Posts Tagged ‘seasons’

It’s no secret that autumn is my favorite season. I only wish we could spread it out much longer.

Grab some spiced cider, a cinnamon doughnut, and a batch of prime autumnal books and revel in all things fall!

Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter, written and illustrated by Kenard Pak
published in 2017 by Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company

Kenard Pak does it again! I loved his transition from Summer to Autumn (reviewed here), and this look at a world gradually moving from late autumn’s windswept branches to the first dustings of snow is equally gorgeous.

Pak’s pristine illustrations capture that nip in the air, the spare beauty of late autumn when fragments of color and life linger amid increasingly barren trees, dry seedpods, long shadows, shivering nights. I love that he focuses here on that bridge time rather than the full-on splendor of fall we find in most autumnal books. Outdoor rambling at its best for ages 2 and up.

In the Middle of Fall, written by Kevin Henkes, illustrated by Laura Dronzek
published in 2017 by Greenwillow Books

Kevin Henkes spins just two sentences into a lovely whirl of tumbling fall leaves and sprinklings of snowflakes in this cheerful ode to autumn.

Take notice! Drink in those riotous colors. Enjoy those frisketing squirrels. Soon that slight chill in the air will turn to brrrrr-coldness and we’ll arrive in winter.

Laura Dronzek’s bold shapes, close-up perspectives, and saturated colors envelop us in the cozy beauties of the natural world. Perfection for ages 18 months and up.

Full of Fall, written and photographed by April Pulley Sayre
published in 2017 by Beach Lane Books

April Pulley Sayre continues her superb run of nature-infused, photographic splendors that treat young children to the beauties of the outdoors accompanied by a dignified, rhyming text.

I love the way Sayre respects young minds with her work. There’s nothing juvenile or cutesy here. Just the glories of the woodlands in autumn to soak up with children as young as under-Two.  Two additional pages discuss the science of pigments, leaf structure, decomposition, and more, geared to ages 6 or 7 and up.

Woody, Hazel and Little Pip, written and illustrated by Elsa Beskow
originally published in Sweden in 1939; first English edition 1990 by Floris Books

Swedish favorite Elsa Beskow created marvelous stories populated by all manner of fanciful woodland sorts — elves, fairies, gnomes, trolls, blueberry children, Frost Kings…

This story finds two adventurous brothers — Woody and Little Pip Acorn — gliding away from home on a whirling, twirling leaf, landing in a peck of trouble, and gamely making the best of it, trolls and all. Their friend Hazel hitches a ride on a neighborhood squirrel in search of them and runs into her own batch of escapades.

Unlike Peter Rabbit’s mama, Mrs. Acorn and Mrs. Hazelnut throw a party when these naughty children return! Charming as ever, this is a longer-than-usual picture book story for patient listeners ages 3 and up.

Our Apple Tree, written by Görel Kristina Näslund, illustrated by Kristina Digman
first published in Sweden; American edition published in 2005 by Roaring Brook Press

Capturing a pinch of the same elfkin vibe of Beskow, this Swedish story traces the life of an apple tree through one cycle of seasons, from winter snows through blossoms and straight on through to a golden-crusted apple pie. Yum!

Two tiny apple-elves who call this tree home are our guides on this quaint, gentle journey. A recipe for Apple Crisp is included. Ages 2 and up.

There are many more book-treasures for Autumn reading listed in my Subject Index. Enjoy!



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It’s American Thanksgiving this week, a welcome moment to pause from all the clamor and focus on gratitude.


In the Northland, by Tom Thompson

Every day that I take a walk in my neighborhood, I am thankful for the peace in my small corner of the world that allows me such a luxury, as well as a safe place at the end of the day to lay my head and sleep. The severe struggles afflicting so many in 2016 certainly shine a light on the magnitude of these seemingly ordinary gifts.

Here are five titles full of the comforts of the harvest season, with my wishes for a glad and peace-filled Thanksgiving for each of you…

sleep-tight-farm-cover-imageSleep Tight Farm, written by Eugenie Doyle, illustrated by Becca Stadtlander
published in 2016 by Chronicle Books

It’s December on the farm. Days are short, with long stretches of darkness and a nip — at least! — in the air. It’s time to put the farm to bed.

Springtime and early summer brought a bustle in the berry patches. Mid-summer heat plumped up tomatoes and melons. Early fall saw bushels and bins of potatoes and pumpkins and decorative corn ready to sell at the farm stand.

But now — it’s tucking-in time. Preparing for frost time. Pruning back and stocking up and snuggling in to shelter time. Fires in the woodstove and candlelight in the window. Such a homey, peaceful season for this quintessential, lovely farm.


Author Eugenie Doyle lives on The Last Resort Farm in Vermont, where she and her family grow organic berries, vegetables, and hay. Her love for the land, the rhythms and seasons of planting and harvest, flurry and quietude, simply glows throughout this elegant depiction of a year tending the farm. Becca Stadtlander swathes her country landscapes in a stunning color palette, from the russet leaves on the front end-papers to the chill, snowy, barren trees at the close.


