May 16, 2011
Mattland by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert
Illustrated by Dusan Petricic
"Matt had moved three times with his family and this was the worst place of all." The ground was muddy and full of building scraps. The doors to all the houses where closed and "there was no one he knew." Matt was feeling frustrated, even angry. As he picks up a stick he feels like breaking it, throwing it, like "hitting something with it. But the stick felt comfortable in his hand, and instead, Matt drew a line in mud." It is this simple act of creation, of drawing a line in the mud, that becomes the turning point in Matt's new life. "Rain had fallen that morning. The earth was full to overflowing and the line filled with water." As Matt witnesses the water moving through his line, he names it Snake River. As the line connects to a puddle, he founds Turtle Lake. And just like that, little by little, we see Matt create a whole miniature landscape. Hutchins and Herbert do a fantastic job describing with detail, each of Matt's new creations. Petricic's illustration grow in detail and color as well, until we are presented with Mattland, full or roads, buildings, rivers, railroads, fences...
Mattland is such a wonderful story, its language and illustration so poetic, that I'm having a difficult time not wanting to just quote whole passages. Matt's isolation during his creative process is interrupted by an "outsider," a girl that "had not been invited" to be part of his creation. She brings him a Popsicle stick to help him. Later on, "the outsider was back with four pine cones and an empty berry container." They don't exchange words, but soon she's back with enough finds that she needs both hands to hold them. Matt finds a place for all those things. Then, the rain begins to fall again and water starts to overtake the town they've created. "Matt and the outsider rushed to save things, but all was about to be lost, when suddenly...help arrived from unexpected place." At this point, the illustrations help us see many pairs of hands pushing the ground and using found objects to create "dams, dikes, and deep canals" guiding the waters away. "The rain stopped. The water calmed. The sky cleared. And shinning boats appeared on Turtle Lake." The last image we see of Matt, is his smiling reflection on Turtle Lake surrounded by other kids' faces, his new friends.
What a touching, memorable book! I loved Mattland!