend arrives first, barely. "`The train was faster,' he said." "I know," Henry smiled, "I stopped for blackberries." Johnson makes this philosophical musing accessible to children, who will recognize a structural parallel to "The Tortoise and the Hare." The author quotes Thoreau's original anecdote in his endnote. The two friends are depicted as 19th-century bears in the geometric, warm-toned, pencil-and-paint illustrations. Each picture is solidly composed, and although the perspectives may seem somewhat stiff and distracting up close, they work remarkably better from a short distance. The layout and steady pace, as well, make this suitable for storytime. The somewhat open-ended resolution could allow for classroom debate, and is also simply a good ending to a good story.-Nina Lindsay, Oakland Public Library, CA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Book list Ages 4^-8. Henry the bear and his friend decide to visit Fitchburg, a country town some 30 miles away. Henry asserts that walking is the fastest way to get there, but his friend thinks the train is best. They agree to meet in Fitchburg to see which of them is right. As Henry begins his hike, his friend goes off to earn money for the train fare. It won't take long for adults to realize that Henry is no average bear. He's an ursine Henry David Thoreau (and looks the part), engaging in a simple competition to gently expose children to Thoreau's view of life. While his friend fills the woodbox in Mrs. Alcott's kitchen, Henry rock-hops across the Sudbury River. While his friend pulls weeds in Mr. Hawthorne's garden, Henry presses ferns and flowers in a book. And while his friend cleans out Mrs. Thoreau's chicken house, Henry crosses a swamp and finds a bird's nest. While his friend, having finally earned the fare, rides a train bound for Fitchburg, Henry, nearly there, eats his fill in a blackberry patch. Although the commuter does reach Fitchburg ahead of the hiker, Henry smilingly responds with bemused understatement: "I stopped for blackberries." This splendid book works on several levels. Johnson's adaption of a paragraph taken from Thoreau's Walden (set down in an author's note) illuminates the contrast between materialistic and naturalistic views of life without ranting or preaching. His illustrations are breathtakingly rich and filled with lovingly rendered details. The angular, art-deco-influenced spreads are beautifully colored, thoughtfully designed, funny, and interesting, demonstrating Johnson's virtuosic control of his craft. Young children will like the story itself; older ones may be inspired to talk about the period in American history and the still relevant issues Thoreau raised. --Tim Arnold

From Booklist, Copyright American Library Association. Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly Freelance illustrator Johnson models his striking debut on a passage from Walden, in which Thoreau advocates journeying on foot over buying a ticket to ride. Henry, a brown bear attired in a brick-red duster and wide-brimmed sun hat, is a kinder, gentler fellow than his cantankerous inspiration. His ursine friend, wearing town clothes and conspicuously toting a pocket watch, makes plans to meet him in Fitchburg, a town 30 miles distant. Spreads contrast the pair's respective travel strategies: on the left, Henry's friend does chores for unseen Mrs. Alcott, Mr. Hawthorne and Mr. Emerson to earn train fare; right-handed pages picture a leisurely Henry examining flora and fauna, admiring the view and excavating a honey tree as he strides toward his destination. At the end of the summer day, "His friend sat on the train in a tangle of people./ Henry ate his way through a blackberry patch." Johnson inventively demonstrates Thoreau's advice with kaleidoscopic illustrations in variegated colors and gently skewed perspectives that weigh fast-paced urban existence against an unmaterialistic life in the woods. Both bears make it to Fitchburg, but Henry's friend wears a blank stare, in contrast to Henry's bright-eyed, curious gaze. Johnson implies what money can and cannot buy, and encourages slowing down to experience nature. With graceful understatement, he presents some complicated ideas assuredly and accessibly. Ages 4-8. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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