The simplicity, freshness, warm community, and earthy satisfaction of rural life calls forth from every page. It’s the perfect segue from autumn to winter, for ages 3 and up.

time-for-cranberries-cover-imageTime for Cranberries, written by Lisl H. Detlefsen, illustrated by Jed Henry
published in 2015 by Roaring Brook Press

Once, on my way through Wisconsin, I passed by a cranberry bog in full flood. A brilliant, crimson sea in the midst of the lovely, rolling Wisconsin farmland. It was spectacularly beautiful!

Author Lisl Detlefsen lives on just such a marsh in Wisconsin and has written this fascinating story to explain to all of us just where our cranberries come from. More cranberries come from Wisconsin, she says in her Author’s Note, than in any other state and even the world.

From the “white, crane-shaped blossoms” of spring come cranberry vines laden with berries. At harvest time those beds are flooded and the berries collected with a series of super-cool machines. Follow Sam as he experiences his first harvest and learn all about it. Then whip up a batch of cranberry sauce or cranberry pie with the recipes included in the book.


The striking beauty of the cranberries and the land is captured well by Henry’s illustrations, as well as the warmth of family, working together outdoors and gathering at the farmhouse for Thanksgiving dinner.  A unique, intriguing read for ages 3 and up.

dancing-the-ring-shout-cover-imageDancing the Ring Shout! written by Kim L. Siegelson, pictures by Lisa Cohen
published in 2003 by Jump at the Sun, Hyperion Books for Children

Toby is old enough to take his place in the ring shout this year. Grand, Toby’s grandfather, has declared it. That means Toby has to bring something into the circle “that speaks from your heart straight to the ears of God,” says Grand.

Grand himself brings his cane, thumping it on the ground to make a sound that echoes in his heart like the hooves of the plow mule breaking the clods of earth in springtime. His cane-thumping is his praise song for their mule. Mam plans on bringing two biscuit pans to clang together, a sound reminding her of the blades of her hoe clearing the corn field, her special sound of gratitude to God.


Toby languishes in worry over what he can bring to the ring shout that will speak his praise to God until suddenly, in the swirl of dancers, drums, and voices shouting out “We are blessed!” — suddenly Toby finds his particular song.

This beautiful, intergenerational story is based on the ring dances first practiced by slaves and surviving today in just a few African American communities in South Carolina and Georgia. The fascinating, rich culture represented by this tradition throbs and pulses in both the exuberant, strong narrative and the hot, tropical colors and bold, abstract shapes of the illustrations. It’s a torrent of joy, for ages 3 and up.

thank-you-god-cover-imageThank You, God, written by Bradley Wigger, illustrated by Jago
published in 2014 by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

The more traditional expressions of thanks in this book — for family and meals, home and the big, beautiful world we live in — are well-phrased, simply, poetically, while the pages themselves are dominated by Jago’s sunny illustrations.

Sophisticated textures, a toasty-warm palette, and a surge of strength mark these pages, but my favorite feature is the inter-racial family that makes this a book welcoming to everyone.


No house of worship is depicted in the book; I think Christian, Jewish, and Muslim readers would all find it suitable for their families. Ages 2 and up.

how-many-seeds-in-a-pumpkin-cover-imageHow Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? written by Margaret McNamara, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
published in 2007 by Schwartz & Wade Books

I wonder how many of you make pumpkin pie by cooking up fresh pumpkin rather than opening a can? Myself — I’m not a fan of pumpkin pie. I make pecan. But I did make pumpkin stew in a pumpkin shell for a festive harvest meal a few weeks ago.

Of course, working with a fresh pumpkin means scooping out that mass of stringy, slippery pulp and untangling the snarl of seeds for roasting.


The kids in this story get the chance to scoop out gloop and sort pumpkin seeds as well. Their clever teacher, Mr. Tiffin, has set them an interesting challenge: to investigate the number of seeds in a large, medium, and small pumpkin. It’s an intriguing idea with some unexpected results. I learned some curious facts about pumpkins right along with these kids!

Illustrated with oodles of warmth and friendliness, I think this story will set the wheels a-turning for kids ages 5 and up. Take heed: They’re gonna want to count the seeds in your next pumpkin!

There are quite a few more Thanksgiving titles in the Subject Index under Holidays: Thanksgiving.

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This summer, again, I’m planning to create lists all-a-jumble with goodies from this year’s crop of picture books. Each one holds powerful seeds of ideas, wonder, imagination, creativity to germinate in our minds and hearts.

I’m getting a head start today with 10 outstanding titles. Take your pick!

spot the cat cover image

Spot, the Cat — a wordless book by Henry Cole
published in 2016 by Little Simon

Henry Cole’s brilliance in storytelling through his ink line drawings is on full display here in this captivating, cat-navigating, adventure.

spot the cat interior henry cole

A bird. A cat. An open window. Spot, the cat, leaps at the opportunity, but where does he go next? Tag along with Spot’s owner as we weave all over the city, trying to spot Spot! And nestle in with the coziest of endings. A most-satisfying journey for ages 3 and up.

