Several years ago -- or, in storybook parlance, Once Upon a Time — a long-lost creek in northeast Iowa came back to life. It did so with the help of Mike Osterholm, who acted on a hint and a hunch to add the nearly-forgotten waterway into his efforts to return an old cornfield to the prairie it had once been.
Osterholm's story is told with loving simplicity in Creekfinding: A True Story, a picture book aimed at ages 4-9. Author Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrator Claudia McGehee are both based in Iowa as well, and bring an evident joy in the setting to their work. Martin, McGehee and Osterholm will all be on hand this Saturday, March 4, at Prairie Lights for a launch party for the book. (Note: This party was held March 4, 2017).
Creekfinding begins, in a delightfully incongruous way, with a machine. The excavator set up on the opening page invites children into a modern mystery, before diving back in time to look at the history and source of the creek. The machines in this story, like monsters in a fairy tale, are both villains and vehicles, wielding their power for destruction and being redeemed by later use.
They also offer something familiar to hold on to for city and suburban kids, before the story immerses them in the fantastical world of the Iowa prairie. As Martin spins the mystery of where the creek went and how Osterholm revived it, the tale becomes not just about the creek, but about its entire ecosystem — a whole hidden world that many children have never seen.
McGehee's illustrations aptly capture that elusive, otherworldly feel of the prairie. The world of the book is filled with elegantly-styled yet easily accessible animals — and the landscape itself is sketched in rough and undulating lines evoking the constant movement both of the stream itself and of the wind through the prairie grass. Even lines of text are expertly woven into the curves and meanderings of the scenery.
Creekfinding is a beautiful rendering of this inspiring true story of environmentalism in action. It captures the heady subjects at the heart of the rebirth of Brook Creek with a wonder and humor perfect for engaging its intended audience, and others besides.
The book launch begins at 3 p.m. on Saturday, and will feature readings from the author and a light reception afterward in the café. There will also be an interactive prairie mural for children attending, along with paper brook trouts for them to color and take home.