Evoking the setting of author Patricia MacLachlan’s Newbery Medal-winning classic, Sarah, Plain and Tall, Prairie Days is a vibrant celebration of daily life on a prairie farm. The simple but lyrical narrative follows a young girl through her memories of summer under “a sky so big, there was no end of it.” Although a precise date isn’t provided, elements in the illustrations—such as the designs of cars, a scene at a filling station and an old locomotive by a granary—suggest a bygone era, perhaps the early 1940s.
The unnamed narrator shares recollections of horses, who pulled plows and wagons, and farm dogs, including herders Bucky and Prince, “brave dogs who ate well and slept well and loved their work.” She takes dips in the farm’s pond and excursions to the general store to buy cloth, tools, pencils and penny mints. The natural world is omnipresent, manifesting itself in wild roses and hollyhocks, grouse and magpies, herds of sheep and howling coyotes.
The book’s large, wide format creates a fitting canvas for spectacular art by illustrator Micha Archer. Her images combine collage illustrations done with acrylics and inks with original textured papers to form a kaleidoscope of brilliant colors. While the intricate, sweeping landscapes of open fields and big skies are a feast for the eyes, Archer also excels in depicting minute details. The general store, for example, features old kitchen utensils, brightly patterned bolts of fabric and enticing jars of candy, and the lace curtains in the girl’s bedroom almost seem to swing in a real breeze. The end result is breathtaking on almost every spread, and Prairie Days is certain to be ranked among the most beautifully illustrated picture books of the year.
As the day and the story come to a close, the girl nestles with a flashlight under a quilt, blank paper before her—a clever acknowledgment that her day, unlike other childhood memories lost to time, will live on through her words and pictures.