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Leaps and Bounce: A Growing Up Story, by Susan Hood, illustrated by Matthew Cordell
published in 2016 by Disney Hyperion

Metamorphosis has never been so merry!

From the blobby mass of “round and spotted, polka-dotted” eggs to the “leaping, peeping, hopping, bopping” frogs who eventually emerge, this energetic guide entertains and informs seamlessly. It is a grand splash of fun!

leaps and bounce interior hood and cordell

And Matthew Cordell’s frogs! Have you ever seen such…

leaps and bounce illustration detail2 matthew cordell

leaps and bounce illustration detail matthew cordell

It’s a read-aloud winner, with exciting pages to unfold! Just right for this froggy time of year. Ages 2 and up.

the pancake king cover image

The Pancake King — story by Phyllis LaFarge, pictures by Seymour Chwast
originally published in 1971; republished by Princeton Architectural Press in 2016

Wow. I am loving the Princeton Architectural Press catalog! See for yourself what they’re up to at their website here.

This funky, remarkably-prescient story stars young Henry Edgewood who, one fine morning, decides to mix up some pancakes for breakfast. And oh my. They are delicious.

the pancake king illustration seymour chwast

Henry moves on to “buckwheat pancakes, blueberry pancakes, cornmeal pancakes, onion pancakes, and even blini. He ate them with maple syrup, blueberry syrup, sour cream, whipped cream, and apple butter.” And Henry was a whiz of a wiz if ever a wiz there was at flipping those flapjacks.

the pancake king illustration seymour chwast

However! What happens when Arthur J. Jinker swoops in ready to capitalize with a capital-C on Henry’s talents? A wild and sagacious tale for kids and grown ups ages 5 and up. *Includes Henry’s Famous Pancake recipe!

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Ideas Are All Around — written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead
published in 2016,a Neal Porter Book, Roaring Brook Press

I suppose one of the most-frequently-asked questions of fiction writers is, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Deeply-thoughtful, award-winning author/illustrator Philip Stead ambles through an apparently idea-less day with us in this unusual, inspired, quiet, book. In the process he, and we, discover the tiny, interesting, nuggets of ideas that surround us in our ordinary spaces.

ideas are all around interior by philip c. stead

Formatted with photos and drawings that turn us toward what Stead sees with his eyes and in his mind’s-eye, it’s a book that calls us to closer observation and deeper wondering. A lovely, thought-provoking ramble for children as young as 4, and for grown-ups, too.

fairy tales for mr. barker cover image

Fairy Tales for Mr. Barker — written and illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg
first published in 2015; first U.S. edition 2016 by Candlewick Press

This is the first of two peek-through stories on today’s list, and it’s brought to us in Full-On Charm by Jessica Ahlberg, daughter of Alan and Janet Ahlberg of The Jolly Postman (and many many other marvelous books.)

Little Lucy is reading to her wee dog, Mr. Barker, when floop! he chases a butterfly right out the window. When Lucy follows, she lands in another place altogether — a cozy room with a table that’s set with large, medium, and small bowls of porridge. That small bowl is being eaten right up by a young, golden-haired girl. “I know where we are,” says Lucy. Do you?

fairy tales for mr. barker interior by jessica ahlberg

Follow Lucy and Mr. Barker on their fairy-tale escapades, hopping from one room to the next and using the clues to figure out where you’ve landed. A perfect treat for ages 2 and up who know their fairy tales.

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Apples and Robins — written and illustrated by Lucie Félix
originally published in France in 2013; first U.S. edition 2016 by Chronicle Books

And here’s the second story featuring fabulously ingenuous die-cuts.

The narrative of this book follows an apple tree and a nest of robins through the seasons. But — Félix’s genius graphic design makes magic happen on every page in such surprising ways that the book also becomes a feast for the imagination.

Die cuts transform an initial set of shapes, like these five short rectangles and one long rectangle…

apples and robins interior lucie felix

into objects with the turn of a page. See the ladder?


It’s a mind-fizzing set of transformations to accompany the changes taking place in the natural world. A marvel, for ages Under-Two and up.

little why cover image

Little Why, written and illustrated by Jonny Lambert
originally published in Great Britain; published in the U.S. in 2016 by Tiger Tales

There are gobs and gobs of books telling children that, “You are special.” This one does it with copious amounts of good-humor, tangy language, and wonderful, vivacious illustrations. Nothing sappy about it, thank you very much.

little why interior by jonny lambert

Little Why is a dinky elephant, gamely trying to keep up with the herd but distracted at every turn. Understandably. Those “spiny-spiky” horns of the wildebeest and “long-lofty” legs of the giraffe are mind-boggling. And Little Why wonders why-oh-why he can’t have some, too. This gets him in wayyy more trouble than you can believe! A joyous romp for ages 2 and up.

how to find gold cover image

How to Find Gold, written and illustrated by Viviane Schwarz
first U.S. edition 2016 by Candlewick Press

