Tag Archives: Autumn

Transitioning to Winter…

I love the shifting of seasons.  Sometimes it happens slowly and the leaves deepen in hue and drop off one by one… other times it’s an abrupt wake-up call and a brave little iris is poking its head out of the cold ground.  Here in the Pacific Northwest, we were enjoying a normal, wet, mild, windy fall when all of a sudden the bitter cold came yesterday and left a quarter inch of snow dusting the ground.  Winter already?  I marvel in the rhythms of nature… and so many picture books do too.  I have Top Ten lists for all the seasons already, limited though they are. But we all know there exist a myriad of books that really hinge on a very specific part of the season, specifically its inception.  Best are the books emphasizing the beginning of spring and the beginning of winter.  Summer and Fall (well, there is the blooming “harvest time” genre…) are not as common for some reason, at least it seems to me…

Anyway, I read a book that’s new this year that made me think of all my favorite “transitioning to winter” titles.  The book is this one:

Winter is Coming

… and it is stunning.  It might well be my favorite book of the year.  I just love the tone; it’s poetic without being contrived and Jim La Marche could not have been a better illustrator for this book.  The whole story is simply a young girl watching wildlife and how they respond to the shifting of seasons.  In many ways, I was struck by how it felt like the female version of The Raft.  In that book, Winter Is Coming is going on my gifting ideas list because it is just beautiful.
The story is developed in a traditional way but the similarities between a child sketching wildlife in opposite seasons was wonderful; they’d make a great side-by-side comparison for the enterprising teacher.

A couple of the other books that I cherish this time of year are sadly out of print.  All can be found in my local library however, so I suspect they’re available in others.  One is called Waiting for Winter and it is glorious and messy and funny and endearing.  I can’t fathom why it went out of print so soon!  Meschenmoser illustrated it in sparse colors with a scribblish technique that captures the bitter end of fall so well. The little squirrel is waiting for snow and trying to figure out what exactly it’ll be like…

Snowsong Whistling is another one of my favorites because Elisa Kleven is like the bacon of the picture book world… add her illustrations to anything and it’ll turn out amazing.  In this book, the world again waits for the first snow and spritely verses dance across the pages as winter knocks at the door.

Still in the OUT OF PRINT world, there are other goodies also… like Hurry Hurry Mary Dear a very fun book about Mary running about tucking things in, getting ready for the big, blustery winter on its way.  The book is really an depiction of what illustrator Erik Blevgard calls a “domestic drama” but it sure is fun to be watching it all unfold!

So there you are… the best of the “transition” books in my opinion…

 “The quiet transition from autumn to winter is not a bad time at all. It’s a time for protecting and securing things and for making sure you’ve got in as many supplies as you can. It’s nice to gather together everything you possess as close to you as possible, to store up your warmth and your thoughts and burrow yourself into a deep hole inside, a core of safety where you can defend what is important and precious and your very own. Then the cold and the storms and the darkness can do their worst. They can grope their way up the walls looking for a way in, but they won’t find one, everything is shut, and you sit inside, laughing in your warmth and your solitude, for you have had foresight.” 
-Tove Jansson
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A Picture Book Thanksgiving

In nearly thirteen years of married life, I have cooked exactly one turkey.  Thursday will mark my second attempt. I say attempt because the first was a failure of significant proportions. We went to a local farm on the island we lived on and agreed to pay a pretty price for one of the turkeys trotting about the premises.  Part of the agreement was that my husband and sons would get to come help kill the bird so our children would know that food doesn’t come from a freezer and we support a local economy, etc.  Lofty goals…

The bird was slaughtered; defeathered and sent home with excited young eyeballs proud to call it our own. I had never cooked a turkey before so I just winged it (I’m so punny!)… thinking it would be hard to screw up.  Well, I screwed it up.  Birds that have room to roam are ipso facto leaner birds. The meat needed a little bit of TLC to get that famous “Butterball” taste I was used to.  I didn’t really know what I was doing and we gnawed on tough meat with sacrificial spirits, rather than thankful ones… thinking about how much money we spent on this ‘quality’ ‘local’ meat.  At least the pie was good…

But I digress. We’ve somehow managed to get invited elsewhere or visit family for most of our other Thanksgiving holidays and so I’ve no real experience in developing solid family traditions for this day.  I am asked to please make sure Great-Grandma’s Sweet Potato Casserole gets made but everything else can pretty much come or go any given year.  Perhaps that’s why I’m not particularly excited about Thanksgiving-themed picture books.  I just don’t get really jazzed up about this holiday for some reason.  I have precisely the books I want to have and am not really licking my chops hunting for the newer and better ones that I’m certain exist (google “Thanksgiving picture books” and you’ll get an eyeful if you want).

