Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Make way for goslings (and ducklings) May 11, 2021

Goslings huddle near pond’s edge at the River Bend Nature Center in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

EVERY SPRING, I FIND myself drawn to pond or river’s edge to watch the goslings, the newborn offspring of Canadian geese navigating the shoreline and water.

Geese are fierce protectors of their young. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

They are just so darned cute. Downy yellow. Sometimes huddling in a circle of sibling closeness.

Swimming into the pond at River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Still in the protective care of their parents. And, yes, geese can prove fierce when safeguarding their young. I steer clear of these young families, preferring to frame family photos from afar.

Prairie Pond at River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
I love how the goslings are bookended in a protective line. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.
A goose is barely visible in the dried grasses of Prairie Pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

The ponds of River Bend Nature Center (especially the one along Rustad Road) are good spots to spot geese and ducks. When I see young waterfowl, I am reminded of Robert McCloskey’s children’s picture book, Make Way for Ducklings. It won the 1942 Caldecott Medal for most distinguished American picture book and tells the story of a duck family in Boston.

A duck pair in Prairie Pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

While River Bend lies a long ways from McCloskey’s Boston Public Gardens pond setting, the universal appeal of ducklings spans the miles between Massachusetts and Minnesota.

A duck emerges among the grasses in Prairie Pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Whether in a city, rural area or nature center, downy babies in the care of their parents create, at least for me, a sense that all is well in the world. That no matter the worldwide challenges—especially during a pandemic—no matter the community and personal challenges, the cycle of life continues.

Geese nesting at River Bend. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo.

Every spring I make way for ducklings and goslings, celebrating their arrival by documenting their arrival. With my camera. But even more, by framing them in my memory during this season of spring.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Take a (story) walk along Central in Faribault September 2, 2020

 

A page from Eric Carle’s book, From Head to Toe, photographed inside a StoryWalk display case.

 

“I can do it!” What an empowering statement, especially for young children. Those four words refrain in an installment of pages from the children’s picture book, From Head to Toe, now posted on street corners in the heart of historic downtown Faribault.

 

Posted next to Burkhartzmeyer Shoes and looking down a side street off Central.

 

I love this latest addition to my community as part of a StoryWalk® CENTRAL project coordinated locally by Buckham Memorial Library. The idea is rooted in Vermont and seems to be a trend right now in the library world. River Bend Nature Center in Faribault and the public library in neighboring Northfield are hosting similar story walks.

 

Looking north on Central Avenue, you can see one of the StoryWalk pages posted next to an historic-themed bench.

 

Last week one evening, Randy and I walked Central Avenue with our four-year-old granddaughter, viewing the colorful story crafted by noted author and illustrator Eric Carle. He is perhaps best-known for his children’s picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I’ve long been a fan of Carle’s creativity. He understands how to connect with the littlest of people through colorful illustrations and simple, repetitive and engaging language.

 

Historic Central Avenue provides the backdrop for StoryWalk CENTRAL.

 

Bold colors and strong shapes define Carle’s art.

 

The book engages.

 

It took Isabelle a bit to get into From Head to Toe. But when she observed Grandma and Grandpa wriggling their hips like crocodiles, bending their necks like giraffes and stomping their feet like elephants, she joined in. Carle’s book calls for the reader and listener to actively participate in the book by doing the actions associated with each animal. It’s a great way to get kids up and moving. Adults, too.

 

The thoughts behind StoryWalk.

 

And that, according to information posted on one of the 12 signs, is part of the motivation behind the interactive StoryWalk® concept. The book “combines early literacy learning, family engagement and physical activity.” And promotes brain growth and physical health through exercise.

 

The animals lead the action.

 

The book also highlights diversity in the different ethnicities of the children and in the different animals Carle has created in his story. I especially appreciate that in our diverse community of Faribault. Buckham Memorial Library Director Delane James echoes my thoughts, praising From Head to Toe as a book that “resonates with everybody in the community…anyone can enjoy it no matter who they are.” And that means even those who can’t read or whose native language is one other than English. Like me, she calls Carle’s book “empowering.”