Anna and her pal Crocodile are off to find gold. This is a dangerous and difficult venture! It requires secretive behavior, uncommon strength, cartography skills, and navigation in perilous seas!

how to find gold illustration viviane schwarz

But never fear. They’ve got this. This story is a heap of fun, an outrageously imaginative adventure, made possible by the faithful camaraderie of two brave friends. Enjoy it with ages 3 and up.

ten kisses for sophie cover image

Ten Kisses for Sophie! — written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells
published in 2016 by Viking

Aunt Prunella is having a birthday and Sophie’s mama is making her “favorite chocolate kisses with pistachio buttercream filling.” Wow. My mouth is watering.

ten kisses for sophie interior rosemary wells

Sophie is an able and enthusiastic cook’s-helper. What’s more, she shows incredible restraint, waiting to eat her chocolate kiss until everyone’s gathered for the party. But wait a second… One extra cousin has showed up and suddenly there aren’t enough kisses to go around!

See how this picklish, ticklish situation turns out in this charming book from one of the masters. Ages Two and up.

cloth lullaby cover image

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois, by Amy Novesky, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault
published in 2016 by Abrams Books for Young Readers

Louise Bourgeois was a world-renowned sculptor who is known, strangely enough, for her giant sculptures of spiders.

Why would anyone want to create a 30-foot-tall spider? 

cloth lullaby illustration isabelle arsenault

It’s quite a story. Louise’s mother was a weaver. She worked at restoring tapestries in France and taught Louise all about warp and weft, dye and wool, thread and intricate pattern. When Louise was a young woman, her mother died, and in her grief, Louise sculpted her first enormous spider, naming it Maman. For Louise, the spider did not represent something hideous, but an ingenuous thread-spinner, a repairer of broken filigree.

cloth lullaby illustration2 isabelle arsenault

Read this astonishing biography of Bourgeois, illustrated in the equally-astonishing lines, colors, and compositions of the amazing Isabelle Arsenault. Adults will love this, as will children ages 6 and up.

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My last offering for poetry month is this new gem created by two favorites of mine, poet Julie Fogliano and artist Julie Morstad.

when green becomes tomatoes cover imageWhen Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons
published in 2016; a Neal Porter Book from Roaring Brook Press

Grouped by season, Julia Fogliano’s poems are colorful fragments of observation, almost exclusively about the outdoor world inhabited by children. Joyous, free, simple play in meadows and on beaches, alone or with friends. That makes this collection a prime Orange Marmalade choice !

when green becomes tomatoes interior fogliano and morstad

There are poems about daffodils “shivering and huddled close” in the chill of early spring…

…about the lovely coolness of a swim on “a day that drips hot and thick like honey.”

…about snowstorms and carving jack-o-lanterns and starlight and beach picnics.

In other words, poems about familiar places and events graced by the unique when green becomes tomatoes illustration julie morstadperspective of a poet. All of them are titled by just a date making it especially nice to dip into over the course of a year, or to spot the poem closest to your birthday.

One of the things I like about Fogliano’s poetry, seen in this volume as well as in two other books I’ve reviewed — And Then It’s Spring and If You Want to See a Whale — is the almost ephemeral quality to her words; so light, they’re like a snowflake on your tongue.

For example, the poem “february 15” reads except for a squirrel/quick quick/and then gone/all is still/in the woods/in the winter.

I feel myself hush when I read them, on the alert to glimpse the shimmer of idea in her spare words.  Of course, many children’s poems are silly and rhythmic and boisterous, and I love those, too. But there is a lusciousness to these quieter pieces. We all know today’s children are in great need of quietness, space, and a pace for thoughtful wondering. These poems accommodate that.

No one could better illustrate these, I think, than Julie Morstad, whose work I adore. Every page is squoze full of her signature charm. I do love that on many of these pages, she draws a child alone.

when green becomes tomatoes interior2 fogliano and morstad

Lying in a flowery patch, face towards the sky, one little girl examines a flowerhead, her basket of berries and a book by her side. Lost in lovely thought.  One child atop a summer hill. One curled up by the fire on a winter night. Can we be brave enough to let our children play by themselves this way? Morstad’s vision of aloneness is a content, creative, enriching solitude. It makes me glad.

when green becomes tomatoes interior3 fogliano and morstad

I will say that the majority of Morstad’s figures are little girls. Thus, I think there is more of a girl-feel to the book on the whole.

It is an imaginative beauty, for ages 4 and up.

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The 2016 books are making their way into our libraries and bookshops. 

