Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Spring Ahead! Four Picture Books to Plant Some New Ideas

It's spring! Lovely, glorious spring! We had a terrific time over Easter weekend, playing outside, going for bike rides, and just generally enjoying the feeling of not being bundled up in raincoats and boots. While we're not silly enough to think that the rain is gone yet -- after all, we do live in the Pacific Northwest -- it was wonderful to have a bit of spring idyll.

And of course that spring weather means that we're in the mood to read about all things growing. Spring provides a host of excellent topics for children's books, providing an introduction into the growth cycle and the rhythm of the seasons. All the aspects of spring are so much fun, aren't they? Planting, watching flowers bloom, seeing butterflies and birds, getting outside and becoming more connected to the earth. Can't wait to do more of that this year with Sprout, now that he's getting old enough to do more than just eat handfuls of dirt. :)

We brought home a ton of great spring-themed reads from the library, and sorting through to find the best was no mean feat. I took my cue from Sprout on this one, as he once again has some very definite preferences among the titles we read together. His most favorite was a title that I added as an afterthought, and I'm glad I did: City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan. This book has an urban setting, so it's perfect for kids who maybe won't be sowing seeds in their own backyards. When an old building is knocked down in Marcy's neighborhood, all the neighbors work together to turn the patch of land into something beautiful -- all but Old Man Hammer, who is nothing but unpleasant about the whole thing. But Marcy stumbles on Old Man Hammer's secret, and soon discovers that, just like with the earth, when you scratch the surface of someone, there are hidden places underneath. This is a lovely story of community involvement and intergenerational relationships, and the diversity included is definitely an added bonus.

A friendship between young and old also forms the basis for George Shannon's SeedsIllustrated by Steve Bj√∂rkman, the pictures capture the spirit of Shannon's story perfectly, lending a slightly impressionist feel that's energetic at the same time. Warren and Bill are friends -- Warren helps Bill in his yard, and the older man draws or plays games with Warren. But then Warren's family moves away, and he misses his friend terribly. So Warren writes Bill a letter, and Bill writes back, with a surprise that makes Warren's loneliness -- and his yard -- much brighter. Not only does this book touch on the themes of loss and connection, it also provides a great example of the notion that friendship, like a beautiful garden, blooms in unexpected places. (Check your library or used bookstore for this older title.)

One of my favorite things about spring is the blossoming of the flowering cherry trees. Sprout knows this, and so every time we see one when we're out and about, he yells, "There's your pink trees again, Mama!". And so the fact that Diane Muldrow's We Planted a Tree features a spread with pink cherry blossoms just delighted him, enough that we read this one several times together. This is definitely an eye-popper, with retro-vibed illustrations by the delightfully quirky Bob Staake. Honestly, I could look at his work forever, it's that fun and full of life, as is Muldrow's poem about the growth of trees and their connection to humans. The book shows people from all corners of the globe experiencing the joy of trees - from their leaves to their shade, from fruit and flower to maple syrup and beyond. The message, that as trees grow and thrive, so do we, is timely and spot-on. Best of all, there's a reference to the Green Belt Movement of Kenya's Dr. Wangari Maathai, a connection to East Africa that seals this one as a winner in our book.

Last but not least is Butterflies for Kiri, a book about art and perseverance, that wraps its message in the beauty of a spring day. Cathryn Falwell's previous books have been favorites of ours, and this one's no exception, both intriguing to the mind and to the eye. When Kiri's Auntie Lu sends her a book of origami for her birthday, Kiri sets out at once to make a beautiful origami butterfly. But the paper folding is much harder than Kiri bargains for, and she soon gets frustrated. Still, she's determined, so every day she practices making a butterfly with scrap paper. And then one day, inspired by the gorgeous spring weather, Kiri decides to capture her feelings with an art project. At first things don't turn out how she intended them to, but this time Kiri's not giving up -- and all that practice pays off as she completes her piece with a perfectly folded butterfly. I love the message here, that difficult things take practice and patience, and I especially love the smile on Kiri's face as she shows off her completed masterpiece.

As the days get longer, there's more light for reading just one more bedtime pick. If you're squeezing in one of these springtime favorites, you may want to leave time for a reread (or two!).


PragmaticMom said...

I could use some books to usher in the spring. Nice list!

Cathryn Falwell said...

Delighted to find Kiri here! Many thanks.
Happy Reading!

Renee C. said...

So many great suggestions Mary. I love your choices highlighting the inter-generational relationships that are forged over gardening. I am one of the leaders of our gardening committee at our kids' school and part of our plans were to provide opportunities to involve grandparents and older adults in the surrounding community in gardening with our children. Gardening in urban settings often is quickly becoming a lost art, but we have community gardens popping up in various areas close to where we live. I'm loving this trend!

Becky said...

Gardening is my favorite springtime activity!!!!