There are plans for more, and longer, book installations, all funded by a federal grant and coordinated with multiple city departments, James says. She noted the joint efforts of library, economic development, engineering and public works staff in getting the first StoryWalk® CENTRAL in place. From Head to Toe will remain posted for several months. This will be an ongoing and evolving public art and literacy project with five years worth of books included in the funding. The library buys multiple copies of the featured books, then removes and laminates the pages for posting in the weather-proof display cases.

 

The 12th, and final, story board is located outside the entry to Buckham Memorial Library. This is looking north toward Central Avenue. The final board is designed to get kids and others inside the library, although the library is currently open by appointment only.

 

I appreciate, in this time of a global pandemic, a safe activity I can do with my granddaughter when she’s visiting. Only after we arrived home did Izzy share, “That’s Isaac’s favorite book.” That means we’ll be back on Central with her 20-month-old brother, wriggling our hips, bending our necks, stomping our feet and repeating, “I can do it!”

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hunting for teddy bears March 31, 2020

The 30th anniversary edition of Michael Rosen’s book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, published in 2019.

 

WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT. We’re going to catch a big one.

Those words from the 1989 children’s picture book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, are inspiring the latest global movement unifying the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teddy Bear Hunts.

Worldwide, families are searching for teddy bears in windows during walks about their neighborhoods and communities. Minnesota Public Radio reports in its March 30 Daily Dose of Sweetness series that Rochester, home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, is already heavily involved in the Teddy Bear Hunts. My friend Jackie, a nurse at Mayo, confirms that.

 

A teddy bear sighting in the window of a house at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Division Street in Faribault.

 

Here in Faribault, I haven’t searched much for bears, only watched for them while out and about on Saturday to pick up groceries and to later walk a city trail. Randy spotted one bear, in a house window at the corner of Division Street and Fourth Avenue.

 

A close-up of the Fourth Avenue teddy bear with a cross above it.

 

I find these hunts a great idea to distract kids, and grown-ups, from the scary realities of the current health crisis. Shifting our focus onto something fun seems vital to our mental health. I often wonder how much our kids are picking up on our concerns, on the seriousness of the situation. When I asked my eldest awhile ago what she’s told her 4-year-old about COVID-19, my daughter said only that “a lot of people are sick.” Isabelle can understand that. I’m thankful my grandson, at a year old, is too young to comprehend any of this.

For us grown-ups, movements like Teddy Bear Hunts help us cope by shifting our attention to engaging the youngest among us. Kids have always held that ability to refocus our minds, to make us smile, to remind us of life’s simple joys. Like reading a book and going on a bear hunt in the middle of a global pandemic.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A bedtime story from the Kenyon Police Department January 9, 2017

my-daddy-snores

 

I’VE WRITTEN HERE before about the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page. It’s a feel-good innovative use of social media. Truly positive and refreshing.

Now there’s one more reason to love this Facebook page. Officer Goodman (a puppet) has joined the KPD family. He makes his debut this evening by reading a children’s picture book, My Daddy Snores written by Nancy Rothstein and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.

This might just be a new bed-time routine for you and your kids. Or you. There’s something comforting about a police officer puppet reading a story as if he’s a schooled children’s librarian. Or simply a police chief who continues to care deeply for others. That would be Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Kenyon native turns to writing children’s books after MS diagnosis December 4, 2015

WRITER DEBBIE ESTREM’S childhood parallels mine. We both grew up on farms—she near Kenyon in southeastern Minnesota and me 150 miles to the west in Redwood County. She, though, moved into town, unlike me.

 

It's Summertime Book Cover

 

Because of our similar upbringings, I understand her connection to and appreciation for the simple things in life. I see that focus and a strong rural Minnesota influence in her children’s picture books, especially in It’s Summertime, the first volume in a seasonal-themed series. An autumn book, A Time for Fall Fun, just published with the remaining two seasonal titles due to release in 2016.

