Walden Then & Now
Michael McCurdy, author
Michael McCurdy is the author and illustrator of An Algonquian Year, Hannah’s Farm, and Trapped by the Ice. He is also the illustrator of more than 200 books for adults and children, including The Founders: The 39 Stories Behind the Constitution and The Train They Call the City of New Orleans. He lives in Springfield, Massachusetts, with his wife, Deborah.
- NCSS/CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
This elegant alphabet book brilliantly conveys the essence of 19th-century American author, naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s solitary sojourn at Walden Pond. For each letter of the alphabet, McCurdy selects an item symbolizing Henry’s simple, secluded Walden world, including an anecdotal paragraph explaining how each fits into the Walden idyll, often with comparisons to Walden Pond as it is now. From “A” for the angry ants whose battles Henry described in Walden to “Z” for the zephyrs cooling the pond on summer nights, the alphabetical selections give readers a unique peek at Henry and the natural world he immortalized. Each page opens with the featured letter in crisp, black type on thick, creamy stock. Rustic, realistic black-and-white wood engravings echo Henry’s credo to simplify and feature him reading, plowing his bean field, building his cabin, playing his flute, chopping wood, roaming winter woods, cutting ice and staring at the stars in complete harmony with nature. An unusual yet entirely appropriate introduction to the famed hermit—and the other residents of Walden Pond.
Henry David Thoreau's classic, Walden, was published more than 150 years ago and remains an environmentalist's core title today. McCurdy celebrates that enduring work in a beautiful volume, organized around the alphabet, that matches a simple rhyme about the natural world and a detailed black-and-white wood engraving with each letter. As the pages move from ants, geese, and loons to Ursa Major and zephyr, they also include notes about Walden Pond, Thoreau, and his book; and appended source notes offer additional information. Young eco-minded supporters will enjoy the nature details and the tribute to a pioneer of the conservation movement, and the spacious book design, with thick paper, will have readers returning to the pages many times for the awe-inspiring words and pictures, as well as for the message about the satisfaction that solitude can bring: "J is for the joy he felt at being all alone." —Hazel Rochman
School Library Journal
Elegiac woodcarvings evoke the setting of Henry Thoreau's Walden Pond as the text weaves past and present in this lengthy alphabet poem. On each spread, consecutive letters face one another, making a couplet of the lines. A dark, but not somber, woodcarving illustrates each letter, and an explanatory paragraph expands upon the information in the verse. Some letters describe an emotion, e.g., "J is for the joy he felt at being all alone," while the text links the comment to the present (since nearly 600,000 people visit Walden Pond each year, "it would be hard to be alone" there today). Other letters describe the writer's activities: "C is for the cabin Henry built with his own hands," or insects or animals, "G is for returning geese that made his spirits soar." Differences between a New England life in the 1840s and 1850s and today are explained. The book ends with entries from Thoreau's diary and McCurdy's inspiration and starting point for this book. Purchase as an introduction to Thoreau and for poetry shelves.
WALDEN THEN & NOW is described as an alphabetical tour of Thoreau’s Walden Pond. It is an elegant journey for older readers by master printmaker Michael McCurdy. This is not an ordinary alphabet book. In fact, the letters of the alphabet are used as a narrative tool to move through a series of observations originally made by Thoreau (then) and commented on by McCurdy (now). This approach to a classic piece of writing is unusual and built on integrity as McCurdy spent much time in and around Walden Pond observing its simplicities and environmental gifts. He makes charming comparisons between Thoreau’s 1854 publication and his own experiences.
Each page contains a letter of the alphabet, a statement in tandem with the letter, McCurdy’s embellishment of the topic and a wood engraving by McCurdy in celebration of the topic. For instance, the letter A is for ants and the letter B is for beans. Quoting from the book: “A is for the angry ants that Henry once saw battling. B is for the bean field in which noisy crows were prattling.” Following each line of these rhymed couplets McCurdy explains how Henry David Thoreau, in his instance, did see black and red ants fight and did plow seven miles of beans at Walden Pond. The real bonus here is that McCurdy has written Source Notes from A-Z at the end of the book that include Thoreau’s original quotations and gives the reader the exact chapter and paragraph in Thoreau’s WALDEN where each detail can be found. This provides a very nice stretch for older readers—one that could easily entice them to pick up WALDEN by Henry David Thoreau and make it their own. McCurdy has selected the alphabet and topic pairs very well. For instance, “C” is for cabin, “E” is for eagle, “K” is for kindling, “L” is for loons, “Q” is for quiet and “Z” is for zephyr. Each accompanying black and white wood engraving is powerful----especially those showing Henry David Thoreau reading a book, chopping wood, walking through wintery forest, playing the flute, fishing and contemplating the stars. Nighthawks, geese, owls, a squirrel, a hare and other creatures of Nature dot the landscape. This volume is handsomely bound using heavy weight ivory paper and a dark green fabric cover with gold letters. And there on the front cover stands the naturalist himself----one of the most beautiful wood engravings of all. WALDEN THEN & NOW by Michael McCurdy is a special volume for older children ages 10-14 and up (Charlesbridge, 2010). This is Sue Ann Martin for THE CHILDREN’S BOOKSHELF.
Ages: All ages
Page count: 32
9 x 9