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.
Over and Under the Snow, by Kate Messner (Chronicle Books, $16.99) explains that, “Under the snow is a whole secret kingdom where the smallest forest animals stay safe and warm”. As Messner states in an Author’s Note, this “secret kingdom” does actually exist and she provides information about the seasonal ecosystem. She provides some scientific information about the different animals that appear in the story: red squirrels, shrews, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hares “famous for their seasonal color change”, beavers, bull-frogs, and bumblebees. Messner also offers a list of further reading, so, although the story is a fictional account of a child cross-country skiing with (her? his? well, it’s winter) father, the information included is accurate. The illustrations display a cross-section of the forest, snow, the “secret kingdom” or the animals’ habitats, and the frozen ground. Despite its picture book format, it is likely to appeal to slightly older children, ages 6-9, who enjoy non-fiction and learning about the environment.
I’m delighted with all the great winter-themed books available. I also really like blue and white, which might explain why I find so many of the covers from winter books appealing. Today, I want to discuss two board books that are set during winter. Let’s Play in the Snow, by Sam McBratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram (Candlewick, $6.99), and Old Bear and His Cub, by Olivier Dunrea (Philomel Books, $6.99), provide two more excuses to cuddle up with your own little hare or cub.
In Let’s Play in the Snow, you’ll recognize Big Nutbrown hare and Little Nutbrown hare, from McBratney and Jeram’s well-known book, Guess How Much I Love You. One of the most notable features of this book is the cover , which is dusted with silver glitter, giving it a tactile component for little hands. In this story, the duo is back, playing “I spy” in the winter forest. The game starts with pairings: “I spy something that belongs to” a tree, a spider, bird, and a river. Little Nutbrown hare ups the ante when he spies “something that belongs to me”. A bit too abstract, he offers this hint: “but only when the sun comes out”. Big Nutbrown hare, mildly competitive if you remember from the first book, also spies something “that belongs to me” and, “It’s little . . . It’s nutbrown . . . It’s my favorite thing . . . And it can hop”. Little Nutbrown hare knows, “It’s me!”
Old Bear and His Cub also contains an intrepid duo and is relatively new in board book format. Old Bear and Little Cub venture out to explore the snow. Little Cub is daring, as little cubs often are, but all it takes is a long, silent look from Old Bear to keep Little Cub out of harm’s way. The book takes a cute turn, when Old Bear starts exhibiting signs of a winter cold and Little Cub doles out some of his own long, silent looks. Little Cub and Old Bear will do what it takes to keep the other one safe, happy, and healthy. When I first read this story a few years ago, I assumed that Old Bear was Little Cub’s grandfather. In a new prequel, entitled Little Cub (Philomel, $16.99), we learn that they are not related and discover how Old Bear and Little Cub first find each other. This new information puts another spin on these stories; they are excellent adoption books.
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.
Author Michelle Sinclair Colman and illustrator Nathalie Dion have devised an adorable series of board books published by Tricycle Press ($6.95). Anyone shopping for a new baby gift is sure to find one that will appeal to the parents of the new addition, because the books highlight all sorts of personalities, trends, and interests of today’s parents: Beach Babies Wear Sunglasses, Urban Babies Wear Black, Jet Set Babies Wear Wings, Sporty Babies Wear Sweats, Artsy Babies Wear Paint, Rocker Babies Wear Jeans, Eco Babies Wear Green, Foodie Babies Wear Bibs, Country Babies Wear Plaid, and of course, Winter Babies Wear Layers. Dion’s illustrations put a baby spin on Colman’s words that any parent will recognize. Winter babies may make angels, but the baby shown on that particular page is anything but. It’s a cute series; the babies represent a range of ethnicities although culturally these books are definitely American. But you see what I mean, right? We all have foodies, artists, frequent flyers, environmentalists, musicians, outdoorsy types, and sports enthusiasts in our lives. Your New York friends will smile knowingly at Urban Babies, your California friends will appreciate Beach Babies, and Winter Babies is perfect for anyone who lives somewhere up North, or wishes they did.
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.
The temperature has dropped significantly in the past couple of days. It might still be November, but there can be no doubt that winter is rushing towards us. Of course the Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza books have been on display for a few weeks now, but there are plenty of great winter books that do not have any holiday affiliation. Sebastian Meschenmoser has written and illustrated a lovely picture book that is perfect for this time of year, when the air is that crisp clear cold and the snow has yet to make an appearance. In Waiting for Winter (KaneMiller, $15.99) squirrel and hedgehog are too young to remember the winters that Deer and Bear discuss. As much as the ‘old folk’ try to describe what winter looks and feels like, what the ‘young uns’ envision is significantly off the mark. Children 4-7 will be amused by the illustrations of falling, white toothbrushes and socks that convey squirrel’s misinterpretations. The silent moment when the first snowflake finally does fall is priceless, as is the beautiful blanketed forest at the end.
November is such a lost month. Poor thing. It’s the introspective child with three very loud siblings. September! Back to School! October! Halloween! December! Hanukkah! and Christmas! November. Thanks.
Cynthia Rylant has a lovely book — an ode to a quiet month — called In November (Voyager, $6.99). Illustrated by Jill Kastner, the book pays homage to the tranquil and transitional elements of this month: the air grows cold, people and animals prepare for winter, we gather to celebrate our blessings. In November we pause.