Spring might have started last week, but I think a lot of us are still waiting for the world to turn green. Julie Fogliano’s And Then It’s Spring, illustrated by Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook Press, $16.99) is a quietly humorous book about patiently waiting for spring. The book begins with a boy, a dog, a turtle, and a rabbit dressed up for winter: “First you have brown, all around you have brown, then there are seeds . . . “. The boy, the dog, the turtle, and the rabbit plant the seeds, wait for rain, watch the ground, wait for sun, and wait, and wait. Diligent in their endeavors, their somber expressions as they wait (and wait) will spark a few smiles. When the green finally arrives, as it always does, you start to think that the wait might make spring even that much better.
The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Caldecott winner Marla Frazee, is one of my all-time favorite read alouds (HMH, $7.00). This book shouldn’t be read in any way but aloud.
Not so long ago, they say,
A mother lived—just like today.
Mrs. Peters was her name;
Her little boy was named the same.
Now Peter was a perfect son.
In every way—except for one.
Sure, sure. You get it. It rhymes. But, assuming you’re not going to make a tool of yourself in public, go back and read it out loud. Do you hear it? Can you feel the words tumbling off your tongue? The entire story is written in this alternating trochaic trimeter (reminiscent of Blake’s “The Tiger”) alternating with iambic tetrameter. The meter loops back and forth driving the narrative forward.
So what is Peter’s problem? He’s a picky eater. As are his subsequent siblings. Peter likes warm milk; his sister Lucy prefers pink lemonade, hand-squeezed. By the time Mrs. Peters makes applesauce for Jack, oatmeal for Mac, bread for Mary Lou, and eggs (poached and fried) for the twins Flo and Fran, she is exhausted. For her birthday, the group of persnickety foodies decide to make their own individual dishes of choice for their lovely mother. The results are a catastrophe. Until, they discover something very peculiar about their collective eating habits.
I had planned on discussing Seasons by Anne Crausaz on the first day of Spring (Kane Miller, $15.99). But dammit it feels like spring now! However, believe me, I am well aware that around here spring in March does not guarantee spring in April. Seasons, as you might expect, moves through the four seasons of the year, starting with, “Everything is green. It must be springtime”. The text is fairly simple, but flows nicely from one season to the next, “Fireflies, like flying stars. Summer has arrived!” . . . “The colors have changed. Autumn is here.” . . . “Now the fog is so think it’s hard to see. It’s winter.” . . . “Because soon, the flowers will start growing up through the snow, ready for // spring.” Moreover, the illustrations are remarkable. The cover is a clear indicator of the illustrations inside the book. That bright, vibrant yellow, with the simple flowers and bird are lovely. Similarly, each page concentrates on one or two aspects of nature, allowing the reader to focus in on flowers, lady bugs, water, snails, and snowflakes. All of the children featured are shown engaging with and enjoying nature. From smelling the berries to playing in the leaves, the children are not simply watching the season pass, they are participating in the delights of each one.
Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Paul Yalowitz (Aladdin, $7.99) is another lovely Valentine’s Day book that defies the commercialism of Valentine’s Day. Spinelli’s books are always a delight and this one is no different. Mr. Hatch is a lonely, Willy Lomanesque character, who works in a factory, and goes home, but experiences no real enjoyment in his life: “Mr. Hatch was tall and thin and he did not smile”. One Valentine’s Day, he unexpectedly receives a ginormous box of chocolates, with the note, “Somebody loves you!” Delighted to discover that he has a secret admirer, Mr. Hatch smiles, helps his neighbors, smiles, takes care of kids and pets, smiles, offers his assistance to local business owners, and smiles. He invites all of his new friends from the neighborhood over to his place one afternoon; “Everyone danced”. Then the postman shows up again and regretfully informs Mr. Hatch that there had been a mix-up in the delivery. The chocolates weren’t meant for him. Turns out Mr. Hatch doesn’t have a secret admirer after all. But when he stops helping, stops smiling, and stops talking to his neighbors, his new friends notice. Maybe somebody DOES love Mr. Hatch!
