Winter Is Coming by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche
A stunningly gorgeous picture book about the changing seasons, this is a perfect way to welcome winter even when you don’t want it to arrive. The book begins on a cold day in September with a girl out in nature watching the animals. She has along her drawing pad and climbs into a tree house to see even better. From that platform, she sees a red fox stealing the last wrinkled fall apple from a low branch. A mother bear and her cub are also in the woods searching for food. As fall progresses, she sees different animals: a family of skunks, rabbits, woodpeckers, a lynx, chipmunks, deer and geese. All are preparing for the approaching winter in their own way. As winter gets closer, the animals stop appearing until the day the snow arrives when the red fox is out to see it too.
Johnston has created a book that truly shows children what it is like to be surrounded by the wonder of nature during one changing season. Her poetry sparks on the page, showing not only the different animals but also explaining what is beautiful and special about each one. Even more mundane animals like the chipmunks get this honor. Young readers will be inspired to get outside and sit still and just watch.
The art from LaMarche is stunning. He takes advantage of the length of the pages and creates wide landscapes that embrace the changing colors of the seasons. They turn from the bright yellows of early fall to the deeper reds and browns and then to the chill grays of winter. He uses light beautifully throughout and various perspectives that all center around one tree and one girl. It is extraordinary.
Perfect pick for just this time of year, get your hands on this beautiful picture book and then be ready for adventures outside, hopefully with your own pen and paper along. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Who Goes There? by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Anna Currey
On this bitter cold day in Wisconsin, it’s a treat to review a book that has a little mouse preparing for the winter cold. Lewis lived alone in the base of a tall tree. He prepared for winter by stuffing his home with leaves, twigs and grass. Once he was cozy inside though he realized that something was missing. Then he heard a noise that wasn’t the wind. It was a scratching and tapping noise. Lewis shouted “Who goes there!” but no one answered. Could it be a cat? An owl? A bear? As the noise repeated, Lewis continued to yell. Eventually, he was out in the wind and night investigating the sounds. Lewis will discover not only what is making the sound but exactly what he is missing too.
Wilson, author of the very popular Bear Snores On series, has another winning animal character. Lewis is a gutsy little mouse who shouts at strange noises and then investigates them despite his fears. Wilson uses lots of repetition here, making it perfect for sharing aloud. The noises always have the same pattern of sounds and Lewis always shouts back the same reply. This helps build tension in the story as well, just enough for little ones to be fully engrossed in the tale.
Currey’s illustrations have a great play of contrasts between the warm light of Lewis’ hole filled with tiny furniture and nuts and the wild blue of the outside at night. Both are equally lovely, the browns and golds of Lewis’ home shine while the deep blues of the outside glimmer with moonlight.
A perfect bedtime read for a cold day, this book is also a great choice for autumn story times. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Margaret K. McElderry Books.
Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf
Released August 6, 2013
When Sophie and her family go to the farmer’s market, Sophie helps pick out a lovely squash. However, it is not a squash that she wants to eat! Instead she names it Bernice and takes it everywhere with her. Her parents offer to cook Bernice so that she won’t rot, but Sophie is scandalized. Soon though, Bernice is starting to show her age with “freckles” on her skin. So Sophie heads back to the farmer’s market to ask how to help Bernice not rot. The farmer suggests, “Fresh air. Good, clean dirt. A little love.” Sophie heads home and plants Bernice in the garden, tucking her into that good dirt. That night, the snow starts to fall and Sophie has to be very patient. Her parents get her a fish to keep her company, but he’s not as interesting as Bernice. With spring come some surprises that will delight and satisfy.
This picture book does not read like a debut book, instead having a confident tone and a quirky premise of more veteran authors. The story is completely satisfying, offering a conclusion that brings the book full circle and along the way plenty of squash bonding time. So many children bond with objects in their childhood that this will speak to many children. Both the humor of it being a squash and the seasonal nature of the story make this a joyful pick.
Wilsdorf’s illustrations reflect the quirkiness of this title beautifully. The bond between girl and squash is perfectly rendered and while humorous, the images never laugh at Sophie and her new friend. The warm and loving family is depicted in their kitchen and home, ready to eat the squash but also ready to let Sophie decide.
Pick this one for your next autumnal storytime though it will also make a nice addition to any garden-themed unit too. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from digital copy received from Edelweiss and Random House.
Rainbow Stew by Cathryn Falwell
Released on June 15, 2013.
