These three picture books are all about the joy and power of play.
Another Way to Climb a Tree by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Hadley Hooper (9781626723528)
Lulu loves to climb trees. She saves cats, retrieves kites and climbs trees that others won’t. When Lulu gets sick though, she can’t climb trees for awhile. She misses the trees and the trees and birds miss her too. As Lulu looks out of her window, only the sun is climbing the tree. But then she notices the tree’s shadow on her bedroom wall and Lulu realizes that she can still pretend to be high in the branches. Scanlon’s writing is rich and simple at the same time. She speaks about the joy of climbing trees and then with poignancy shows how much Lulu misses being outside and being up in tree branches. The illustrations by Hooper are done with printmaking and have a traditional and organic feel that adds to the connection with nature felt on the pages. Get this into the hands of children with skinned knees and sunburned noses. Appropriate for ages 4-6. (Reviewed from library copy.)
The Five Forms by Barbara McClintock (9781626722163)
When a girl discovers a book of martial arts forms, she ignores the warming in the book that says that “unexpected results” can happen if anyone other than a master attempts them. When the girl tries the crane form, a large crane appears in her room. The crane is quite problematic and destructive, so she quickly moves on to leopard form. As the two animals fight, she adds another and another with a snake and dragon joining the battle. Finally, she reaches the last form to turn things back to normal. She tidies up the mess of the house just before her mother comes in with tickets to the zoo. Perhaps it’s time for someone else to read that book! McClintock’s text is very simple here, with much of the action of the book happening in the images. The book moves from straight picture book to comic frames and back again with alacrity and in a way that flows naturally from form to form. The illustrations are filled with huge animals, messes and activity. This is a fun look at martial arts with a dash of magic. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Review copy provided by Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers.)
Fort-Building Time by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Abigail Halpin (9780399556562)
Celebrate the seasons through play in this picture book that has different forts built by kids throughout the year. Winter starts the book with an ice and snow fort made merry with pine boughs for seating, berries and branches for decorations. Spring has a quiet fort filled with books to read, a cozy blanket hung between trees. Summer takes the fort to the beach with driftwood, towels, starfish and snacks. The fall fort is up in the changing trees with leaves falling all around. But sometimes forts go awry too! The only solution is a bigger, better fort next time. The text of this picture book is poetic and celebratory of each of the seasons with each season clearly depicted and then the fort shown in the illustrations. The images are filled with diverse children playing together. The fine-lined images are a mix of watercolor, colored pencil and digital that create a rich, warm setting. Have plenty of blankets, boxes and pillows around because little listeners will want to immediately build their own forts. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (E-galley provided by Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)
The Starry Giraffe by Andy Bergmann (9781481491006, Amazon)
Starry Giraffe was very hungry when she came upon an apple tree full of ripe red apples. She selected the most delicious-looking apple and picked it. But just as she was about to eat the apple, a little mouse appeared and told Starry how hungry he was and that he was far too small to reach the apples on his own. So Starry gave him the apple. She turned back to the tree and picked the second most delicious apple to eat. But as the was about to eat it, a family of skunks came up. The giraffe gave them each an apple. And so it continued, with the giraffe picking apples and animals appearing. She gave each of them away until finally there were no more apples on the tree! But just when readers think that there are no apples yet, the story takes a great twist.
This picture book looks at generosity and the power of sharing as the giraffe at the center of the story chooses again and again to share the apples with other animals. The twist at the end moves the book away from more traditional tales and adds a layer of silliness to the story. Abundance is a huge part of this story as the creature with the abundant source of food chooses to share it will all.
Bergmann’s illustrations are simple and bright. The star-covered giraffe is unusual with her starry pattern and the stick-thin legs. The images have a strong graphic punch to them with bright animals on white backgrounds and pale green grass.
A dynamic and modern twist on a story of sharing. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Aladdin.
Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn (9781592702299, Amazon)
Told in the voice of a young boy who is different from the others around him. He doesn’t mind wearing different colored gloves after he can’t find his lost one. He enjoys being alone most of the time, unlike the others in his town. His favorite place to be alone is in a huge oak tree that is named Bertolt. The boy spends his days up in Bertolt’s branches, weathering storms together, making friends with the animals and birds that live in the tree. The boy looks forward to spring when Bertolt’s leaves will return and become a splendid green shelter again. But when the other trees burst into flower and leaf, Bertolt doesn’t. Eventually, the boy must admit that Bertolt is dead, but what does one do when a tree dies? The boy figures out exactly the right thing.
This is a story of an introverted child who doesn’t mind being on his own one bit. As a fellow introvert, I love seeing the depiction of a child who isn’t longing to be included but instead finds real pleasure in his time spent alone. It’s a story of independence and imagination, showing that quiet time alone can lead to creative solutions even when you have lost something you love. The book is touching, warm and celebratory.
The illustrations are lovely with the huge sweeping oak tree filling the page, the branches thick and strong, the leaves aglow with green and light. The fine-lined images capture the boy almost dwarfed by the space around him and yet eagerly also a vital part of the scene. His acorn cap speaks to his connection to nature and set him apart from the people around him as well.
A lovely look at introversion, imagination and the power of being different and embracing it. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.
Molly & Pim and the Millions of Stars by Martine Murray (InfoSoup)
Released January 17, 2017.
