October 2002

The birth of a young writer

By Julie Dunlap & Marybeth Lorbiecki, illustrated by Mary Azarian
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Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau are icons for most Americans, but how many of us realize that these two met? In Louisa May and Mr. Thoreau's Flute, 7-year-old Louy Alcott is amazed by the eccentric, wild-haired teacher, Mr. Thoreau. He is the talk of Concord, Massachusetts. Thought to be a loafer and a dreamer, Thoreau is rumored to brush his hair with a pinecone! He knows all the best berry patches and loves sharing his knowledge of the woods and nature with his young scholars. And, wherever Mr. Thoreau goes, his flute goes too, providing a soft musical accompaniment to his life and the lives of his students.

In between chores and obligations, Louisa watches and learns from her teacher. She notices the changes of nature. She envies Thoreau when she hears that he is spending the winter studying foxes and fish: Mr. Alcott scoffed, 'Has he nothing better to do?' Louisa couldn't imagine there was anything better.

Mary Azarian's trademark hand-colored woodcuts beautifully complement the story. The highly textured pictures invite readers to look closely. The details in the characters' clothing suggest calico and homespun, patches and plaid. Nature is treated with a loving hand, too. Each pine needle and leaf, wave and cloud is unique and carefully crafted by this Caldecott-winning artist.

Though we all think of Louisa May Alcott as a prolific and graceful novelist, in reality, as a young girl, she was not an enthusiastic writer. She had an author for a father and a writer for a teacher, but she often had difficulty thinking of things to write about: Words seemed trapped within her, like fish under ice. But, one day on the Concord River, the ice thaws and cracks. The robin carols for her and the words she had longed for suddenly rush into her head. Readers will cheer for Louy as she races to catch the words on paper in her very first poem.

More a story about writing and inspiration than historical fiction for young readers, this is a gentle tale of a teacher and a student, and the birth of a writer. The story will inspire young authors and naturalists, and budding artists will revel in the sparkling illustrations. A treasure about two national treasures.

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Louisa May and Mr. Thoreau’s Flute

Louisa May and Mr. Thoreau’s Flute

By Julie Dunlap & Marybeth Lorbiecki, illustrated by Mary Azarian
Dial Books for Young Readers
ISBN 9780803724709

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