Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Out of the Past: Ballywhinney Girl by Eve Bunting

We found her in the bog,
where she had lain so long.

They came, the archaeologists...

"They found some flowers beside her,
lupin and wild roses." the sergeant says.

I saw her dawdling along the lanes
the way I do.
I heard her singing as she walked.

What is the meaning of time? Young Maeve, who with her grandfather finds the small body in the bog, suddenly sees that theirs is not a crime story, but a sudden view into the past of more than a thousand years ago. And when she learns that the dark figure in the Irish bog was that of a young girl, a girl her age with fair hair like hers, someone who wandered those fields and gathered wild flowers as she herself has done many times, she suddenly sees the past, not as something separate, something you hear or read about, but as a continuum, one in which she is also moving, caught up in events not altogether within her will.

In those fragile but perfectly preserved flower petals Maeve sees the all-too-human heart, like her own, a girl who walked the steps that she walks now, where someday someone else may walk in her place, and in memoriam she lays a flat stone on the place where she had rested, feeling that the girl is still there in spirit.

She carries flowers,
blue lupin, and wild roses.
Her ghost-light steps
are gentle on the place
where long ago she fell.

In their forthcoming Ballywhinney Girl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) Caldecott winners Eve Bunting and Emily Arnold McCully join their talents to portray the intriguing science mystery of an archaeological find, a bog mummy almost perfectly preserved, and the deeper philosophical theme of time itself. Time is a river into which we all step, the poets and thinkers tell us, and the young Maeve is everychild at the moment in which that vast sweep of time becomes conceivable, made tangible by the feeling of kinship she recognizes in the long-dead child. Eve Bunting's narrative, a sort of musical blank verse, presents this difficult theme seamlessly, with McCully's soft and evocative watercolor illustrations subtly reinforcing this theme. Ballywhinney Girl takes young readers along in what may be for some their first conscious step into that deep river which sweeps us all along.

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