Marsha Wilson Chall

Marsha Wilson Chall

Up North at the Cabin

Up north at the cab­in,
I am a great gray dol­phin.
The lake is my ocean…

Up north at the cab­in,
I am a fear­less voyageur,
guid­ing our canoe through the wilderness…

Up north at the cab­in
I am always brave—
even in the dark woods,
when blood thumps through my head
like old Ojib­way drums.

The mag­ic of sum­mer, the call of the north woods, and the exu­ber­ance of child­hood imag­i­na­tion com­bine here to cre­ate a book that will be trea­sured long after the last autumn leaf has fallen.


  • Use a map to iden­ti­fy lakes that the stu­dents have been to. (Ask par­ents to help with names and locations.)
  • Col­lect pic­tures of trips to the lake and make a bul­letin board.
  • Write down mem­o­ries of vis­its to the lake.
  • Com­pare and con­trast the book Let­ter to the Lake by Marie Swanson.
  • Write or tell “fish stories.”

Thanks to Kathy John­son, media spe­cial­ist in Alexan­dria, Min­neso­ta, for these suggestions.


With evoca­tive prose, Chall con­jures up in her debut book the mag­ic of idyl­lic child­hood sum­mers. Her cre­ative use of lan­guage brings to life local flo­ra and fau­na as viewed through the eyes of a sen­si­tive, enthu­si­as­tic girl—a moose stands “like a house on stilts,” cab­ins are built with logs like “shiny pret­zels.” In unaf­fect­ed vignettes (the book has no real sto­ry line) the young vaca­tion­er baits her fish­ing hook with peanut but­ter sand­wich­es, canoes “through the wilder­ness” and embraces the thrill of water ski­ing. John­son’s (The Frog Prince, Con­tin­ued; The Sala­man­der Room) tex­tured oil paint­ings pro­duce a breadth of vision that evokes uni­ver­sal expe­ri­ence. The art­work’s smudged effect sug­gests the hazi­ness of mem­o­ry in con­junc­tion with sun-dap­pled days and atmos­pher­i­cal­ly con­veys fam­i­ly qui­et time mys­ter­ies deep with­in cool woods and the invig­o­ra­tion of out­door sports. This great warm-weath­er book will sure­ly be savored again when “frost­ed win­dows cloud the sun.” (Pub­lish­ers Week­ly, starred review)

Chall offers read­ers a trip to the north woods through her care­ful­ly cho­sen words and John­son’s lush paint­ings. A young girl antic­i­pates her arrival at the beloved cab­in, expe­ri­ences nature’s won­ders while there, and returns home with her fond mem­o­ries until the next sum­mer. Each seg­ment of the child’s nar­ra­tive prose poem is accom­pa­nied by won­der­ful, evoca­tive, full-page oil paint­ings of the fam­i­ly enjoy­ing the lake and the sur­round­ing wood. Up North at the Cab­in is to Min­neso­ta what McCloskey’s Time of Won­der (Viking, 1957) is to Maine. To read it is to feel the sum­mer breezes—whatever your loca­tion, what­ev­er the time of year. (School Library Jour­nal)

Mar­sha Wil­son Chall spent her child­hood sum­mers at a cab­in on a lake in Min­neso­ta … [This book] is an ode to that, to the untaint­ed tran­quil­i­ty of dis­tant and rugged places where the water is cold and clear, where fish still swim, where moose wan­der in pine woods and where the cab­in is so seclud­ed that you bring in food for the week or the month because ‘town’ is dis­tant, and not just in miles … Ms. Chall has writ­ten a first book that tugs at mem­o­ry and child­hood with­out being over­ly sen­ti­men­tal. Her text has a pleas­ant read-aloud rhythm and imagery that will tick­le chil­dren. (New York Times Book Review)

As the young nar­ra­tor describes her days in this best beloved of all vaca­tion spots, the read­er sens­es that it has giv­en her child­hood’s ulti­mate free­dom. John­son’s paint­ings pro­vide stun­ning impres­sions of land­scape and extend the text to its full poten­tial. (The Horn Book)

Up North at the Cabin

illus­tra­tor, Steve John­son
Lothrop, Lee & Shep­ard, 1992
ISBN 978–0‑68809–7325
ages 4 and up
32 pages

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