 

Firefly book cover

 

Her other self-published picture books include Have you ever seen a firefly? and Sights at the Zoo.

Of the three books Debbie sent for possible review, I am focusing here on It’s Summertime. I feel most connected, memory-wise, to the content. Debbie writes from a child’s perspective, showcasing outdoor summer activities such as picnicking, swimming, biking, jumping rope, blowing bubbles and attending the county fair.

It’s refreshing to read a book like this that emphasizes mostly unstructured play and family togetherness. I’m all for kids playing on their own, using their imaginations in unscheduled, unorganized free time.

Debbie’s writing, paired with the art of New Jersey illustrator Kim Sponaugle, makes It’s Summertime a delightful book that is visually and nostalgically appealing. The artist, according to her website, “is known for her bright, colorful style and lovable character expressions that give her illustrations warmth and delight.” Her drawings of happy children transport me to the carefree days of my childhood, back to memories of playing hopscotch at Vesta Elementary School and savoring sugary mini donuts at the Redwood County Fair.

While Kim holds an art degree, Debbie’s educational background is in business. However, she started writing poetry in 2003 and turned to penning children’s picture books after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2010. Unable to continue working and volunteering, Debbie decided to focus on something positive. And for her, that was writing children’s picture books.

Kevin and Debbie Estrem in 2013. Photo courtesy of Debbie Estrem.

Kevin and Debbie Estrem in 2013. Photo courtesy of Debbie Estrem.

Ten percent of each book sale goes toward researching MS, specifically to the Colorado-Wyoming Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Debbie lives in Colorado Springs with her husband and childhood sweetheart, Kevin Estrem, who is retired from an Air Force career.

 

book cover

 

In Sights at the Zoo, Debbie weaves the topic of disabilities into the storyline, helping children to understand why someone uses a wheelchair, walker or other assistive device. The couple’s daughter, Cassi, whose first job out of college focused on researching the cause of MS, suggested her mother write the book. Having once used a cane and walker myself following hip replacement surgery, I appreciate this addition to the story. Debbie currently uses a wheelchair or motorized chair to get around.

This author is hoping, she says, that “discoveries are made for both the cause (of MS) and a cure in my lifetime.”

 

Fall book cover

 

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED in purchasing one of Debbie’s picture books, visit the Halo Publishing International website by clicking here.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Book cover images courtesy of Debbie Estrem. Cover art by Kim Sponaugle.

 

A Farm Country Thanksgiving November 24, 2010

The third book in the Farm Country series.

WHENEVER I OPEN one of Lakeville author Gordon Fredrickson’s books, I feel like I’m stepping back in time to my childhood on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm.

I’m thankful for Fredrickson, who understands the value in preserving the history of small family farms. Because he was raised on a Scott County dairy farm and farmed for awhile as an adult with his wife, Nancy, Fredrickson gets his 1950s era farm stories right.

Last night I snuggled up in the recliner with his latest children’s picture book, A Farm Country Thanksgiving. I thought it would be a fairly quick read, but I was wrong.

I didn’t whiz through this story told from the viewpoint of 10-year-old farm boy Jimmy. Rather, I savored every rhyming word by Fredrickson and every detailed illustration by Michaelin Otis.

I was the one sledding down the hill. I was the one with snow stuffed down my neck by my older brother. I was pitching silage down the silo chute, eating banana-filled Jell-O, sitting at the kids’ table on Thanksgiving…

If you grew up on a farm in the 1950s and 1960s, you absolutely must read this book and Fredrickson’s other Farm Country series stories about Halloween and Christmas. He’s also published three If I Were a Farmer books.

I guarantee that you will feel all warm and fuzzy and nostalgic and want to dig out the old photo albums or reminisce with your siblings.

