scrounge: /skrounj/ informal verb: to actively seek [books] from any available source
Summer in literature is often seen as a time of adventure and exploration -- but it can also be a time to stop, relax, and enjoy nature. Regardless, here are some picture books we really enjoy, that seem to embody the spirit of summer.
Time of Wonder is a classic McCloskey book (winner of the Caldecott Medal in 1958) that I read as a child, but I'm not sure I really came to appreciate it much until adulthood. The text is very evocative, and written from a second-person perspective, but it is also fairly wordy for a picture book, especially since it doesn't really tell much of a story until closer to the end. I think this might make it less accessible to some children, especially younger ones. However, both of my kids have seemed to enjoy it at various points, especially reading about the storm at the end, and how the people and creatures prepare for and clean up after it. By the end, the sadness at leaving that place and going back to school feels very real.
Flotsam is David Wiesner's fantasy story (winner of the Caldecott Medal in 2007) provides a secret view into what fish and other sea creatures are really up to down in the deep ocean, as discovered by a boy who finds a mysterious old camera that washes up on the beach. The story is told without any text at all, and while fairly simple, also manages to be absurd and mysterious, and the wordless nature of the book leaves some aspects and questions open to interpretation by the reader.
Probably not many Americans are familiar with Jill Barklem's Brambly Hedge series, but growing up in Britain, I was fortunate enough to have been introduced to it there and grew up with this sweet wedding story from the series. Summer is definitely "wedding season," yet I haven't found many picture books featuring weddings that aren't completely "about" them. This one covers the nuptials of Poppy and Dusty, two mice who decide to get married on a barge in the middle of a stream on a warm summer day. While it focuses on the wedding and preparations, the story doesn't get bogged down in the details, and leaves room for character development and lovely, detailed illustrations of the setting, including the mill (which Dusty oversees) and the intricate inner workings of the "dairy stump" (which Poppy oversees). It is really very evocative of summer in the British countryside, and as I've said before, no one seems to anthropomorphize rodents quite as well as the British.
Grains of sand is a short and simple story of two children's summertime imaginings as they bring some sand home from the beach and wonder what would happen if they planted it. Nice illustrations as well -- see my full review here.
While Finding Wild is not necessarily about summer, it does embody the adventurous spirit that is so often a part of summer vacations and escapes. This book explores the concept of "wild" -- what is it, where is it, and how do you find it? Is it scary? Is it harmless? It may be harder to find in more populous areas, but it's still there -- if you look! See my full review here.
Winter has its perks, but as a resident of New England I am more than ready for spring by the time it finally gets here! Here are some picture books to help celebrate spring, or at least to usher in its approach.
"Every year Mom and I plant a rainbow." Planting a Rainbow is a simple description of how a flower garden takes shape during the spring. The narrator and their mother plant seeds, bulbs, and seedlings in red, orange, yellow, even green (ferns), blue, and purple. Lois Ehlert's colorful illustrations focus solely on the flowers and dirt, and show as they grow from tiny plants to full-fledged blooms -- a lovely and colorful celebration of new life during spring!
Rechenka's Eggs, by Patricia Polacco, is a sweet Russion story of Babushka, a skilled egg decorator, who saves an injured goose one day. When the goose accidentally destroys her decorated eggs she is upset, but she finds that "miracles" can happen as "Rechenka" the goose begins producing beautifully decorated eggs all on her own! The illustrations here are detailed and colorful, showing us a few aspects of Russian culture, and an even sweeter surprise for Babushka at the end. This also makes a great Easter story.
For those of us for whom spring just can't come quickly enough, And Then It's Spring, by Julie Fogliano, perfectly captures the waiting and wondering that happens every year -- we plant our seeds and it's still brown, brown, brown... we wonder, is it really going to come? But then it does! Erin Stead's lovely pastel colors capture both the browns that seem to last forever, and the greens that finally come at the end of all that waiting.
Speaking of waiting for spring, Spring for Sophie shows us this wondering and impatience from a child's perspective. Sophie keeps asking her parents how she will know when spring gets there. They tell her to use her senses to observe the changes: the squishiness of the ground, the sounds of the birds, the rain that falls which finally turns everything green, and then maybe at that point spring will finally be there.