Three children scramble out of bed at their grandpa’s house to a rainy day. But they don’t want to stay inside, so Grandpa sends them outside to find colors to add to his Rainbow Stew. They splash their way into the garden and look under the wet green leaves to find what colors are hidden beneath. They find all sorts of green vegetables like beans, spinach, and cucumbers, some rosy radishes, some purple cabbage, yellow peppers, red tomatoes and brown potatoes. Soon their basket is full and the three children are muddy and happy. They all head inside to cook the stew together, each child helping in their own way. Then there is quiet time inside as the stew cooks, until finally they can all enjoy Rainbow Stew!
Falwell merrily combines a love of gardening and a willingness to get muddy in this book. She uses quick rhymes that add a bouncy feel to the book, maintaining that sense of joy that is everywhere in this book. I am particularly pleased to see a book with a grandfather taking expert care of grandchildren in this book.
The illustrations are filled with falling rain, but also small faces turned up into it and knees plunked down into the mud. The completely African-American family is also great to see in a picture book that easily integrates into rain or gardening or color units and story times.
Ripe and ready to be picked, this is a great choice for sharing aloud in spring or fall. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Lee & Low Books via NetGalley.
Bear Has a Story to Tell by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Fall was ending and winter was coming, but before he hibernated, Bear had a story to tell. Unfortunately, the other animals were too busy to hear the story. Mouse was gathering seeds and when Bear helped Mouse find lots of seeds, Mouse tunneled underground for the winter. Duck was getting ready to fly south and all Bear had time to do was check the wind direction for him and say he would miss Duck before he flew off. Frog too was looking for a warm place to sleep. Bear helped dig a hole for him to sleep in. Mole was already way underground and asleep. So Bear too headed off to sleep. When spring came, Bear still had a story to share. Soon his friends were gathered around him to listen, and you will have to read the book to find out what story he shared!
The husband/wife team behind the Caldecott winning A Sick Day for Amos McGee have returned with a book that has a quiet, contemplative beauty that is haunting. It’s one of those picture books that can be read as a quick bedtime story, but has so much more depth than that. Bear’s rather lonely start to his hibernation also has a series of close connections to friends. His spring wake up is filled with a warmth that echoes the seasonal change.
The writing is gentle and filled with small details that really show the slowing nature of the start of winter. There is time to count the clouds and look at the color of the leaves, at least for Bear. The connections between Bear and his many friends are also written with a richness that adds much to the story. The circular nature of the ending is also an invitation to start the book all over again. One that readers will be happy to accept.
Erin Stead’s illustrations have a beautiful delicacy to them. The rounded shoulders of the very furry Bear show a patience and yet a weight too. There are moments of celebration, when Bear is rolling in the newly lush grass that are filled with cheer. It is especially remarkable near the lonely and poignant image of Bear alone as the first snow begins to fall. Lovely.
It’s the perfect time of year to read this book, ease yourself into the winter months and quietly wish autumn farewell. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring the Bell by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard
When autumn arrives with apples, falling leaves and cool wind, Mr. Putter finds that he is missing school. He wishes that he could return if only for one day. Then he comes up with a solution: visit a classroom along with Mrs. Teaberry and have Tabby and Zeke do tricks! The only problem is that Tabby and Zeke really don’t do tricks. But Mr. Putter is sure that they can be taught in time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t all work out as Mr. Putter thinks it will. It’s a complete disaster: but also completely funny.
I have been a fan of Mr. Putter and Tabby for years. They are at that reading level that is so hard, where the children are reaching towards chapter books but not quite there yet. Rylant has taken a very unlikely character in Mr. Putter and turned him into a man that children will happily relate to. Tabby on the other hand is easily beloved by young readers.
Howard’s illustrations are equally appealing, filled with plenty of color, lots of action, and more than a touch of silliness. Readers from a broad range of ages will enjoy this new edition to the popular series.
A great pick for when children are back at school, this book reads aloud well but works best when young readers tackle it themselves. Look for the whole series and enjoy them all! Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Butterfly Tree by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Leslie Wu
A girl is playing at the beach in early September when she sees something odd in the air. At first it looks like black pepper raining down, then it turns into a shimmering orange cloud. Jilly runs to get her mother because she is scared of what it might be. Her mother heads toward the beach and then to the neighboring woods. As they walk, Jilly tries to figure out what the cloud might be. As they enter the dim, cool woods she tries to spot orange things. She sees an oriole and a kite, and then a tree that is completely orange. It’s not until her dog rushes at the tree chasing a squirrel and the monarchs fly into the air that she realizes that the orange are monarch butterflies on their migration.
