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Pioneer Press Article — The Mukluk Ball

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New books provide teachable moments for young readers – and fun! 

by Mary Ann Grossmann

PICTURE BOOKS

“The Mukluk Ball” by Katharine Johnson, illustrated by Alicia Schwab (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $16.95.) Put this “up north” picture book at the top of your Christmas gift list. It is one of the most joyful tales (tails?) of the season. Karhu, the bear, tells his owl friend Zazaa that this is the year he’s going to the Mukluk Ball, Finn Town’s liveliest winter event. But he has to earn money to buy mukluks, so he picks blueberries and sells them at the Blueberry Festival. It’s $2 “for a PAW-ful” that comes with a real bear hug.
Karhu laces up his mukluks and learns to dance; Millie twirls him in a polka; Mary Ann the librarian shows him the boogie-woogie, and Inga the folksinger teaches him the chachacha. But Karhu has a problem. The ball is in January and he can’t stay awake. So he takes a nap snug in his den until Zazaa wakes him to go to the ball, where the Finn Hall band plays and Karhu “twirled and whirled, twizzled and spun” until he fell asleep on Inga’s shoulder. It takes the Shagawa Square Dancers to take him to their bus and then he is pulled home on a dog sled.
Back home, Karhu snored and dreamed of dancing. His toes tapped in time to the music of the Mukluk Ball.
Author Johnson says she  wears mukluks all winter in Cloquet. Illustrator Schwab, who lives in Minneapolis, calls this a super fun project for which “I danced and listened to a lot of music to fall into the rhythm of the book’s illustrations.” Her colorful, muscular pictures leave no doubt this is a northern Minnesota story, from the log cabin-style buildings to Karhu’s den (with a round window), rabbits tobogganing, and happy dogs pulling the sleeping bear on the sled. Even the endpapers are covered with colorful floral designs and different pairs of mukluks. There’s lots of hugging and happiness in this book that will make readers of all ages smile.
Johnson and Schwab will launch their book at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 17, at Red Balloon Bookshop, 891 Grand Ave., St. Paul.

Mice Are Nice

I painted a series of mice going on an adventure in the woods. I grew up in the lush wooded hills of southern Wisconsin where spent many happy hours wandering the woods, building forts with my brother and sister. I love to the feel of earth between my toes.

In these paintings, I had a lot of fun with the mark making in the negative space.