Here are three wonderful new or recent picture books that celebrate nature and outdoors.
In the Middle of Fall by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek (9780062573117)
This book follows When Spring Comes by the same masterful duo. Here Henkes’ poem celebrates the turning of the leaves and other changes in nature. There are the squirrels, the brown gardens, pumpkins and apples. Then leaves fall, filling the air with oranges, yellows and reds that disappear quickly and soon another season is on its way, this time with snow. Henkes keeps the text of the book simple and focused on nature. There is a deep sense of the fleeting nature of autumn and how quickly it passes by. The illustrations by Dronzek are large and fill the page. They will work well shared with a group, who will recognize their own backyards and their own time outside reflected in the book. A lovely look at fall, let’s hope this duo does the other seasons as well. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Once Upon a Jungle by Laura Knowles, illustrated by James Boast (9781784937799)
This clever picture book uses the phrase “once upon a time” to set in motion the food cycle in a rainforest. “Once upon” quickly turns to the animal being preyed upon, eaten or hunted. Ants are eaten by a mantis who in turn is snacked on by a lizard who is hunted by a monkey. The animals get larger and larger as the book continues until finally there is an old panther. After that panther dies, he returns to the dirt where his body enriches the soil and new plants grow. Thanks to the simple phrasing, the book is fast paced and the structure allows readers to be surprised and fascinated. The book ends with an explanation of the jungle as a living habitat. The bright illustrations framed by the black backgrounds leap off of the page and offer a sense of peering through jungle leaves and vines to see what is happening. A very approachable and interesting book on food cycles. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Thank You, Bees by Toni Yuly (9780763692612)
This bright and bold picture book is just right for the smallest of children. Exploring gratitude and appreciating the little things in life, this book moves through a little boy’s day as he thanks each thing that brings him joy. The sun is thanked for its light, the bees for honey, sheep for wool and trees for wood. By bedtime, the little boy thanks the entire earth for the life it gives. Done in very simple language of identifying what to be thankful for and then voicing the thanks, this book shows how easy it is to see the beauty of life. The art of the book is done in collage with items like wood, paper, and fabric. With the white background, the images pop on the page making this a good choice for sharing aloud with a group. It could also be used as an introduction for a gratitude exercise with small children. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)
The Bad Seed by Jory John, illustrated by Pete Oswald (9780062467768)
He is a very bad seed. He cuts in line, tells pointless lies, never washes his hands (or his feet), and is late to everything. He wasn’t always that way. Once he was happy with his family of seeds on top of a sunflower. But when the flower drooped, he was gathered and put into a bag of seeds. Darkness fell until he was almost eaten by a giant! After that, he was a bad seed. Everyone knew it. But what happens when a bad seed doesn’t want to be bad anymore? Can he become a good seed? This picture book looks at the power of choice and transformation. An interesting read aloud for gardening story times or autumn units. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by HarperCollins.)
Full of Fall by April Pulley Sayre (9781481479844)
With vibrant photographs, this picture book celebrates the beauty and colors of autumn. Told in rhyme, the book focuses on the changing leaves. Different colors are shown clearly in the images, making this a great book to explore for colors too. The leaves go from bright colors on the trees, to falling down, to heaps on the ground and sinking into the water too. Finally, there is snow. This is a great addition to Sayre’s body of work on nature. It is simple enough to use with very young preschoolers and even toddlers all of whom will enjoy the vivid clarity of the photographs. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Wee Sister Strange by Holly Grant, illustrated by K. G. Campbell
Wee Sister Strange is a girl who lives by herself by the woods in an old house. She spends time in the woods when others won’t be there. She enjoys the moon and the dark. She talks to the owls and buries the bones from their meals. She rides on the back of a ferocious bear. She climbs trees as wolves prowl below. She dives deep into the water of the bog looking at snail shells. Then a bright window beckons her closer. There is the reader, snug in bed reading this book! And Wee Sister Strange stays there, right outside, listening to the story and snuggling down in her own bed outside.
The poetry of this book immediately tells readers that they are in an odd world, one where a child merrily lives on her own. Wee Sister Strange is a beautiful and wild child; the language in the poem makes sure that children will see her as a welcome and safe part of the woods. Still, the bear is fierce and the wolves are about, so this is a wild woods, one where other may fear to explore. The bog is like that as well, cleverly not described as a lake and with the slime emphasized for good measure too. The art by Campbell is glowing and rich. The leaves on the trees are just about almost fallen entirely with a few stubborn yellow leaves lighting the branches like lanterns. The moon is full and throws shadows. The animals are strong and fanged. It’s a book with shivers and wonder galore. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.)
Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown (9781442402980)
Jasper returns for a second gently-scary story. In this picture book, Jasper needs some new underwear. He decides to get one pair of green creepy underwear, because he is big enough for them. When he wears them to bed, he finds out that they glow with a green light. Jasper quickly changes to plain white underwear, hiding the creepy underwear in the bottom of the hamper. Waking up the next morning, he realizes that he has the creepy underwear on! Jasper tries all sorts of things to get rid of the underwear, from mailing it to China to cutting it into bits, but the underwear keeps on coming back. What is a bunny to do? This picture book is a delightful mix of funny and scary with echoes of classic monster movies. Exactly the right pick for Halloween reading. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Review copy provided by Simon & Schuster.)
The Pomegranate Witch by Denise Doyen, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler (9781452145891)
Deftly written in rhyme, this picture book features a mouthwatering pomegranate tree that is watched over by a witch. Still, the children of the town desperately want a pomegranate from the tree and are willing to go to war with the witch to get one. The children tried again and again, but the witch stopped them with water cannons and rolling walnuts. In the end though, the children got one delectable pomegranate to split among themselves. The next day, the tree was picked bare and the war was over. It was time for Halloween where a Kindly Lady gladly shared out pomegranates from her home. A lady that looks a lot like the glimpses readers get of the witch.
Doyen’s writing is spooky and rich. This is not a picture book for preschoolers, since the writing demands a longer attention span. Elementary classes would enjoy it or it could be added to a read aloud for older children on Halloween. Perhaps with pomegranate seeds to try. Appropriate for ages 5-7. (Review copy provided by Chronicle Books.)
The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea (9781484730461)
A spooky ghost lives by a frightening dark forest in this picture book. The ghost is the one who is scared, asking the reader to keep on checking on what is happening in the forest. But the forest isn’t nearly as scary as the ghost expects, which adds a zingy humor to this story. The tone of the book is deftly handled, walking a line between shivery ghost story and Halloween party for friends. It’s a book that will invite children to be just as scared as they might like, but also enjoy doughnuts and some costumes too. The art is lovely and graphic, filled with zaps of bright color emphasized by white and black. A great read aloud for slightly older children. Appropriate for ages 5-8. (Reviewed from library copy.)
Yellow Time by Lauren Stringer (InfoSoup)
The geese are flying south, the squirrels are busy and the crows are the only birds left in the trees. The air smells different and everyone knows that the trees must drop their leaves soon. Then the wind comes and the air fills with yellow leaves. Children run outside and play in the swirling yellow breezes. When the leaves have fallen, the yellow is in piles on the ground, covering everything. Children gather the leaves to press in books to remember the special time just before winter comes with its whiteness.
Stringer shares the drama of autumn in this picture book. She uses phrases like “a symphony of yellow” to capture the wonder of what is happening, mixing senses of sound and color together. When she describes the smell of autumn just before the leaves fall, she uses comparisons that children will understand: “Like wet mud and dry grass with a sprinkle of sugar.” It offers up the richness and deepness of the smell, the intangible dryness that is part of it and the sweetness as well. She skillfully creates autumn on the page with her words.
The illustrations celebrate the diversity of a small neighborhood filled with yellow trees and the children who wait for the falling leaves to start. There is a gorgeous overload of yellow on the pages, bright and cheerful, filled with motion and tumbling breezes and leaves. The pages are just as fresh and vibrant as the season she is depicting.
A joyous book that welcomes autumn with open arms. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall by Anne Sibley O’Brien, illustrated by Susan Gal (InfoSoup)
The second seasonal book by this author and illustrator duo welcomes autumn. A series of hinged pages open to reveal the magic of this season. Right before each gatefold is opened, there is a magical word that punctuates the book, “Open Sesame” and “Shazam!” As each page opens a moment in fall is revealed from the cloud-filled milkweed to changing leaf colors to pumpkins becoming jack-o-lanterns. It is all a dazzling magical show of seasonal change and joy.
O’Brien captures classic autumn moments in this book that all children will relate to. There are apples, pumpkins, and animals preparing for the approaching winter. School buses arrive, cranberries are harvested, and leaves blanket the ground. It is all captured with a smile and a nod, no fear or worry at the changing seasons here, just a pleasure in the wonder of nature around us.
Gal’s illustrations share that same delight in the transformation of fall. She shows parts of autumn that are not mentioned in the text, making it all the more fun to explore the illustrations. Children will enjoy the many small details in the images as well as opening the pages to reveal the magic inside. This is very intelligently designed.
A delightfully warm and magical look at autumn and the pleasures of the season. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Abrams.
Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn by Kenard Pak (InfoSoup)
A child wearing a flowing red scarf heads out into the woods on a late summer morning. Branches sway in the cool wind. Animals are out and busy looking for food while others are heading south for the winter. Cozy nests and dens are being crafted too. The flowers are catching the last rays of warm summer sun. There are rumbles of thunder and clouds rolling in. Breezes and drizzle and chill enter the air. Leaves are starting to fall too. The child heads out the next day, into autumn.