Here are ten new titles I found irresistible! I’ve blogged a lot of titles recently for slightly older picture-book readers. Today’s batch is perfect for the smallest of allest.

tree cover image teckentrup

Tree, illustrated by Britta Teckentrup, text by Patricia Hegarty
published in 2015 by Doubleday Books for Young Readers

Vivid, arresting artwork by Britta Teckentrup walks us through the seasons surrounding one tree standing in the forest. Just. So. Beautiful!

tree illustration detail britta teckentrup

The juiciest part of this book, though, are the clever die-cuts revealing just who lives in that tree. First an owl peers out from his nest in the trunk. As the seasons roll on, more and more forest folk can be spotted through the little peep holes. An immensely-satisfying offering for children ages One and up.

emma and julia love ballet cover image

Emma and Julia Love Ballet, written and illustrated by Barbara McClintock
published in 2016 by Scholastic Press

Emma is a small girl who loves to get up early, eat her breakfast, and head to the dance studio for ballet class.

Julia is a grown-up girl with the same routine. She is a ballerina. 

emma and julia love ballet interior barbara mcclintock

In Barbara McClintock’s graceful, winsome artwork, we follow Emma and Julia through their parallel days, culminating in a performance by Julia which Emma attends. McClintock’s dozens and dozens of figures are astounding. It’s a lovely, insightful look into the world of ballet, sure to warm hearts and charm dancers, ages Two and up.

little one cover image

Little One, written and illustrated by Jo Weaver
published in 2016 by Peachtree Publishers

Shaggy, galumptious bears and darling prickly hedgehogs. Chill autumnal skies and dazzling, leaping salmon. This stunningly handsome book walks us through one year in the life of a mama bear and her cub.

little one interior jo weaver

I could go on and on about the beauty of every charcoal drawing on every oversized, luxurious page in this book. Quiet text narrates the changes of the seasons, but mostly we’re left in awe of the richness and vastness and glory of the wilderness lives of these bears. A sumptuous treat for ages 2 and up.

i hear a pickle cover image

I Hear a Pickle (and Smell, See, Touch, and Taste It, Too!), written and illustrated by Rachel Isadora
published in 2016 by Nancy Paulsen Books

Rachel Isadora’s supreme understanding of the child is on full display in this delightful catalogue of the senses. 

i hear a pickle interior rachel isadora

What kinds of things do you hear? A seagull. The ocean in a shell. Not a worm. And what can you smell? Stinky things. Sweet things. Comforting things. Cheery vignettes polka-dot the pages of this highly-engaging book where a beautiful array of multiracial children explore their world. This is a read it over-and-over-and-over again title, for ages One and up.

cat nap cover image

Cat Nap, written and illustrated by Toni Yuly
published in 2016 by Feiwel and Friends

Cat is….yawn……sleepy, and thinks a nap is a dandy idea.

Kitten has far too much pep and wants to play. With Cat.

cat nap illustration toni yuly

Such a funny, tender, and familiar quandary amongst littles and their elders. Giggle along as kitten confounds cat’s attempts to snooze until she herself is plum tuckered out. Toni Yuly’s bold, stylish graphics will grab the attention of even those Under One.

henry wants more cover image

Henry Wants More!, by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Brooke Boynton Hughes
published in 2016 by Random House

When Henry’s papa swings him high above his head, Papa tires out. But Henry wants more!

When Lucy plays pat-a-cake with Henry, she wearies of it after a time. But Henry wants more!

henry wants more interior ashman and hughes

The “do-it-again!” syndrome hits every member of Henry’s family as they creatively care for him. Henry’s delight always outlasts everyone else’s interest, until the very last moment of the day. Then it’s someone else who wants more. Who could it be? And what might she want? A loving, multiracial family shines in this immensely-relatable book. Hughes’ illustrations are charming and welcoming. Ages 2 and up. 

the night gardener cover image

The Night Gardener, written and illustrated by Terry Fan and Eric Fan
published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Ooh la la! This magical, stunning book comes to us from two extraordinarily talented brothers. From the handsome end papers, right on through every page of this enchanting story, we are engulfed in their highly-imaginative, exquisite drawings.

The story takes place on Grimloch Lane, a lane which at the outset comprises a drab, nondescript set of shabby, seedy houses, and equally drab, plodding, unapproachable people.

the night gardener interior terry and eric fan

But! Then the night gardener arrives. He with his smart bowler hat and suit, his selection of pruning shears, his sturdy ladder. And the night gardener works his magic, shaping the Grimloch trees into exotic topiaries, one by one.

When the folks on the lane are touched by this piece of beauty, it becomes a bit contagious. Watch the community’s transformation in this spectacular book. Don’t miss this one, for ages 4 and up. I predict it will land on my Juicies Award list this year!

big friends cover image

Big Friends, by Linda Sarah, illustrated by Benji Davies
originally published 2014 in Great Britain; first U.S. edition 2016 by Henry Holt and Company

Birt and Etho are two friends. And you know what they say:  Two’s company…three’s a crowd. Well. These two Big Friends are great company for one another, playing brave, imaginative games out in the wild fresh air, and building keen forts from cast off boxes.

big friends illustration benji davies

But then a little fellow called Shu arrives on the scene.  Suddenly, it’s a crowd. And it’s Birt who’s left feeling a bit crowded out. How can things be right in the world again? Read this book — so squeezed full of heart. I adore Benji Davies’ striking, eminently-human, illustration work. A gem of kindness for ages 3 and up.

