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Detail of an image from the children's book "Loon"

Groundwood Books

The common loon, ruby-red-eyed and "checkered, striped, spotted/ white and black," is an inhabitant of Canadian lakes, as iconic as the canoe and white pine in the collective northern imagination. Its haunting calls are a quintessential summer sound in these parts.

By early fall, though, these gorgeous creatures morph, like Cinderella, into dowdy, grey winter plumage and head for saltwater wherever they can find it. They leave behind the chicks they've hatched and reared over the summer months. The chicks will master the fine art of flying on their own for the next month or so before they too head to the ocean to spend the first three years of their lives.

These are but a few of the intriguing facts of loon life that are enfolded into Susan Vande Griek's and Karen Reczuch's tale of two chicks. In poetic prose that might belie the science here, the author begins at the chicks' beginning – as eggs hatching in "the spoon of the waterweed-and-mud nest" – and on through their early life, much of it spent hitching rides on their parents' backs, evading their predators, the large-mouth bass and turtle whose shadowy shapes lurk just beneath them in the water.

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Loons learning how to dive for food and their first clumsy attempts at flight are rites of passage captured in prose and, as well, in Reczuch's stunning double-page paintings. The paintings of the birds in their habitat – as well as moose, beaver, raccoon and other birds that share that habitat – are executed in acrylics on canvas. The rough texture of the canvas, visible through the paint, seems to supply the grit that ensures that these beauteous creatures are seen by us as quite real, and not mere clichéd figments of our imagination.

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