Pak’s writing is poetic and simple. He allows nature to have a voice in this picture book. The trees talk about the wind, the animals speak to what they are doing to prepare for cold weather, etc. It’s a lovely way to capture the changes through the living things that are experiencing it first hand. The child too is experiencing the changes in temperature, the clouds, the rain and the winds. There is a sense of being immersed in nature and experiencing changing seasons directly as they change from one to another.
Pak’s illustrations truly make this book spectacular. From the flow of the child’s scarf on the page, marking the wind as it blows to the woods itself filled with strong trunks and tall grasses. The tops of the trees shine with the light of late summer and start to change to early autumn as the book progresses, still filled with the same light and air.
This book is a testament to the beauty of changing seasons, the natural aspects of those changes and the vitality of being outside and being part of it. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Wonderfall by Michael Hall (InfoSoup)
In a series of poems, this picture book celebrates the changing seasons through the experience of a tree. First in the greenness of summer, the acorns start to fall from the oak tree. The yellow school bus arrives and the tree’s leaves start to change. Harvest time arrives, parades march past, and Halloween comes.The leaves start to fall, Thanksgiving comes and children play in the piles of leaves. Wind arrives, taking most of the leaves off the tree and its time to rake. No leaves left, the tree stands bare until snow comes with the new winter season.
Hall celebrates the autumn season with this picture book that encompasses the very beginning signs of autumn all the way through to full winter. The focus on a single tree as the one experiencing the changes works well, particularly with the vivid changes that the tree goes through itself. It is also interesting to see trees as witnessing what humans do just as they watch the activities of the squirrels on the ground and in their branches. The book ends with information on animals seen in the book and how they prepare for winter.
The illustrations are signature Hall with bold shapes done in collage. The leaves are oversized and glorious, full of bold colors and the size of branches. They enliven the page no matter their color, making the winter pages when they are gone all the more cold and barren.
Simple and poetic, this is a great new pick for fall story times and units. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.
Applesauce Weather by Helen Frost, illustrated by Amy June Bates
Faith and Peter know that it is applesauce time when the first apple falls from the tree outside their house. It’s also the time of year when their Uncle Arthur comes to tell his stories about how he lost his finger. But this year is different, since Aunt Lucy died and Uncle Arthur just isn’t as twinkly as he once was. Faith though is sure that her uncle will come and he does, unsure of his welcome without Aunt Lucy. He sits on the bench under the apple tree with the children, warming up to telling his tales. Maybe this year they will finally learn the truth of his missing finger!
There is a beautiful delicacy in this book, spun together by the masterful poetry of Frost. She holds the hearts of her characters with such tenderness, showing the love of the children for their uncle and also the love of Arthur for his beloved Lucy. The stories all twine together, the family sitting under the tree, long-lasting love, Peter discovering his own first love, and then the remarkable stories that Arthur tells. The entire work is dazzling, moments of life held up and made amazing just for taking the time. This is real world writing at its very best and one of the best verse novels of the year so far.
The illustrations by Bates are filled with emotions. There is the hesitation of Arthur as he arrives. The bend of the back of Faith as she waits under the apple tree. The flow of breeze into her hair. They are filled with whimsy, the stoop of an old back, the twinkle of a storyteller starting to tell, the joy of apples in fall.
Beautiful and amazing, this very short verse novel is a celebration of autumn and families. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.
Goodnight, Grizzle Grump! by Aaron Blecha
Grizzle Grump is a huge bear who is ready to hibernate for the winter, but he has to find the right quiet place to do that. He’s so big that even his yawns can blow the other animals around. He tries to sleep in the trees first, going through an elaborate ritual of scratches, wiggles and flopping. Then he is asleep and snoring until the noises of the woodpeckers wake him up. He heads off to find another spot. But when he sleeps near the stream, the beavers are too loud. The gloomy swamp seems like a good choice until the frogs start to croak. He finally finds a snowy cave, far from everyone else. Then it is his turn to make huge snoring noises that drive everyone else away.
Blecha has created a great book to share aloud with a group. The humor is flawlessly presented in a way that makes it effortless to share. The ritual that Grizzle Grump goes through each time will have children giggling and is also something that you can get the audience to participate in. Inventive story time librarians will have children help make the noises of the woods and swamp with hands and feet.
The illustrations add to the humor from the bucktoothed squirrel who watches it all to the frenzied reaction of the bear every time he is woken once again. The wild energy of the story line is reflected in the illustrations with the noises themselves part of the art. Even the proportions of the huge bear and his little blanket and pillow add to the humor.
A glorious read aloud for autumn months or any bedtime, this picture book is a silly and cheery delight. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.