The world of literature lost a great artist when Barbara Cooney died this year (2000). Fortunately for us, she completed one last work of beauty. Her illustrations for Mary Lyn Ray's Basket Moon are among her finest.
This is the story of a young boy, living in the hills outside of Hudson, New York probably at the turn of the century. Like many of their neighbors, the boy's family lives on the baskets of black ash they make and sell in Hudson. Each year, as the baskets accumulate and Pa gets ready to make the trip to Hudson, the boy begs to go only to be declared too young yet. Pa calls him "a watcher" and the boy lives up to the title as he watches the felling of the black ash trees, the mallet pounding of the logs to get the splint ribbons of wood. He watches his father lay out the splints and begin weaving each basket.
The boy is also a listener. One of the basket makers, Big Joe, has told him, "Ears that listen are ears that hear." He listens in vain to hear the trees talk as the old basket makers can. Little by little, his father allows him to take a larger role in the preparation of baskets.
When the boy is nine, he hears the words he's been waiting for, "I reckon you could come." With the baskets strung on long poles over their shoulders, father and son set off for Hudson.
The father sells the baskets in Hudson and then goes about purchasing the things his family needs while the boy absorbs the sights of the big city. With the purchased goods strung on the basket poles, the father and son start the long walk home. (There are parallels here to The Ox Cart Man.) The wonderful trip is ruined by the jeers of a man in the town square, "A tisket, a tasket, hillbilly basket! That's all a bushwhacker knows."
Returning home, the boy finds no satisfaction in the preparation of new baskets. Encouraged by Big Joe to listen to the wind, one night he hears the wind call his name and knows that, when the time comes, he'll follow the tradition and be making baskets. The cycle begins again. Cooney has given us visual circles throughout the illustrations to accent the cycles of life in the rural countryside.
- Stotts, Stuart. Books in a Box: Lutie Stearns and the Traveling Libraries of Wisconsin (Big Valley Press, 2005 ISBN 0976537206. Order Info.
A quiet fictionalized biography about the work of Lutie Stearns in bringing boxed sets of books which circulated from town to town around the turn of the century providing the first free libraries many communities had ever had access to. A good nonfiction companion to novels and picture books set in this time period.
- Keeper of the Doves by Betsy Byars. Also set at the turn of the century. Featured Book with activities, related books and links.
Related Areas Within Carol Hurst's Children's Literature Web Site
- Art, Crafts and Artists in Books for Kids and Teens, Featured Subject article with discussion and activity ideas, and picture books, nonfiction and novels for the classroom:
- Author/Illustrator Study of Barbara Cooney