the brownstone cover image

The Brownstone, by Paula Scher, illustrations by Stan Mack
originally published in 1973; reprinted by Princeton Architectural Press in 2015

One brownstone. Three floors.  Six apartments. Six households with very different living patterns. Sleepy bears. Rackety kangaroos. Yowling cat. Snoozy owl. Timid mice. And a family of pigs who are very busy in the kitchen.

the brownstone interior scher and mack

How on earth can all these folks be arranged so they don’t drive one another crazy?! They try many options, bumbling their belongings up and down the tall, narrow stairwell time after time. I bet your kids will come up with the prime configuration long before this clan gets their act together. Ridiculousness and lots of forehead-slapping in this vintage charmer for ages 4 and up.

fabulous frogs cover image

Fabulous Frogs, by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Tim Hopgood
published in 2016 by Candlewick Press

Frogs can be ginormous or itsy-bitsy. They can leap or burrow. They can be tomato red or splotchy blue. They can lounge in the water or withstand drought. They can poison predators or leap huge distances to escape predators.


All around, they’re just a fabulous group of creatures. Martin Jenkins and Tim Hopgood introduce us to a few amazing frogs in a book packed with intriguing information, yet accessible to children ages 2 or 3 and up. Hopgood’s boingy-bright colors and creative page lay-outs eliminate the tiniest possibility of yawning! 

The best part of the whole book, though, is that they choose the plain old, garden variety, greeny-brown frog poised in a backyard pond for their favorite. Yay for keeping it real! Brilliant nonfiction, and just in time for those springtime nature walks.

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il_570xN.848762486_49ptI remember that as a child, each New Year’s Day felt immensely consequential. With one flip of the page, an entire calendar, a year stuffed with life, was over; past instead of present. A weirdly sacred finality accompanied the rite of taking it down from the nail on my bedroom wall and chinging it into the garbage can. Voop. Gone. And a tingly new year lay ahead, shadowy with mystery,  vintage-calendar-januarystretching out long and somehow both empty and full at the same time.

January in northern Minnesota was always, predictably, frozen. A time to head to the ragged, outdoor rink night after night for frosty-breathed ice-skating. We knew we were in for months more of winter before the briefest of springs, a short summer, one glorious blast of fall, and then… winter again. You had better love winter to live in the North! 

Every season has its loveliness. As we begin 2016, here are six books that call our attention to the beauty of the seasons:

a bear's year cover imageA Bear’s Year, by Kathy Duval, illustrated by Gerry Turley
published in 2015 by Schwartz & Wade Books

A bulky, frowsy, Mama Bear and her two snuggly cubs mosey and grow through the year in this fetching book.

Brief, poetic text guides us from their quiet den under northern lights, out into spring carousing, summer feasting, autumn sheltering, before tucking them back into a cozy den in a snowy, sleepy world.

a bear's year interior duval and turley

Gerry Turley’s wonderful illustrations capture the galumptious bears and the glories of their rambling wilderness — frosty nights, spring glades graced by elegant paper birches, bushes spangled with persimmon berries, mountainsides garbed in glowing russets and golds. Really gorgeous work here, in bold, up-close views that plant us right in their midst.

a bear's year interior2 duval and turley

A fabulous treat to share with children 18-months and up.

a child's calender cover imageA Child’s Calendar, poems by John Updike, illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman
poems first published in 1965; published with new illustrations in 1999 by Holiday House

John Updike was a Pulitzer-prize winning, every-award-winning, American novelist who also wrote this joyful volume of children’s poetry in 1965.

His twelve, brief poems explore the gem-like qualities of each month, both in the natural world and in the children’s world of activities. So, in January, The days are short/the sun a spark/hung thin between/the dark and dark. Fat snowy footprints/track the floor/and parkas pile up/near the door. Nature and recreation, side by side.

a child's calendar illustration2 trina schart hyman

One of the lovely elements of these poems, then, is the children’s interaction with the outdoor world, the active, playful, creative, pastimes which occupy them throughout the year. Idyllic and refreshingly naive.

They were originally illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert, then republished 30 years later with a tiny bit of editing by Updike, this time illustrated by the masterful Trina Schart Hyman.  She won a Caldecott Honor for her work.

a child's calendar illustration trina schart hyman

It’s gorgeous, as all of her work is, and what I find especially appealing is that she incorporated a multiracial cast in a book set firmly in small town/rural New England. Far too often African American children in picture books are limited to urban scenes, yet here we have a beautiful mish-mash of folks sledding, gardening, tumbling in deep drifts of Maple leaves, and wading through reedy ponds.

It’s a timeless collection for children ages 2 and up.

antler bear canoe cover imageAntler, Bear, Canoe: A Northwoods Alphabet Year, written and illustrated by Betsy Bowen
published in 1991 by Houghton Mifflin

Betsy Bowen is a Minnesota artist, an exceptional woodblock printmaker from wayyyy up north in the tiny, picturesque, Lake Superior town of Grand Marais.

