Visit the Web site of author/illustrator Judith Byron Schachner, and she proclaims, I live in a constant state of third grade bliss making up stories and drawing pictures. Isn't that what we all did as children?" The same could be said for the heroine of her new book, Yo, Vikings!, a young girl named Emma who immerses herself in a world of imagination and drawing when she prepares a speech for her class' World Discovery Day about Erik the Red, the hot-tempered Icelandic explorer and founder of Greenland.
With the help of her young brother, Ollie, Emma heads to the library, where a kindly librarian named Mr. Sigurd guides her research. Suddenly Emma's mind and journals are filled with Vikings, runes, swords and sailing ships. One day, she discovers that an actual Viking ship is for sale, so she and Ollie pool their money and baseball cards to try to purchase the artifact. They send off a letter and wait patiently for a reply. Meanwhile, Emma tells all her friends that she is going to get the ship for her birthday. Her pals are used to her wild tales and simply call this latest Viking voodoo."I won't spoil the ending, but I assure you that this book perfect for elementary school children is a superb blend of imagination and reality. Emma's enthusiastic undertaking of the school project is just the sort of approach to a history assignment that every youngster should have. In fact, Schachner reveals that she was inspired to write this story by an actual Viking ship that somehow ended up in her own backyard (she doesn't say how), becoming the site for many wonderful hours of fun and learning for her two daughters. Schachner's characters have beautiful, realistic features with big eyes and round faces that lend a certain old-fashioned air to her art. Yet her colors and details are lively and modern, practically swirling off the page with enough humor and intrigue to keep a sophisticated young audience spellbound. There are countless picture books for very young readers, but not as many for a slightly older audience. This is a book that caters to the older crowd with intelligence and fun.
This year my son enters third grade. I'm hoping he'll be inspired by Emma and her gung-ho approach to exploring history. Yo, Judith Byron Schachner!
Alice Cary writes from Groton, Massachusetts.