December is almost here, and our holiday books are slowly taking over the front of store, but there are still a few fall leaves clinging to the trees — at least where I live. I figured it was time to recommend a few good fall books before they are completely eclipsed by winter. I don’t feel like I’m too behind, though, because a recurring theme in fall picture books is concluding the story with the arrival of winter.
Fletcher and the Falling Leaves, by Julia Rawlinson and illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (Harper, $6.99), is a rather endearing story about Fletcher, a red fox, who desperately tries to keep his favorite tree from losing its leaves. Fletcher loves sitting under the splendor of the tree’s green canopy. He loves the new vibrant red, oranges, and yellows, too, but he becomes increasingly agitated when the leaves turn brown and begin to fall. His resistance against the inevitable is valiant, but futile. His attempts to tie the leaves back on to the branches and his instructions to stay there evoke bittersweet sympathy. Rawlinson and Beeke both capture the beauty and melancholy of autumn. Fletcher’s despair at the loss of his final leaf is heartbreaking appropriate as we head into the dark months. Fletcher, however, discovers a new kind of beauty, when he wakes up under a glistening canopy of white. A necessary step towards the return of the green.
Stories about fall, and the changing leaves, lend themselves to gorgeous illustrations. Other great leaf books include Look What I Did with a Leaf! by Moretza Sohi (Walker, $7.99), which has inventive suggestions for using leaves in crafts and illustrations, The Little Yellow Leaf by Carin Berger (Greenwillow, $16.99), and Awesome Autumn by Bruce Goldstone (Henry Holt, $16.99).
While I stand by my lack of good Halloween books comment, there are some great related picture books and certainly numerous fall themed books about monsters, bats, owls, leaves, hibernation, and migration. Patrick McDonnell’s The Monster’s Monster (Little, Brown, $16.99) contains the requisite destructive imps: Grouch, Grump, and little Gloom ‘n’ Doom, but they set out to build a monster that is the ‘biggest and the baddest’ of them all. Their new monster — reminiscent of Dr. Frankenstein’s creation, but far cuter, sweeter, and prone to saying ‘thank you’ — surprises them with his own agenda. The message in this book is subtle enough that it doesn’t overshadow the humor of the illustrations. Even though The Monster’s Monster not technically a Halloween story, it’s still a great book find your own little imp to cuddle up and read with at this time of year.
A lot of customers come in asking for new releases in picture books, especially if they are buying presents and are trying to avoid getting something the child already has. Although I’ve been in the industry for years, keeping up with ‘what’s new in picture books’ is a Sisyphean task. Most people are familiar with the classics; new books don’t stay on the radar for very long; the competition is fierce; and only very few picture books gain a lasting status.
We do have a new book in our Fall window that surprised me, though. Initially I didn’t pay much attention to Those Darn Squirrels Fly South, written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri, but when I finally got around to reading it, I laughed several times (Clarion, $16.99). Ostensibly about migration, as evident from the title, this books is also about friendship and aerodynamics. The illustrations excellently undercut the text in clever and snort-worthy ways. Salmieri has given each of the squirrels a delightful, independent personality, but they also function as a cohesive collective and can perform actions (giving a hug) as a singular unit. The old man’s fist shaking (those darn squirrels!) is tempered with their obvious affection for him (cf. the hug) and I look forward to seeing more of their (mis)adventures.