Laurel Croza spent her early childhood moving with her family from dam project to dam project in northern Saskatchewan. In I Know Here, she distills that experience into a simple, achingly beautiful picture book. The girl in the story has just heard that her family is going to move from their present home in northern Saskatchewan to the big city of Toronto – a place represented only as a big red star on a map and the image of a few tall buildings. “This is where I live. I don’t know Toronto. I know here,” she states.
The girl lists all the things she knows that are familiar to her about the particular place in the world that she calls home. The list includes the trailers she and the other dam workers’ families live in, the sound of the wolves in the woods, the caged fox that lives behind one of the trailers, the hill (good for tobogganing), and the creek (good for catching frogs). It also includes experiences, such as flying in a small plane, encountering a moose, watching a forest fire, and the special Sunday night when one of her neighbours set up a TV outside his trailer so they can all watch The Wonderful World of Disney.
These images are heartfelt, and blanketed in such a forlorn mixture of love and sadness that it’s hard to imagine they are not straight from Croza’s own memories. Illustrator Matt James uses a mixture of childlike lines and warm, inviting colours to bring the landscape of childhood to life.
Most of us have never lived in northern Saskatchewan or even seen a dam site, but we all know what home is, and what it feels like to have to leave it.