You’ll fall in love with her artwork in this alphabet book which walks us through the seasons in the north woods.

Dominated by her bold, striking woodcuts, the pages move from winter, to spring, summer, fall, and close in the frozen depths of winter again. Fitting, for a home town perched at such a northerly latitude.

antler bear canoe illustration betsy bowen

Whether it’s D is for Dogsledding, K is for Kayak, or S is for Saw, Bowen adds just a few lines, chatting about how this is part of her experience living in this place. In September, “we cut firewood to keep us warm all winter. When we stop our chain saw to add gas and oil, we can hear our neighbor’s saw way off through the woods.”

antler bear canoe illustration2 besty bowen

Immerse yourself in the beauty of the northwoods and in the vigorous, outdoor activities loved by folks who live there. I hope you’re inspired by the sense of community she relates as well as the close-to-nature life she describes. Ages 3 and up.

snowy flowy blowy cover imageSnowy, Flowy, Blowy: A Twelve Months Rhyme, written and illustrated by Nancy Tafuri
published in 1999 by Scholastic Press

Nancy Tafuri is a genius at books for the very young; this one is perfect for the youngest of bookworms.

Each month gets just one word. That’s it. Based on an old poem by Gregory Gander, a poet who lived from 1745-1815, the rhyme progresses in 3-word triplets: Snowy, Flowy, Blowy. Showery, Flowery, Bowery.

snowy blowy flowy illustration nancy tafuri

Double-spreads on big pages bloom with glorious, wall-to-wall illustration. Tafuri’s clear, bold art grabs our attention and rivets it to her simplified, endearing forms. Every month we spy children playing out of doors, and also meet beautiful birds and other wildlife and plant life.

There’s also a little black dog to spot in every scene. It’s got a sweet, old-fashioned feel, for kids ages 1-3.

cozy light cozy night cover imageCozy Light, Cozy Night, written and illustrated by Elisa Kleven
published in 2013 by Creston Books

Elisa Kleven’s color-spattered, jubilant scenes carry us through a cozy, happy year, this time beginning with Autumn and closing out with Summer. So, if you’re tired of beginning with January and wintertime, here’s a nice change of pace.

Cozy Light Cozy Night interior elisa kleven

The months spin by to the tune of a skippety, frolicsome, boundlessly-happy, rhyming text. Again, I love that Kleven features children of diverse races, indoors and out, urban and rural, engaged in a marvelous, kaleidoscope of creative activities — baseball and beachcombing, popcorn parties and pumpkin patches, singing and swinging. There is so much to look at on every page.

Cozy Light Cozy Night interior2 elisa kleven

I just dare you to read this and feel grumpy. It’s a splendid choice for ages 2 and up.

my year cover imageMy Year, by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
published in 1993 by Viking Penguin

And finally, this lovely journal/memoir written by Roald Dahl during the last year of his life and published posthumously more than 20 years ago.

It’s a conversational meandering through the months. I felt myself to be sitting, relaxed, in Dahl’s home, Gypsy House, nestled in the Chiltern Hills between London and Oxford, hearing about the countryside he loved over a cup of tea. He is pointing out many English birds, telling me their names — willow my year illustration quentin blakewarblers and chiffchaffs and hedge sparrows — and describing their small habits including all the nastiness of the cuckoo, a bird Dahl loves to hate. The trees and hedges, too, are not simply a mass of green but a beloved collection of individuals: hawthorns with blossoms like snow, guelder-roses with their scarlet berries, and horse-chestnut trees whose conkers were just the thing for epic contests among Dahl and his schoolfellows.

So, there’s an outpouring of nature lore here, expressed with palpable fondness, clearly the result of many, many hours quietly observing and relishing the open spaces around him. Dahl is no lover of the city.

Mixed in with these almanac-type comments are rabbit trails of remembrances of various escapades from his youth. Hair-raising adventures collecting birds’ eggs, annual Easter vacations, an illicit motorbike stashed away and ridden in gleeful disguise during his my year illustration2 quentin blakelast school term, and a humorous story of a booby trap he built with his Meccano set at around age nine. Bit of A Child’s Christmas in Wales feel.

Dahl does not hold to a sentimental view of life. At times he sounds just a titch like your grandfather who walked seven miles to school in the snow barefoot…but we’ll grant him that. For what a life he led, and what a world he saw, and how he upends our pretentions with his wild storytelling.

This book is clearly aimed, by Dahl, at young readers, maybe ages 12 and up. I don’t know how many kids out there are interested in memoir per se. For those willing to give it a try, and for adults, this is a quiet gem. Quentin Blake’s loose, tender watercolors are the perfect, final collaboration between two giants of children’s lit.

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autumn-maple-tree-110661300192097PsxFall officially arrived weeks ago, but just now the maples in my backyard are ablaze with that glorious color we love.

Here are five lovely picture books that capture the beauty and transience of autumn.


