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.
The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc
One day a lion discovers a hurt bird in his garden. He bandages the bird’s damaged wing, but then the rest of the bird’s flock flies away, migrating for the winter. So the lion takes the bird into his home. Throughout the winter, the bird and the lion spend each day together doing all sorts of things. And the lion notices that the winter doesn’t seem as cold with a friend along with him. Then spring arrives and the bird’s wing has mended, so the bird heads off to join its flock as they return for the warm weather. Lion is once again alone and now he misses his friend. Lion spends all summer alone, tending his garden. Then autumn comes again and Lion hopes to see his friend return, but will he?
Dubuc is a Canadian author who is internationally known. She has a decidedly European vibe to her work with its quietness and the message of larger things written in the small world she creates on the page. She cleverly shows the passing of the seasons using pages of white that allow space for the time to pass for the reader. The book is also a lovely riff on The Lion and the Mouse, except in this book the lion is the one doing the kindness for another creature and the payback of the kindness is more delicate in the form of friendship.
Dubuc’s art is exceptional. Her fine lines show both close-ups of the friends together and also vistas of the world they live in. There is a feeling of smallness, closeness and a limited world that Lion lives in. That contrasts with the bird leaving on migration and exiting this close world.
A noteworthy picture book, this new title by Dubuc is charming and warm. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Hi, Koo!: A Year of Seasons by Jon J. Muth
Join Koo, a panda, on an exploration of the seasons through haiku poems. The book begins with fall and haikus about fall leaves, wind, and rain. Winter comes next with poetry about snow and ice. Spring is bridged into with a glimpse of crocuses and then grass, insects, and birds. Summer arrives with fireflies, flowers and water. In 26 poems, this is a lovely celebration of the small things that make each season special.
Muth has created haikus that are beautifully written. They capture small moments in time and also point to the larger importance of these moments. They continue Muth’s Buddhist focus in his picture books, offering children a way to see these times of mindfulness as important and worthy of exploration.
Muth’s watercolor illustrations have a wonderful spirit to them. The palette changes colors as the seasons change with spring bouncing in green especially after the white cold of winter. He captures the seasons so well that your attitude changes with each season as well.
A stellar collection of haiku, this book will invite young readers to see nature and seasons in a fresh new way. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic.
Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
There are just over thirty poems in this collection and as promised in the title, all of them are very short. These short poems though each have power and perfection in just a few words, offering insight into the way that language can be edited and played with to make it speak much more than the few words on the page. Readers will find poems that are well-known mixed with others that are delightful new surprises. Through it all, there is a feeling of joy that comes from the page and from the words as well as a pleasure of traveling the seasons through poetry.
Thanks to the brevity of all of these poems, this is a very child-friendly book to introduce children to poetry. Their condensed format also gives them a lot of power and bang per word, which makes them easy to discuss with children. Readers will also want to try their hands at creating short poems and are sure to quickly realize that while they read easily, they are very difficult to create. That makes this book all the more impressive with its high level of quality of poem and a perfect level of accessibility for youth.
Sweet’s illustrations frame the poems into one cohesive unit. They celebrate the small things, like these poems and their themes, looking at leaves, butterflies, fog and lots of other bits of nature. Her work is playful and yet not too light, bringing depth into each image.
A beautiful collection of short poems, this belongs in every library and would make a perfect way to start every day with a poem. Appropriate for ages 4-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Nest by Jorey Hurley
This simple and elegant picture book takes a look at a year in the life of a robin. It begins with an egg in a nest and two proud parents. By the next page, the egg has hatched into one very hungry baby bird. As the tree flowers, the little bird is fed by its parents. Then comes the first flight as a speckled robin chick. There are berries on the tree to feast on and when autumn comes the green leaves have turned orange and yellow and started to fall. The last of the berries are eaten while snow flies in the sky. As spring returns, the young robin meets another young robin and they build their own nest together. All of this is told in images since the text of the book is simple single words on each double-spread picture. This is a beautiful and impressive book for the youngest children.
Hurley’s illustrations are strong and clear. Done in PhotoShop, the illustrations have the feel of cut-paper collage in their simplicity. They will project well to a group of children. The storyline is far more than the words on the page, and children will want to discuss what is happening throughout the book.
A wonderful pick for spring units, this book is a celebration of nature and seasons. Appropriate for ages 1-3.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
The Secret Pool by Kimberley Ridley, illustrated by Rebekah Raye
Vernal pools are easy to miss, but also necessary to the life of many animals. This nonfiction picture book explores the amazing things that happen in vernal pools throughout the seasons. It begins with defining what a vernal pool is and then quickly moves into spring. The fascinating lives of frogs are described, including the way they make it through the winter. Soon salamanders join them and breed in the pool. Tiny fairy shrimp appear too. As summer comes, the eggs of the salamanders and frogs hatch and soon there are tadpoles and larvae in the pools. Now the race begins to see if they can climb ashore before the pool dries up. The vernal pool disappears and the animals that live there and were born there move away. They will return again with the spring and the vernal pools.