A Perfect Day is Carin Berger’s latest contribution to picture books (Greenwillow, $16.99). Berger employs an interesting collage style, by using common pieces of paper as the background to her illustrations. You can see the way that used notebook paper, composition paper, graph paper, and even receipts have been recommissioned in her art. The vestiges of the papers’ past lives are clearly visible, which provides an interesting depth to the images. She has utilized this technique in her previous books, such as The Little Yellow Leaf, but for some reason I think it works better in this one. Maybe because of the color scheme. The various shades of white paper are suited to convey snowy landscapes. I also think this book is better because there is a clearer narrative. You can follow the various townspeople’s activities throughout the day and see how some of their stories overlap. The best image is the double page spread of everyone making snow angles (also the jacket illustration). The story opens with a soothing, “It snowed and snowed and snowed and snowed” (another one of my favorite illustrations from the book), and ends with, “The perfect end to a perfect day”. yep.
A Flower in the Snow, by Tracey Corderoy and illustrated by Sophie Allsopp (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, $16.99), is a delightful winter picture book about friendship. Luna and the polar bear are the best of friends and quite devoted to each other. When they find a golden flower growing in the snow, the polar bear gives it to Luna. The flower fades, as flowers do, and the polar bear is distressed to watch Luna fade as well. In an attempt to make her happy, the polar bear sets out to find another golden flower. Both Luna and the polar bear eventually learn that being with the one you love is far better than any gift they could ever give you.
It’s a sweet book — perfect for reading while cuddled up by the fire with cup of cocoa — but it has just enough humor to keep it from becoming overly sappy. The illustrations inspire wistful smiles. I went ice skating in Central Park last weekend, and I can assure you that I am not as graceful a skater as Luna, let alone the polar bear. The polar bear travels far and wide to find a golden flower, but these pages are great because of the jarring disjunct between the polar bear and the surrounding environment. It’s not every day you see a polar bear navigating through the tropics. I can’t say that I laughed out loud — it’s not that kind of book — but my heart smiled. And I was a little jealous, because everyone needs a polar bear to cuddle up with in the winter.
I used to hand-sell Janell Cannon’s Stellaluna (Harcourt, $17.00 or Red Wagon Books in a $7.99 board book) all the time, but I haven’t recommended it in ages. I was wondering the other day why that is. I think, like in the case of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, that I assume most everyone knows about these kinds of books. They’ve been around for 10 or more years — Stellaluna was first published in 1993. They are still in print and available on publisher’s back lists. They’ve had a flurry of activity, press, and publicity surrounding them. But I’ve been proven wrong again and again. So I need to start pulling Stellaluna out more often.
Stellaluna is a soft, lovely book. Cannon’s illustrations are detailed but uncluttered, if that makes sense. The illustrations are mostly close-ups of the important characters and actions. The drawings of the bats and birds are so minutely detailed, you can practically see every hair and feather. The background, however, is limited to sky, moon, tree, forest. In this way, the reader connects with Stellaluna’s plight and doesn’t get distracted by peripheral things.
Like the illustrations, the story is soft and lovely. There is a satisfying cadence to the words, and the humor is quiet and endearing. The humorous parts often occur in the spaces between the words and the images. After Stellaluna gets lost in the forest, she is adopted by a family of birds. Bird ways are not bat ways and Stellaluna tries desperately to fit in with her new family. The text tells us of her genuine intentions, but the illustrations show us Stellaluna’s awkward attempts to land on a branch or to *not* hang by her feet. The resolution is both comforting (her mother finds her) as well as a nod to the importance of being the best you you can be, instead of trying to fit in with everyone around you. The moral, however, doesn’t overshadow the story or the illustrations, which, can I say again, are soft and lovely.