Though reading some children’s picture books is an exercise in tolerance for adult readers, others have immediate appeal for both adult and child. MacKay’s Lily in the Loft, a story of hope, disappointment and ultimate reward, is an example of the latter. To a child it suggests the importance of dreams and determination, while to an adult—especially if that adult is a prairie writer—it’s richly evocative and an important historical document.
The narrative of Lily in the Loft revolves around a young girl named Frances. Frances loves to write, and the story captures the vulnerability and desire of a beginning writer—or indeed of any writer. “Am I any good?” the young protagonist asks herself. “What if they don’t like what I write?”
Frances is fortunate in that she has a mother and an aunt who support her dreams. She also lives on a farm, where nature and animals are part of her world and feed her creative imagination. MacKay obviously knows this world and gives the reader just enough of the setting without distracting from the story. “From the hayloft she could see the surrounding fields of wheat and oats, and off to the west, the cattle grazing in the pasture,” writes MacKay.
MacKay also focuses on the essential elements of the story, not only the young girl’s excitement and despair, but also her growing self knowledge and her resolutions for the future. Furthermore, by not telling more than needs to be told, the author leaves some of the magic of the creative experience intact.
The art is also beautiful and evocative, as it invites the reader into the spirit of the prairie landscape and presents a beautiful and recognizable young girl. Not only does the choice of a naturalistic style suit the subject, but art that extends to the edges of the page in side screens is reminiscent of Jan Brett’s classic tales The Mitten and The Hat. As in Brett’s illustrations, the side panels not only expand but also enrich the narrative.
If Lily in the Loft falls down in any way, it is in the design. At times, the tiny print doesn’t show up well against the colour of the background. This is especially true when the printing is white on a dark background. One wonders whether it was simply a case of too much text for a set number of pages and illustrations. This, however, is a small thing in an otherwise successful production.
This beautiful book has special significance for those who were also Young Co-ops, whether presided over by “Bluebird” or “Sister Ann.” On behalf of all those prairie writers who got their start between 1927 and 1994 by contributing to the Western Producer’s youth pages, I am grateful to Carol MacKay for recapturing the story we share.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM