Quick! Pick the object from your childhood that embodied warmth, safety and untrammeled flights of imagination. For Louise Erdrich, whose many books have drawn on her Ojibwa background, that certain something was a bulky, blue-enamel woodstove labeled The Range Eternal. No mere inanimate appliance, the cast-iron box was the source of unending bounty: improvised soups to warm winter days, hot potatoes to pocket for the long walk to school, wool-wrapped stones to toast frigid toes and heat enough to fend off the wind claws and ice teeth of Windigo, the ice monster. Perhaps most important, the stove's mica window, glowing in the dark, provided vistas of the lives preceding and surrounding her own: I saw the range of the buffalo, which once covered the plains of North Dakota so thickly that they grazed from horizon to horizon. I ran the deer range. I ran the bear range. I galloped the range of horses. I loped the wolf range and fox range, the range of the badger. I flew the sky, the range of herons, of cranes, hawks, and eagles. I saw the Range Eternal. The litany bespeaks Erdrich's gift for incantatory rhythms. The subtly textured illustrations from the award-winning duo Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher are perfectly attuned to her vision: Young readers will especially enjoy discerning the cloud figures that accompany the narrator's fantasy romp across endless prairies.
But like childhood itself, the range is bound for obsolescence. How the narrator solves her sense of something missing in her own home ( a center of true warmth ) once she becomes an adult and parent herself makes for an oddly consumerist denouement and may leave fellow adults wondering how on earth she manages to fuel a woodstove in a modern city. But to children, the ending will seem happy and cozy a cycle and a promise renewed. Sandy MacDonald writes from Massachusetts.