I noticed the ear flapper caps, the buckle overshoes, the checkerboard ringed silo (just like the one on my childhood farm), the old runner sled—book illustrations that are as accurate as photographs. The only difference: My albums hold black-and-white snapshots.

Fredrickson captures the essence of family, of hard work, of rural life. He understands that these are worth preserving. But his efforts to save our rural heritage extend beyond his books. This writer travels across Minnesota, and sometimes out of state, presenting his message to school children, senior citizens and others. He dresses the part of a 1950s farmer in bib overalls, brings farm props, talks and reads from his books.

I will tell you too that Fredrickson and his wife, Nancy, are as genuine and kind-hearted and as down-to-earth good as they come. My husband and I lunched with the couple this past summer. Although we had never met before then, having corresponded only via e-mail, I felt as comfortable with the Fredricksons as if I had known them for years. They are truly my kind of without pretenses folks.

 

I snapped this image of the Fredricksons after lunching with them in August.

I must also point out to you that Fredrickson gives me a plug on the back cover of his Thanksgiving book. He has pulled a quote from a book review I wrote. But that has absolutely nothing to do with the praise I am directing toward him here. He has earned his praise by writing these books, complete with glossaries (after I suggested a glossary), that forever preserve life on the family farm.

I thank him for taking on this project with a passion rooted deep in the land.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Book cover image courtesy of Gordon Fredrickson

 

It’s OK if you don’t have pickle bumps September 23, 2010

I’LL ADMIT TO MORE than a bit of skepticism about a children’s picture book titled Pickle Bumps for Baby Dill. “What kind of book is that?” I wondered before calling the author, Bob Fulton.

Well, exactly as the title suggests, this is a story about Baby Dill, a pickle born without bumps. But that’s not all. You see, after speaking with Fulton and upon reading his book, I learned the real purpose. And it’s much more than a story about cute, talking pickles.

Fulton delivers a strong message via the Dill family and Baby Dill’s friends. The message: “It’s OK to be different.”

That’s a message especially fitting for this time of year, the beginning of school.

I would speculate that many students have, in recent weeks, felt like they don’t quite fit in with their classmates. Maybe they aren’t wearing the latest fashions. Maybe they’re in a new school, struggling to make friends. Maybe they’re shy, quiet. Maybe their hair or their skin is the “wrong” color. Maybe they’re struggling with learning.

Maybe, like Baby Dill, they wonder why they are different from everyone else.

Fulton addresses that concern, which leads the Dill family on a shopping trip for pickle bumps. In the end, Baby Dill decides, with the support of his friends, that he would rather remain bump less.

While Fulton’s story has a positive ending, I know that isn’t always reality. In real life, kids bully, tease, make fun of, pick on, humiliate—whatever words you want to choose—those who are different. For all too many kids, there are no understanding friends to stand by and support them.

A book like Fulton’s offers encouragement. “We like you just the way you are,” Baby Dill’s friends tell him. That’s a message that needs to reverberate through-out our schools, our homes, our communities.

Pickle Bumps for Baby Dill would be a good addition to any elementary school classroom or library. While aimed at preschoolers and lower elementary students, the story also appeals to 10 – 12-year-olds, Fulton says. Having experienced bullying myself while in junior high school, I applaud any efforts to help students, parents and teachers address the issue.

The college educator—he taught chemistry for 39 years at St. John’s University and The College of Saint Benedict—has even added a list of 12 questions at the end of his book to prompt discussion.

He shares, too, that his book evolved from telling stories to his grandchildren and a specific request from his youngest grandson to “Tell us a story about a pickle.”

Fulton did and then put his tale into writing in Pickle Bumps for Baby Dill, published by Pickle Bump Press. Melissa Meyer, originally from Saint Joseph, Minn., illustrated the book.

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AS A SIDE NOTE, please be aware that October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Check out the PACER Center Web site for information that can help you address bullying. Perhaps by working together, through understanding and listening and empathy, we can help reduce the bullying that is all too prevalent in our society, especially in our schools.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling