Illustrated by Dušan Petričić
(Annick Press, 2008)
Moving can be hard on all of us. For kids, the days of knowing no one in a new neighborhood can seem like an eternity. Such is the case for Matt whose family moves to a house in what I presume is a new development (but could also be a rundown housing project).
There is nothing to do outside. No parks, no grasslands. “Everywhere was mud and water. Across the wetness lay only scattered building scraps, a few rocks, and a stick.”
Thankfully, Matt has an imagination and, like most boys, a compulsion to pick up sticks and stones. With one twig, he carves a line in the mud. It instantly fills with water. Matt dubs his creation Snake River.
He putters more and soon establishes Turtle Lake and Dog Tooth Mountains. He arranges the scraps to form a new community—Mattland—amidst the barrens of his own new community.
The boy’s construction project draws tentative looks from other children, lured out of their own homes, shyly observing at a safe distance. “An outsider” approaches and offers a Popsicle stick before walking away. In time, Mattland brings together the group of strangers.
This book pays homage to the imaginative play of children who can turn a pathetic mudhole into something truly wondrous.
To actively involve children in the book, I would cover the text and scan the pages, first presenting the story in wordless format. Let them interpret the boy’s construction project. Allow them to discover how more than a mudhole is transformed. Then pull out the book and read the text to provide another interpretation—not necessarily the “correct” one—for Petričić’s lovely watercolor paintings.
In addition, I would share Mattland during the same week I’d read the outstanding books Not a Box (and/or Not a Stick) and Building, inviting children to make connections. A perfect extension would be a “field” trip to a nearby abandoned lot, presenting students with the challenge of working in groups to create such places as Hectorland, Tommyville and Suebob City. The best books extend our thinking and validate our play.