Say It! cover imageSay It! by Charlotte Zolotow, illustrated by Charlotte Voake
originally published in 1980; published with new illustrations in 2015 by Candlewick Press

This enduring story by Zolotow simply lets us eavesdrop on a conversation between a mom and her little girl as they walk together on a “golden, windy autumn day” Kicking up leaves, watching the spattered reflections in a pond, soaking up the chill air, blowing milkweed seeds about…it’s just the sort of leisurely, nature-infused walk that’s good for the soul.

Say It illustration2 Charlotte Voake

All along the way, the little girl begs her mother to, “Say it!” Mother responds with exuberant, language-lush exclamations about the beauty of the day, but that’s not quite what this child is waiting for. What are the magic words she wants to hear?

Say It illustration Charlotte Voake

Charlotte Voake’s new illustrations surround us in a blowsy, apricot-warm, swirl, with her marvelously gentle, carefree line sweeping and dipping right along with those scurrying leaves. A dear story for ages 3 and up.

Baby Bear Counts One cover imageBaby Bear Counts One, written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff
published in 2013 by Beach Lane Books

Ashley Wolff’s bold, richly-colored prints will draw you into this storybook like the aroma of a robust cup of coffee, or maybe the waft of hot chocolate if that’s your preference.

Mama bear and her busy cub are almost ready to den up for the season. As they lumber around their woodsy neighborhood, Baby Bear hears many curious noises — kerploppings and honkings, thockity-thockings and whappings. What are they? Who is making them?

Baby Bear Counts One illustration Ashley Wolff

As Mama introduces him to the various animals who are all preparing for winter, Baby Bear counts them, and you can, too, until finally we arrive at some wintertime visitors that are too many to count.

Baby Bear Counts One illustration2 Ashley Wolff

Gorgeous illustrations and a perfect text for young children, ages under-Two and up.

Winter is Coming cover imageWinter is Coming, by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim LaMarche
published in 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Despite the title, this book is a splendid autumn treat, gently walking through the months from September to late November.

The quiet, descriptive narration comes from a young girl, maybe 8 years old, a budding naturalist. With her nature sketchbook and drawing supplies, binoculars and thermos of cocoa, she ventures into the woods to observe the animals preparing for winter. So, right from the get-go, I love the whole notion of this story, the freedom, the out-of-doorsness, the connection to Nature.

Winter is Coming interior2 Johnston and LaMarche

As luck would have it, she manages to spy quite a lot of wildlife! Rabbits and chipmunks, yes, but also a skunk family, a bear and her cub, and even a lynx from afar! She tells what she observes and thinks about them in a lyrical, ambling sort of way. That’s the whole text of the book.

Winter is Coming interior Johnston and LaMarche

Jim LaMarche’s illustrations — acrylics, colored pencil, and opaque ink — are gorgeous, capturing the grandeur, the wonder, the serenity, the chilly atmosphere, the texture of dry grasses and soft fur…just everything. He brings us right into this little glade so we can feel the nip on our cheeks and smell the forest floor.

A beautiful enticement towards the natural world for ages 4 and up.

The Apple Doll cover imageThe Apple Doll, written and illustrated by Elisa Kleven
published in 2007 by Farrar Straus Giroux

Lizzy is starting school this fall, and she’s quite nervous about that. What she mainly loves to do is play imaginative games in the apple tree in her yard with her cat for a companion. Sounds good to me.

Her bright idea is to make a little, rustic doll out of an apple and a twig. She names it Susanna, and plans to take it to school as a secret companion. This does not work out as well as she hopes.

The Apple Doll illustration Elisa Kleven

As the days grow colder and Lizzy’s family is busy canning and drying apples for winter, the idea of making a dried-apple dollapple doll photograph Elisa Kleven emerges. Lizzy and her mama work together peeling and soaking, crafting and accessorizing, until her new-and-improved Susanna is ready to return to school.

This time, she’s quite a hit!

Elisa Kleven’s trademark sunshiny, confetti-colored illustrations stream joy through even the wobbliest of Lizzy’s days. Detailed instructions for making your own dried-apple doll are included. Ages 4 and up.

George Flies South cover imageGeorge Flies South, written and illustrated by Simon James
first U.S. edition published in 2011 by Candlewick Press

Winter is on the way. Trees are losing their leaves. Birds are heading south. But George does not feel quite ready to fly.

However!!…when Mom pops off for just a moment to fetch some worms, a sudden whoosh of a breeze takes matters into its own hands, so to speak, lifting George, nest and all, off his limb and twirly-whirly through the air.

George Flies South interior Simon James

From one unexpected landing place to the next, George is carried right along, while his anxious mother valiantly tries to keep up with him and coax him into flying on his own. It’s quite a dicey journey! In the scariest moment of all, George’s nest disintegrates mid-air and…oh dear!…will George get the hang of this flying thing in time?!

George Flies South illustration Simon James

Spoiler alert: It’s a happy ending.

An adventurous story with a spicy dash of suspense, delightfully illustrated in Simon James’ energetic, willy-nilly, Quentin Blake-ish style. Ages 3 and up.

There are lots more autumn-themed books in the archives. Search the Subject index under Seasons.

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