a flock of picture books for welcoming spring

April —  time for galoshes and gardening gloves, dawn choruses and daffodils — is upon us!
Here are some springtime treats to help freshen up your reading stacks.

Nesting, written and illustrated by Henry Cole
published in 2020 by Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollins

This stunning portrait of a family of robins is a new favorite for me.  Cole’s plainspoken text never talks down to his readers and also doesn’t seek to wow them with strings of superlatives. Instead he offers a pared-back, quiet narrative studded with vivid particulars.

Dominating the pages are his exquisite graphite drawings of intricately woven nests, a sturdy tree home, plump birds and their scrawny, gape-mouthed babies. The only color in the artwork is that remarkable robin’s-egg blue seen in the graceful curve of an egg and the expansive wash of sky.

It’s a gorgeous piece of art, a book redolent with the wonder of the natural world, for ages 2 and up.

The Nest that Wren Built, written by Randi Sonenshine, illustrated by Anne Hunter
published in 2020 by Candlewick Press

Every bird masterfully builds her own type of nest using differing materials, creating varied shapes and sizes, situated in all sorts of keen spaces. This book hones in on the nesting habits of the Carolina Wren which, according to the appended Wren Facts, are quite elaborate! “A male Carolina Wren builds up to a dozen ‘dummy’ nests'” in his efforts to please the female who then may dismantle the nest, building it and decorating it in the way that uniquely pleases her. Astonishing.

Follow the entire process in a gently rhyming sequence as these wrens gather a marvelously intriguing collection of supplies! Feathers and rootlets, moss and — what?! — a papery snakeskin?!

Then watch those eggs hatch out and the fledgelings spread their wings for the first flight. Soft, warm illustration work echoes the feather-bed interior of the nest. A sunny, fascinating glimpse of springtime busy-ness for ages 2 or 3 and up.

How to Find a Bird, written by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Diana Sudyka
published in 2020 by Beach Lane Books

On beyond robins and just right for the youngest birdwatchers, this jubilant guide is here to steer us in the right direction for spotting our feathered friends.

Don’t just look up — look down where birds might be digging worms or splashing in a pond. Look carefully in order to see them despite their uncanny way of blending into the trees. Find birds with your eyes closed, too, by listening to their wonderful songs.

Diana Sudyka is fast becoming a name I look for on a book cover. Her artwork here, again, fills the pages with uncommon beauty, color, motion, and life. It’s a joy to share with ages 3 and up.

The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring, written by Lucille Clifton, illustrated by Brinton Turkle
originally published in 1973; this edition 1992 by Puffin

I am head over heels in love with this book! Just look at that supreme cover image exuding the hip vibe of the early 70s. Love. It.

Prize-winning poet Lucille Clifton wrote many children’s books during this era. Her story here, of two buddies named King Shabazz and Tony Polito and their skeptical search for Spring, effortlessly captures the bustling, big-man bravado of these two small boys and their wide-eyed wonder at their eventual discovery. Reading this is like being pulled along by the hand by King Shabazz with his cool shades and step-stomp attitude. The dialogue is sparkling, genuine, immersive.

Brinton Turkle’s illustration work magnificently sings of the 1970s, bringing alive both the lively, diverse, urban neighborhood and the delightful mix of swagger and caution held by these two dear boys.

They are confident that the rumors of Spring are unfounded but when they prove themselves wrong, spotting a burst of yellow flowering amidst a junkyard, the awe on their faces and in their bodies is simply splendid. A brilliant story for ages 3 or 4 and up.

Seeds, written and illustrated by Carme Lemniscates
published in 2020 by Candlewick Studio

With her characteristic vibrant color, savvy design, and pared-back text, Lemniscates chats with us about the amazing power of seeds.

Seeds are adventurers, heading off to new places where they undergo “breathtaking transformations.” They multiply in staggering numbers, thrive against all odds, and produce beauty and bounty for us. In a clever extension, we see how other kinds of things also act like seeds — kindness, a smile — that produce good fruit when we plant them.

Tender and beautiful, simple and wise, this sunny book is a seed that will plant lots of interesting ideas in little ones ages 3 and up!

In the Woods, written by David Elliott, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
published in 2020 by Candlewick Press

Those of you who love a Northwoods tale will especially appreciate this collection of poems surveying animals of forest and lake country emerging from winter into spring.

Short — sometimes very short! — poems, just right for very young listeners depict the giants of the woods — bear, moose, fisher — as well as the smaller woodfolk — the skunk, opossum, and even a hornet. Fifteen familiar creatures are portrayed cleverly, elegantly, humorously, accompanied by beautiful artwork that sweeps across the pages in a Northern palette — watery blues, muddy browns, the violet of snow in shadows, spring green diffused along the banks of ice-cold brooks.

Short notes telling more about each of the animals add to our knowledge. It’s a lovely combination of science, art, and wonder to share with ages 4 and up.

The Biggest Puddle in the World, written by Mark Lee, illustrated by Nathalie Dion
published in 2019 by Groundwood Books

Finally, what is Spring without rain? This is the story of Sarah and Charlie who are staying with their grandparents for “six whole days.” It is abundantly clear that this little crew is ready for a happy time of it. But then it begins to rain, and that rain lingers day after day.

When it’s finally clear enough to venture out the kids enlist Grandpa, also known as Big T., to help them find the biggest puddle in the world. He knows just the place to look and through the sodden world they go finding puddle after puddle, streams a-running, ponds a-spilling, until they find themselves gazing out at the ocean itself! Truly the very biggest puddle in the world.

Along the expedition Big T. offers a light explanation of the water cycle. However, scientific understanding is not the primary note here. Instead this story is awash in the joy of outdoor adventuring, the preciousness of water, and all the glories to be found by a sloppy hike in the great outdoors. Ages 4 and up.

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Find lots more superb books bursting with Springtime in my big list here.

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