Louhi Witch of North Farm, retold by Toni De Gerez, illustrated by Barbara Cooney
My father loves this book. As a child his joy in sharing it was tangible. His whole being lit with excited warmth as we talked about skiing through the sky and making blueberry soup (which is delicious by the way). I'm fairly certain that his adoring reverence for this tale is 90% of the reason I loved it, love it still, and feel this glee watching our son reach for it day after day.
As an educator parent I love the oral language development tucked within the whimsy and wonder of this book. Louhi is a retelling of part of Finland’s epic poem the Kalevala and as a such offers a unique and complex sentence structure and vocabulary for story time with littles while being capitvatingly magical as well.
In this story they entertain the question: what would happen if someone stole the sun and the moon? Mystical characters share their magical powers and, perhaps, more powerful, their connections to nature. Accompanying the rich text are poetic pictures created by the beloved Barbara Cooney (of Island Boy, Miss Rumphius, and Roxaboxen).
There is the main character, Louhi, who wants to conjure up some witch-witch-witchy plans. So, she turns into an eagle and steals the sun and the moon and the world is plunged into darkness.
There is also my favorite, Vainamoinen, the Great Singer, the Great Knower, the protector of the sun and the moon. And there is Seppo, the smith, who is asked to create a new sun and moon, however; when these do not save the world from darkness, and Louhi refuses to return them upon Vainamoinen's kind request. Seppo decides that something else must be done.
Louhi Witch of North Farm offers a variety of connected learning opportunities ranging from scientific inquiry to poem writing.
Below are a few interdisciplinary problem solving discoveries to wonder out loud together (for youngsters), or as written reflections (for olders):
How would you feel if someone stole the moon and sun?
Who in the world would this impact or matter to? why?
How do you think Louhi feels? What in the book gives you this clue?
Seppo forges a sun and a moon, how could we create one?
How is the earth dependent upon these?
This story comes from a time long ago and a place far away, what is different or the same regarding how we live today? (you could record the conversation with a venn diagram)
Louhi dreams herself into different animals, which animal would you dream yourself into? Why? How would it feel to be that animal? Connecting to creative movement: how would you move as that animal? Connecting to art: creating a mask/costume as that animal.
How do we know that plants need the sunlight? (as a science experiment you could place one plant in a closet for a week and leave one on the windowsill and see what happens)
What does a blacksmith do?
How could we act out these words: muttered, sputtered, grumbled - when are there moments in your own life where you have or might mutter, sputter, or grumble?
If you'd like to connect it to the original tale, Louhi is not a witch on a farm but the female ruler of Pohjola, a powerful land in northern Finland. You could research the Kalevala and notice how certain old stories are often tweaked in retellings. What other stories do we know of where the original is one way, yet the common tale known today is different? (Grimm's Fairy Tales)
I admit though, regardless of the integrated academic connections, I return to Louhi Witch of North Farm year after year because I simply love this book. I love the deep reverence for nature and our interconnectedness from Vainamoinen. I love reading about Louhi's life from how she layers straw into her shoes to go skiing, to her jumping porridge spoon. Savoring Louhi as simply a wonderful read aloud is "enough" too. I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out this often overlooked, yet wonderful picture book.
To make blueberry soup, check out our favorite recipe by The Kitch by clicking here