a list of…five books to welcome Spring

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

In Spring,
Red sings
from treetops:
each note dropping
like a cherry
into my ear.

Red turns
the maples feathery,
sprouts in rhubarb spears;
Red squirms on the road
after rain.

Red Sings from Treetops, a 2010 Caldecott Honor Book, is an imaginative, poetical look at the seasons, jammed with clever metaphors and paintings starring color.

Beginning with spring, Sidman focuses on the greens and yellows, blues and pinks, that make up the fresh world.  Moving on “purple pours into summer evenings one shadow at a time,” in fall, “green is tired” and sighs with relief since it is brown’s turn to take over, while in winter “white whispers, floats, clumps, traces its wet finger on branches and stumps.” In these verses, colors are not only seen, but heard, tasted, smelled, and felt.  A nice pushing out of the boundaries.

Zagarenski’s award-winning illustrations are mixed media paintings.  True to the theme of the book, the colors are gorgeous, inventive, complex.  The paintings themselves have a whimsical, folk art feel, full of exuberance, or quietness, or warmth, or frost, as called for.  A delightful, lovely book to awaken us to spring and a whole new cycle of seasons.

Rainy Day!, by Patricia Lakin, pictures by Scott Nash

Sam, Pam, Will and Jill are four exuberant crocodiles.  Vivid green, bursting with energy, erupting with LOUD remarks!  Definitely needing to burn off some steam outdoors.  But — oh dear — it’s raining.  Well, what of it? decide Sam, Pam, Will and Jill.  They optimistically and resolutely don rainy day apparel and head outside for a good time in the rain.

Many unexpected turns-of-event await them, however, in that rainy, foggy, growing-wilder-weather.  Slightly spooky, slightly scary, slightly tumultuous surprises keep cropping up.  What are they to do?  Fortunately, a large-dark-and-shaggy stranger happens along and guides them to a warm, dry, delightful spot, perfect for passing this inclement day.

Here’s a boisterous tale, with zany, eye-popping illustrations to match, perfect for reading with aplomb to pre-schoolers.  Cheerful smiles and giggles guaranteed!  There are several other Sam, Pam, Will, and Jill adventures available when you get hooked.

And the Good Brown Earth, written and illustrated by Kathy Henderson

Joe is a very lucky 4-ish lad, because he has a dandy Gram who loves to garden with him.  This is the sweet account of their gardening adventures throughout the year.

We begin in the fall, when Gram and Joe prepare the earth for a winter sleep.  When spring is in the air, Gram and Joe are ready to rake and plant, install scarecrows against hungry birds, weed, water…and do a little singing, splashing and strawberry-snitching as well.  Finally, after a lovely hot summer vacation at the beach, Gram and Joe return to a fantastic, lush garden ready for gathering  and feasting.

Despite all their labors, there is another character in the book who does the bulk of the work.  That is the good brown earth.  Lying dormant over the winter, receiving the tiny seeds in spring, soaking up summer sunshine and rain…the good brown earth just keeps on doing what the good brown earth does best.  It’s the miracle of the earth and of massive pumpkins growing from tiny little seeds, that is the main source of celebration in this account.

Henderson’s handsome, warm, appealing  illustrations portray an active little boy, a happy, youthful, funky Gram, and an enchanting, beautiful earth to rejoice in.  Coming out of the UK where, as we know, gardening is in the blood, this is simply a lovely work of art.

Urban Roosts: Where Birds Nest in the City, written and illustrated by Barbara Bash

Such a fantastic addition to birding books for kids:  a book specifically about  birds who live in urban areas.  Especially if you’re a city-dweller, Bash holds out a helpful hand, describing the fascinating  birding that’s possible even without vast acres of meadowland or pine forests outside your front door.

Interesting details are provided here about pigeons, sparrows, finches, owls, swallows, swifts, nighthawks, falcons, crows, and other species who have managed to adapt their ways to the concrete and pavement, skyscrapers and bridges, noise and bustle of North American cities.  Where does each of these birds like to build its nest, and why?  What are the best places to look to find the secret hiding places of pigeons, or chimney swifts?  Who might like to lay their eggs up in the hollow of a stoplight?  Or inside a lamppost?  Or in the gravel by a railroad track?  How do citydwellers help peregrine falcons feel welcome? There’s a heap of great information here in a very manageable amount of text.

Very attractive watercolor illustrations capture the architecture and urban surroundings described, as well as particular nests, eggs, and birds.  I found this book highly interesting.  Having raised my children in various settings, some far removed from the typical “look at the robin pulling the worm out of the ground” locations in which most bird books are set, I love this practical, intriguing look at the way nature can be spied in even the most unlikely places.

Mud, by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Lauren Stringer

Mud, glorious mud!  It squelches, squishes, drips, oozes, plops, and splats soooo nicely!  The warmth of spring wafts in one night, the ground thaws the next day, and suddenly, everywhere, there is mud!

Mary Lyn Ray is definitely acquainted with mud and chooses to exult in it in this book.   With just a sprinkling of well-crafted words, she captures the simplicity and grand glory of mud from a toddler’s point of view.  Meanwhile, Lauren Stringer has magnificently illustrated this Ode to Mud with bold, vibrant, alluring paintings that grab you by the hand and pull you in for a close-up, cheerful, muddy escapade.

This is a delightful book to share with the youngest of listeners at this very outset of  puddle-stomping, mud-pie-making, green-grass-sprouting Spring!  Hoorah!

Here are Amazon links to these titles:

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors
Rainy Day!
And the Good Brown Earth
Urban Roosts: Where Birds Nest in the City