Posted on March 12, 2015 at 6:00 am
By Spokane standards, we’ve barely had winter. Nevertheless, I compulsively look at the sunrise/sunset app on my phone to see how incrementally the days are getting longer, I inspect the yard looking for the tiniest hint of green, and I convince myself gloves are for sissies. And I can tell you, it’s happening. It really is. Not to jinx anything, but I think spring might be on its way. The hyacinths are starting to poke up, in spite of the 20 degree overnight lows. It’s actually light out when I leave work. And the other day I was ridiculously excited to see a curl of fresh purple leaves erupting from the heliotrope in my backyard.
Life is just easier in the spring. Sure, there may be more yard work, but it’s as if the entire world—or maybe it’s just me—heaves a huge sigh of relief once the days are longer and the threat of real winter weather is behind us.
Here are a few children’s books perfect for this delicate and hopeful time of the year:
And Then It’s Spring by Julie Fogliano
This is a great book from which I shamelessly stole the title of this post. A small boy and his animal companions—a dog, a rabbit, and a turtle—eagerly and anxiously wait for late winter to turn into spring. Even though they’ve planted seeds, the world is still a dull gray-brown (perfectly captured by Caldecott Award-winner Erin Stead’s illustrations), and the boy and his friends try not to think about what could have happened. Did birds eat the seeds? Could rain have washed the baby plants away? Will spring ever really arrive? But one day it seems that “the brown becomes a more hopeful shade of brown.” The days are longer, the skies are bluer, and then, as tiny plants begin to push through the earth, it really is spring. Julie Fogliano’s prose perfectly captures the winter-weary anticipation of not-quite spring, and the illustrations are lovely, imbued with the watery, pale light of sunlight shining through rainclouds.
Look Up: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate
My boyfriend and I have a bird feeder outside our back door and we like to joke that it’s turned us into senior citizens. We can stand there for hours, watching birds gorge themselves on birdseed until they’re all the size and shape of tennis balls, discussing the finer points of finch plumage, and even weighing the merits of millet over thistle. But we can’t identify a damn thing, except maybe the chickadees. Now that our avian friends are visiting in even greater numbers (and making quite a twittering racket in the mornings) it might be time to bring home a copy of Look Up: Birdwatching in Your Own Backyard. This fantastic nonfiction title is designed to be read like a picture book, with plenty of word balloons and a friendly neighborhood setting. The text helpfully instructs amateur birdwatchers on how to identify birds using color, shape, behavior, birdcall, and other characteristics.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
I still find a lot of relevance in this 104-year-old story of an orphan who goes to live with her uncle in Yorkshire. Once there, Mary discovers not only a cousin she never knew she had, but also a neglected, overgrown garden behind locked stone walls. As Mary learns about soil, seeds, and growing things from working class Dickon, she encourages her sickly, self-pitying cousin Colin to come out of his shell. The recovery of the garden might be a sentimental metaphor for self-discovery and renewal, but to my jaded eyes Burnett’s story still works and operates on a number of levels. As a child I just loved the story, but as an adult I can appreciate how much of a difference the Dickons of the world make, (and also respect how much work really goes into rescuing outdoor spaces).
Finding Spring by Carin Berger
I love books that use cut paper, cloth, bits of text, or even the pages of other books in order to illustrate a story. In the case of Carin Berger’s Finding Spring, intricate cut paper constructions are the backdrop for the tale of Maurice, a little bear who is too excited by waking up to spring to actually go to sleep and hibernate in the fall. Late in the season, he creeps out of the cave he shares with his mother and goes out in search of spring. When a snowflake lands on his nose, he thinks he’s found what the hullabaloo is all about and he fills a sack with glittery, cold “spring”. Delighted with his treasure, he brings it home and finally falls asleep for the winter. When he wakes in the real spring, he discovers his mistake but all is made right by the warmer light, the bright colors and textures, and the newness of his surroundings. Younger kids will enjoy looking at all the minutiae, the snippets of handwriting, and tiny paper flowers, while adult readers will marvel at the craftsmanship—the painterly treatment of a dark winter landscape and the precision of each folded and cut edge.
If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson
“If you plant a tomato seed, a carrot seed, and a cabbage seed, in time, with love and care, tomato, carrot, and cabbage plants will grow.” So begins this luminous parable in which a rabbit and a mouse plant their seeds, tend their garden, and are about to enjoy the harvest—when unexpectedly they realize they’re being watched by five very hungry birds. The situation could go one of two ways: the mouse and rabbit could share their bounty or keep it all to themselves. Author/illustrator Nelson shows what happens when the seeds of selfishness, followed by kindness, are sown. What could be a joyless and moralistic tale in another writer’s hands becomes a warm and unforgettable story of making choices that bring the most satisfying rewards. Nelson’s paintings, especially the spread featuring five staring birds, are gorgeous.
What are some of your favorite books for early spring? Let us know in the comments!