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The Prairie Community

I’m told there aren’t many children’s books around devoted to the prairie.. Maybe yes.. maybe no. But there is one just published that should appeal to young people. Written by Kathleen Vyn The Prairie Community is beautifully illustrated by Elliott Ivenbaum and retails for $6.97. Ms. Vyn is an Illinoisan and has worked as a writer and naturalist for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

The Prairie Community is divided into four prairie seasons plus a chapter on Indian Days and one on Pioneer Days. It is the story of the vast sea of grasses which extended 2400 miles from Texas to Canada through the center of North America. All living things are pictured living together peacefully with the ants underground and the buffaloes and pronghorns on the surface. The spadefoot toad, the prairie chicken, the harvester ant, and the antelope all appears as inhabitants who become the dispossessed as the human migration from the East to West begins in the 1840’s.

The result of the human invasion is the virtual eradication of the buffalo by 1900, the decline of the pronghorn antelope from 45 million to 15,000 in just 75 years, 123 whooping cranes decreasing to one and hundreds of prairie chickens reduced to 13. Ms. Vyn asks the question: "If nature took care of itself before man, why does man have to take care of it now?" It is the ultimate egocentricity that we can manage and improve on nature, and yet we continue to try. She laments the fact that "only in National Parks can people look into the past, to the days when the buffalo herds drank from the prairie rivers."

The Prairie Community is a fast moving book probably appealing to 3rd to 7th graders. Each sentence paints a new picture. "The grass is gone, and nothing can bring it back," but Ms. Vyn and Mr. Ivenbaum have made a good try.

--Judy Juers, The Education Committtee. The Illinois Audubon Society.