Markle has written this book in very evocative language, describing what Jilly is seeing with details. The book is in verse, so the language is just right, creating a sense of mystery and wonder that readers are sure to feel clearly as they read. The imagery here is clear and well drawn, comparing the butterflies to clouds and jewels. Markle also draws the setting very clearly, showing the touch of sand on feet, the chill of the woods after the beach, and the play of light and dark in the woods.
Wu’s illustrations add to the beauty here. Her pictures range from hazy, long-distance looks at the shore to the soft close-ups of the girl and her mother. Everything is soft and filled with rich colors of fall. The author’s note at the end of the book has information on Markle’s own experience with migrating monarchs as well as other resources for more information.
This is a perfect book to share in the autumn, but children will enjoy it year round. The stellar writing and rich illustrations create a book that is impressive and enjoyable. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.
Apples and Pumpkins by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell
If the heat of summer is getting to you, you can always look ahead to the crispness of fall. This new edition of the Rockwell classic keeps the same feel as the original. It is the story of a little girl who heads off into the country to a farm to pick apples and pumpkins. There they meet the geese, chickens and turkey who live on the farm. They pick apples and the little girl carefully selects her pumpkin which she later carves into a jack-o-lantern. The book ends with apples being given away on Halloween.
There is a timelessness to this story that adds to its broad appeal. Rockwell’s words are simple and friendly, just as they were in the 1988 edition. Her daughter’s art, done in watercolor, has the same timeless simplicity. She celebrates the colors of autumn, but keeps the story at the center of the images.
A winning pick for an autumnal story time, you can’t miss with either edition. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Three Little Kittens by Jerry Pinkney
Caldecott medalist, Pinkney, has created a picture book version of the beloved nursery rhyme. Pinkney stays true to the original version of the rhyme. His illustrations offer a realistic and detailed depiction of the rhyme, offering a jaunty tone that works very well here. The mother cat is fully clothed in a dress while the kittens romp in collars only, allowing them to act more like cats while they play. The small details in the illustrations are delightful. The kittens play with a mouse jack-in-the-box and a mouse doll. Meanwhile real mice peek around a corner. The birds outside also have scarves and hats, echoing the anthropomorphized cats nicely.
Pinkney has made this a great autumn book by having the cats frolic in fallen leaves. In fact, the leaves are what hide the mittens from view when they lose them. When the cats head back to find their mittens, they find them just where they left them, as young readers will enjoy remembering. The playful kittens have detailed fur that is lush, fuzzy and fine. All three having different colored coats make for dynamic and appealing pictures.
A lovely take on a classic rhyme, this book will be welcomed to library and classroom shelves as another great picture book by a master. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
You can also check out this video of Jerry Pinkney talking about creating the book:
Jerry Pinkney and Three Little Kittens
The Very Best Pumpkin by Mark Kimball Moulton, illustrated by Karen Hillard Good
This is a great fall story that focuses not on Halloween, but on pumpkins and autumn. It is a story about how one perfect pumpkin can create a new friend. Peter lives with his grandparents on Pumpkin Hollow Farm. They grow different crops other times of the year, but in the fall they specialize in pumpkins. Peter helps care for the pumpkins throughout the summer. One day when out in the field, he noticed a vine that went out of the field. Following it, he found a pumpkin all by itself. He started taking care of that pumpkin too. Nearby, a girl, Meg, moved into a new home and noticed Peter caring for his special pumpkin. But she stayed out of sight so he wouldn’t notice her. Peter also thought that no one was seeing him and his pumpkin. When it was time to harvest the pumpkins, Peter offered his special pumpkin to Meg and they both realized that this one secret pumpkin had already made them friends.
Moulton portrays an idyllic farm life in this book. Peter does work hard and diligently throughout the summer, so children will see that farming and growing plants does take time and care. There are several touches that make this book work very well. One is that the pumpkin is not the largest, but a special one that is perfectly round. Another is that there are wonderful moments in the text where pumpkins and autumn are dwelled on. The prose fills out with descriptions of the vines, the growing pumpkins, and the joy of the harvest.
Good’s illustrations bring a winning element to the book. Her illustrations are done on paper that is wonderfully splotched and textured, creating a real feeling of autumn as well as intriguing textures. On top of this interesting background, her illustrations are done in crisp black outlines and warm earthy colors. The friendly characters pop against the very natural feel of the book.
A great addition to fall story times and units, this book celebrates autumn in all of its colors. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.