The Gopher Keeper
by Morey Johnson
Trafford Publishing

"Jack remembered many times seeing his dad alone in the field talking to himself, but he would say he was talking to the gophers."

A delightful tale with a bit of a mystical edge, Johnson's tale is a very simple story that otherwise might be titled "The Gopher Whisperer." Karl, the central character, appears as a quiet and gentle man who communicates with the furry little creatures that are known to wreak havoc on land and its bounty. While his wife is bothered by the unsightly mounds of dirt that pile up because of the gophers, Karl has made peace with them. It is a simple trade-off, He gives the burrowing rodents a home, and in exchange they stay out of his garden and offer wise advice about crops and impending natural disasters. He speaks in a whisper when talking about the "secret" power the gophers possess, which adds to the mystery of this unusual shared friendship. As the family land will be passed on to generations, Karl asks for assurance from his visiting son Jack, to look after the gophers after Karl is gone. Only days after his father's death, Jack is clearly surprised when the gophers speak their sorrow. Lead gopher Harlan will soon help Jack realize there is truly "something very special about this place."

There is a solemn feel to this tale with Karl's passing. Though clearly a children's story, Johnson handles this issue with sensitivity and aplomb. By not dwelling on the moment, the action quickly moves forward to the point of Jack finding his own connection with these charming, chubby-cheeked ground dwellers. Simple pastel drawings by Aronna texture the quiet essence of the story. With the underlying man vs. nature theme, Johnson presents a moral sentiment as we see that working with nature, as opposed to against it, proves an ultimately harmonious and advantageous proposition. Surely, while the idea of a gopher may not bring to mind a lovable or friendly character, this endearing tale and the accompanying images may just work to change opinions.

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