Ridley has nicely created a book that can be used at two levels. The larger text can be shared as almost a story about the pools. Then the smaller text provides deeper information about the vernal pools and the animals. Her words work together well, the simpler text offers a poetic voice to the factual information that serves to remind us how amazing all of this actually is.
Raye’s illustrations are lush and minutely detailed. She offers both larger scale images of the animals and then others done with finer lines that show more details and more animals on the page. You never know what you will see on the next page, and I guarantee a jump of surprise when you see the bullfrog with the tadpole hanging out of his mouth like a tongue.
This book reveals a world right under our feet that most children never knew existed. Appropriate for ages 5-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
A Year with Marmalade by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Heath McKenzie
One autumn, Maddy told Ella that she is going away for a year and asked her to take care of her cat, Marmalade. Both Ella and Marmalade cry and cry when Maddy leaves. Ella can’t find anyone to play in the leaves with her, pick and munch apples, or stomp in puddles. Then one frosty morning, Ella wakes up to find her feet warm and Marmalade sleeping on her bed. As winter arrives, Ella and Marmalade get closer and closer. Spring comes and the two work together in the garden and head to the beach together. Maddy returns with the autumn, but what will happen now with Marmalade?
This book is a smart mix of waiting for a friend to return and seasons. Along the way, there is also the chance to make a new friend too. The dance of the seasons moves the story along nicely, creating a timeline along which readers can see the relationship between Ella and Marmalade growing and changing.
It is the illustrations that make this book more than just a book about friendship in a crowded picture book market. McKenzie combines black and white line drawings with bursts of color. Marmalade is always shown as a pop of orange, while the human characters remain black and white. The effect has an appealing lightness.
A picture book about moving, friendships and change, this lovely little picture book would make a nice addition to units on seasons as well. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.
Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler
This book will sweep you up like a breath of brisk autumn air. Miss Maple is a little woman who spends her entire summer searching for seeds that have not gotten planted in the spring. She brings them back to her maple tree and nurses them back to strength. She washes them off, warns them to take care because they are so small, takes them on field trips to learn about being a seed, and reads them bedtime stories. In winter they all burrow down together and fill the time with songs and stories. Then when spring arrives, the seeds learn to dance in the rain and sink into muddy ground. In May, it is time for the seeds to find the places they will grow, so Miss Maple launches them off. Miss Maple then starts her journey with the seeds all over again, heading off on the back of a bluebird to find another year’s worth of stranded seeds. Lovely and warm, this picture book is a joyous celebration of the seasons and the plants around us.
Wheeler has created a tiny motherly figure in Miss Maple, someone who loves and cares just for the good of the earth. As the book progresses, she becomes almost a Mother Earth figure as her world turns with the seasons. Wheeler’s writing is filled with wonderful small moments and details. Miss Maple reads bedtime stories “by firefly light” and during the winter her animal neighbors share “supplies of hot maple syrup, old corn husks, and juicy fruit rinds.”
Her illustrations show that same attention to detail. This small world is filled with little touches that make it come alive. The frogs in the nearby pond have a house in a log complete with front door and paned windows. The seeds all sleep in small, cozy beds that are perfectly designed for seeds their size. Then when Miss Maple launches the seeds off, she does it with winged baskets and other vessels that glow and float on the water. This is a completely formed world that all readers will want to linger in.
Cozy and lovely, this picture book is a celebration of seasons and the earth, but it is also a reflection on the skill and care of nurturing. Get this one for your Earth Day units and pull it out when covering seasons too. Though I think it would be best of all curled up under warm blankets and watching autumn arrive. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.
Inside Outside by Lizi Boyd
This lovely wordless book explores the changing seasons in a subtle and engaging way. The book starts on the inside of a house with a young boy and a little black dog. The boy is planting seeds in pots while the dog watches and two white mice play. Through the die cut windows, you can see the snowmen in the yard. Turn the page and you are outside with those snowmen, the birds eating the seeds. Turn again and you are inside once more, this time able to glimpse flowering trees out the window. The plants in the pots are green and growing too. The boy is hanging pictures on the walls about birds and snowmen melting. Keep turning and the seasons change, marked by activities, the pictures on the walls, and what you can see through the windows.
There is a wonderful organic feel to this book, partly thanks to the textured brown paper that serves as the background for all of the images. That feel is also helped by the color scheme of greens, blues and terra cotta. The die cuts are used very skillfully throughout, offering glimpses from inside to outside and back again. The wordless nature of the book makes it a universal story, ideal for being shared with families who may use another language at home.
Filled with small details that will have children looking back at previous pages when they discover something new, this book is perfect for lingering over on long trips or snuggled in someone’s lap. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.
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.