a list of…five creative spins on the seasons

Here in Minnesota we’ve definitely been moving from summer to fall the past few weeks, with chilly mornings, flocks of migrating birds, and scarlet creeping into the sumac.  It seems like a good time of year to check out some books about the seasons and their marvelous diversity.



In the Town All Year ‘Round, by Rotraut Susanne Berner

This charming, nearly-wordless book, comes to us from Germany.  It’s an over-sized flurry of color and activity, with simply oodles and oodles of goings-on to enjoy.

Berner has drawn a charming, European-flavored town and its busy, friendly people as they journey through the seasons of one year.  Each tall page is bursting with delightful details.  Here is a dairy truck, selling cheese and milk to a sweet, elderly couple; there are two young moms and their children enjoying strawberries and bare feet under the apple tree; and here a disgruntled man is trying to sweep the leaves that clutter the street, but a frisky dog is scattering them about again.  Okay, it is impossible to describe how much bright busy-ness is going on in this book!

At the outset of each season, Berner names some of the people who will pop up in the pictures so that we can search for them as they progress through the year.  This is a perfect book to while away the hours of a long car ride, a day sick in bed, a rainy can’t-play-outdoors day.  Great for multiple ages.  Fun for playing “I spy.”   Even has possibilities for language-learning for you ESL folks, I’d say. Did I mention it is charming?!

Listen, Listen, by Phillis Gershator, with illustrations by Alison Jay 

Most books about the seasons emphasize the changes in what we see or do:  the pale green mist of new leaves gives way to the deep, blue waters at the beach, then flaming maple forests and snowflake-speckled scenes.  We move from kite-flying to sandcastle-building to jack-o-lantern carving…

In Listen, Listen, we are invited to hear the changes.  What sounds do you associate with each season?  Buzzing insects, splashing water, crunching leaves, quiet snowfall, crackling fires, and so on.  Other senses are mentioned in this rhyming text as well — the sights and activities of people and wildlife.  Yet even when talking about the brilliant spring tulips and daffodils, Gershator tells us that the flowers “shout.”  Which, in my neighbor’s garden, with hundreds and hundreds of tulips flaunting their vivid scarlet and lemon and bubble-gum-pink petals  for a few brief weeks, is a good description.

Alison Jay has brought so much life to the short text which makes up this book with her bright, folk-art-styled, bold  pictures.  She spreads a whole scene before us, as through a window.  There is a lot going on in each illustration, yet the mood is one of old-fashioned serenity rather than frenzied activity.  Her use of a crackled finish to the paintings evokes an antique, yesteryear feel as well.  The last pages of the book feature a scene from each season with numerous items to find in the picture, which is a great way to engage a fidgeter in a book!

Old Bear, written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes 

I fell in love with this book the first time I saw it! 

It’s the artwork.  Pure genius! 

Henkes uses watercolor and ink so gloriously, the pictures seem to envelop us as we turn the pages and move through the seasons.  Spring is an orchid-pink-chartreuse fairyland.  Fall is a burnt orange-gold-tan blaze of color.  Winter sparkles with icy, freezing, shimmering crystals.  And Old Bear!  He is a cinnamon-and-honey sweetheart!  If you can resist smiling at this artwork and loving this bear…well.  

The story line is simple and sparse.  Bear falls asleep and dreams about each season as a young cub.  In his dreams, a crocus is big enough for a bear to nap in; the clouds rain blueberries; the winter stars shine in dazzling colors.  Finally, Bear wakes up and truly, it is spring, and he emerges from his den to a gorgeous, springtime world.  Plenty short for a 2-year-old, with enough sweetness and beauty for everyone.  Highly recommended.

Our House on the Hill, a wordless book drawn by Philippe Dupasquier 

Dupasquier is a Swiss-born artist who has lived in England for most of his adult life.  He has an immense body of work as an illustrator, and we have enjoyed several of his titles.  

Our House on the Hill begins in January and proceeds through each month, with lovely pictures showing one family’s life.  On the left side of each two-page spread, we see the family’s house and garden from a bird’s-eye view.  Happily, the house seems to be set in the picturesque countryside of England with the downs stretching across the horizon and the hedgerows dividing up the fields and homes

Michael Embden "Autumn Frost"

nestled there.  In these larger pictures, there are many changes to observe in the atmosphere, the clouds, the work in the fields, the state of the vegetable garden, and so on. 

On the right side of the pages are several “snapshots” of the family’s life during the month.  From sledding and Christmas-decorating during the winter months to summer vacations to chilly-morning-pancake-breakfasts, these pictures depict a warm, loving, messy, active, young family.  There is a lot to observe and talk about and enjoy on each page. 

Dupasquier does beautiful work.  His family pictures are bright and active, while his broader, landscape pictures have a lovely serenity in the flow of land and sky.  And… I would truly love to live in that house!  This one is worth snooping for.

Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights, written by Debbie S. Miller, illustrated by Jon Van Zyle 

Having lived in such diverse parts of the world as Minnesota and West Africa, I am keenly aware of how differently the seasons pass in different zones.  This book takes us close to the Arctic Circle for a fascinating glimpse at the cycle of seasons in that mysterious land.  The focus of the book is on light, and the dramatic changes in light throughout the year. 

We begin on Summer Solstice — June 21 — when, in Fairbanks, Alaska, there are 21 hours and 49 minutes of daylight.  As we turn each page, we move to the 21st of the following month, until we come full circle.  Each page is filled by a beautiful, acrylic painting of a typical scene of the Alaskan wilderness at that time of year.  We see moose and grizzlies and wolves, to be sure, but also the unique changes in light at this latitude and unusual atmospheric phenomena seen there.  A brief amount of text packs in a great amount of information, emphasizing amazing features of light including alpenglow, diamond dust, glints, northern lights, and sun dogs.  Running across the top of each page are the date, the hours and minutes of daylight on that date, sunrise and sunset times, and the average high and low temperatures.  A clever band across the pages also symbolizes the changes in light, beginning with a glowing yellow band from edge to edge, which is gradually encroached upon by inky blackness, until at winter solstice, only a small patch of sunny aura remains. 

I found this book highly interesting and learned a good bit of new information.  A glossary at the end defines and describes in more detail the unusual arctic phenomena mentioned in the text.