Molly longs not to have a mother who heads into the woods to collect weeds and herbs. She wants a normal family that has a normal house, not one that feels like a caravan inside. She wants a mother who gives her granola bars in packages, not one who creates potions and treatments. Her neighbors want them to calm down too, get control of their rooster who crows at dawn and to neaten up their yard. Molly’s mother creates a powerful potion to grow a tree in one night that will shield them from the neighbors, but accidentally drinks it herself. Suddenly, Molly’s mother has turned into a tree. Now Molly has to decide who to trust with the secrets of her life. It can’t be Ellen, her best friend, who is very normal and whose life Molly covets. Instead she turns to the odd boy in their class, Pim, who creates a plan along with Molly to bring her mother back. But will it work before her neighbors start to cut off the branches of the wild new tree?
This Australian import is a magical read and not only for the real magic that happens on the pages. It has a gorgeous tone about it, one that is organic and delicious at the same time. One feels invited directly into the wonder of potions and weeds, your hands itching to get out there and brew your own green syrup. The voice throughout is fresh and filled with surprise.
Molly grows throughout the book, realizing that her own unique upbringing is nothing to be ashamed of. I love that it is Ellen, the normal one, who teaches her this. She speaks directly to Molly about how it feels to be excluded and how important it is to trust. The writing in the book is very special, creating moments like these that are less about lectures and more about sudden inspiration and realizations.
A gorgeously written novel that offers potions, magic and wonder. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
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.
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.
The Branch by Mireille Messier, illustrated by Pierre Pratt
Released September 6, 2016.
During an ice storm, a little girl is awakened by a loud sound outside. It turns out to be her favorite branch falling from the tree in her yard. It was the branch she played on, dreamed about and that was a big part of her day. The little girl asks to keep the branch after finding out that it can’t be reattached to the tree and her mother agrees. Her neighbor is next door with his chain saw and the girl stands guard so that no one takes her branch. Her neighbor, Mr. Frank, sees her standing there and asks about her branch. He sees “potential” in it and offers to help her make something with it. It turns out to be just the right solution, one that helps the girl remember the fun she had and looks forward to future happiness too.
Messier conveys the little girl’s emotions very clearly. From the feel of the fallen branch to her attachment to it to the importance of creating something new with it. Each moment echoes with emotions, creating a book that is conducive to discussing feelings with young children listening to the story. The book is also anchored in sensations, the feel of the icy branch in her hands, the noise of the chain saw, the hard work of transforming the branch into something else.
The illustrations by Pratt are filled with deep colors that brighten the pages. The beauty and destruction of the ice storm are captured, each branch encased in ice. The change is seasons is also nicely shown, moving from ice and snow to green in the illustrations.
A book about resilience, connections to nature and its power, and the value of memories, this picture book is full of potential itself. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Kids Can Press and Netgalley.
One Day in the Eucalyptus Eucalyptus Tree by Daniel Bernstrom (InfoSoup)
A little boy skipped along in the shade of the eucalyptus tree when down came a snake who ate him up! The boy told the snake that there was more room in his belly and encouraged him to eat something else. So the snake snuck up on a bird and gobbled it up. The boy told the snake he was still hungry and one-by-one, the snake ate more and more animals: a cat, a sloth, an ape, a bear, and a beehive. By then, his stomach was huge and distended, but the boy told him there was room for just one more very small thing. Perhaps not!
In the tradition of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, this picture book has a rhythm and rhyme that makes reading it aloud pure joy. This is a child outwitting an enormous snake, staying calm and being clever, adding to the appeal for children. The pacing of the book is stellar, creating moments before each new animal is devoured as well as when the boy convinces the snake to eat more.
The illustrations are bright and colorful. The eucalyptus tree is central to the story and to the art with its colored bark and large expanse. The bright yellow snake is huge and vies with the tree for the reader’s attention in the best of ways. Cross sections of the snake’s belly show the animals and the boy inside.
Great pick for a read aloud, this picture book is energetic and cheerful. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy received from Katherine Tegen Books.
Tree by Britta Teckentrup (InfoSoup)
The seasons pass as an owl looks out of a hole in a tree in this engaging picture book. Beginning in winter, owl is alone in the cold landscape. When spring comes, the snow melts and buds form on the tree. Baby bears play and climb the tree’s trunk. Leaves and blossoms form and squirrels, birds and fox cubs arrive. With summer, the apples start to form on the tree and the tree spends long warm nights swaying in the breeze. Autumn comes with colder temperatures and the animals start to leave. Apples fall to the ground and the tree’s leaves turn red and fold. Snow comes and winter arrives. Soon everyone is gone, even the owl. But he is peeking out again soon as spring comes once again.
Teckentrup uses simple rhymes to tell the story of one large tree and the ways that it supports the ecosystem around it. The seasons are clearly noted in the rhymes, the changes explained and each one is celebrated for how unique it is. The various animals too change what they are doing as the weather shifts. This is a dynamic book about weather and seasons.
It is the illustrations that make this book so noteworthy. Teckentrup’s cut out designs allow each page turn to show the owl for most of the book but also to add the other animals as they appear in the story. Then as the story reverses and the animals leave, the cut outs play out that way too.
A clever and striking look at one tree, one ecosystem and many seasons. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Random House.