Old Bear, by Kevin Henkes, is a short book about a bear who hibernates through the winter and has a fantastical dream about every season -- from fall-colored fish to giant flowers in spring. But then at the end he waskes up to discover that it really is spring, and time for him to come out. Also by Kevin Henkes, see Egg for some more lovely spring pastel colors.
Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature is a visual feast of colorful, mixed-media images and poetic descriptions that celebrate the most everyday and relatable aspects of nature. It's organized by seasons, and each double pages serves as a vignette of various animals and acts of nature that happen during that season -- from birds building nests and tadpoles hatching in ponds to gardening, wind, snow, fungi, bees, worms, and many other things that are accessible right outside our doors and windows.
I think the illustrations are the best part, with their textures and color pallette, but the text also easily evokes the sights, sounds, and experience of being outdoors, using simple language. This book is fairly long (108 pages), and covers quite a few topics, but is also short enough to read in one sitting if a child has a long enough attention span.
Scrounged From: Amazon (a Christmas present for our five-year-old)
Author: Nicola Davies
Illustrator: Mark Hearld
Content Advisory: None
Like my previous "winter" post, 5 Picture Books for Winter, this sequel post focuses on some picture books that take place during wintertime -- featuring snow, chills, and even a large blizzard!
The title of Winter Is the Warmest Season, by Lauren Stringer, gave me pause when I first noticed it. Not being a huge winter fan myself, I decided I had to at least read it to see how this seeming contradiction could be true. Overall it's a nice exploration of all the ways in which winter becomes cozy and warm due to our efforts to counteract the chill. Full review here.
While Extra Yarn is not about winter per se, it takes place in a small village that is drawn in contrasting tones of black (soot) and white (snow). Annabelle's box of never-ending yarn helps to add lovely pastel-colored cheer to the otherwise dismal place. A charming story by Mac Barnett with beautiful illustrations by Jon Klassen -- full review here.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening is one of my favorite Robert Frost poems, and one that I remember memorizing as a child. This book simply illustrates this classic poem, relating a man's decision to just stop and watch some woods "fill up with snow." Until he decides he must move on, because "I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep..." Illustrated by Susan Jeffers.
Snow is Cynthia Rylant's lyrical ode to snow in its many forms and uses, celebrating the way the world seems to slow down just a bit when those flakes start falling. It's illustrated by Lauren Stringer, who also wrote and illustrated Winter Is the Warmest Season, above.
Blizzard is John Rocco's account of a giant blizzard he experienced as a boy growing up in Rhode Island. Forty inches of snow fell on his town, and after a few days of dwindling food supplies, John decided to find some snowshoes and make the journey to the store so his family could have milk in their cocoa again. This story does a good job of portraying a child's sense of adventure and curiosity during a new experience like this. Full review here.
The Mitten was my introduction to Jan Brett. I love all of her warm, detailed illustrations. In this story (which relies on a bit of imagination), a mitten is lost and one animal after another decides it would be a nice place to get warm -- even a large bear! We have this in board book form, and both kids enjoy it.
How could I not include The Snowy Day? This classic by Ezra Jack Keats won the Caldecott Medal in 1963, and continues to capture the joy of discovery in a landscape of newly fallen snow. As fun as Peter's explorations are, I can totally relate to the part where he sits in the tub afterwards and thinks about his adventures. Peter is a curious, thoughtful child, and I love how after his experiences on the first day, he decides to go out again -- this time sharing it with a friend.
Katy and the Big Snow is my favorite of Virginia Lee Burton's picture books. Not just because I live in a land of much snow and plow trucks become ubiquitous round about December, but also because it seems most books about big machinery and "hard work" tend to feature male characters, and so it's wonderful to see an exception. Katy just goes and goes... she has a no-nonsense "get it done" attitude and many New Englanders can relate to the need for that during the winter.
For a look at what animals do during the winter, Over and Under the Snow (by Kate Messner) features a parent and child skiing through the woods as the framing for introducing young readers to the "secret kingdom under the snow." See my full review here.
Shelter is a beautifully illustratred story of woodland animals preparing for a winter storm (originally written in French by Celine Claire). When strangers come through their neighborhood asking for shelter, will they receive compassion, or not? See my full review here.