So, realizing there has been a void in Thanksgiving posts since I started this blog 3 years ago, I’ll share with you what I have and a brief bit about why I have them, just for my die-hard dozen of curious people. But know that this isn’t a comprehensive list of all great books out there for Turkey Day by any stretch of the imagination.  I read these during the week prior to Thursday.

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving: This gives the story of Squanto obviously and I like having a first person focus for this story. It’s well done and offers a friendly bit of truth regarding Spanish Catholic monks that isn’t too common to see in secular history accounts.

The Thanksgiving Story: Tells the tale. The text is a tad lengthy but the art style is beautiful as to be expected.  This is the “official story” book I go to. This year, I’m reading it over a couple days as part of our school’s morning basket.

Cranberry Thanksgiving: I love Cranberry-ville! This is fun and fresh and not focused on the history at all.  Vintage… happy that Purple House Press brought these back in print.

Mousekins Thanksgiving: I wish Mousekin was back in print; he’s a Charlotte Masoner’s dream! This is a gentle tale, full of natural goodness typical of Mousekin and ends in a satisfying and sweet way that captures the ‘spirit’ of Thanksgiving generosity.

Three Young Pilgrims. For my younger children specifically to get a taste of history with the personal narrative to go with it.  It’s colorful and engaging.

N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims: I bought this when we were studying N.C. Wyeth as an artist.  The story is a faithful rendition of the original history but I really don’t make a point to read from this book so much as to just enjoy the pictures (Though the scene is picturesque and romanticized a bit, it’s still a good piece of Americana to get nostalgic about).

The Thanksgiving Door: Something off the beaten path a bit and full of Thanksgiving “spirit” again.  I like to find tales that get a new angle on this holiday because there’s only so many books you can read about the history before your eyes blur over.

p.s. Regarding seasonal out of print books. If you don’t already know this, they are horrifyingly overpriced when it gets close to that season.  Do not shop for OOP holiday books in the same month that the holiday is celebrated.  I buy my OOP Christmas books no later than October and shake my head as prices skyrocket just weeks later… so you have to think ahead of the game a little bit. 

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Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre: November Perfect

In the Catholic faith, we are asked, during the month of November, to reflect on The Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. In the picture book world, I like the idea of using the first part of this month to read darker, haunting or semi-macabre stories (think fairy tales). In having a healthy respect for the supernatural while living as best one can in the state of grace, I really think we have no reason to fear darker themes. And when you treat things in their proper place and have a good understanding of all things ghoulish… kids I think, will too. I mean, my children and I are fascinated by the Martyrs of Otranto for example and on my “money-is-not-a-factor bucket list”, I hope to see their shrine someday, complete with the skulls on display. There is no “creepiness” in death really and ideally, it’s a glorious passage… but I digress.

I was checking to make sure that Anna Harwell Celenza hadn’t produced a book on Mozart (whom we are studying this term) and was reminded with happiness that she had just put out Vivaldi’s Four Seasons this summer… but my eye caught another new title I hadn’t seen before—produced just this August! And that was Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre. We love Celenza’s books in this house (and accompanying CDs) and have purchased four of them now… to supplement our studies of composers.

To be honest, I don’t know anything about the Danse Macabre or much about Camille Saint-Saëns either, but I was intrigued by the cover and read up a bit about the history of that piece in particular.  I learned a lot about the Dance particularly

here. ApparentlySaint-Saëns actually went a-loitering in the catacombs to get inspired for this piece! Anyway, during November, before settling down with the comforting, festive Thanksgiving stories, this would be an excellent book to read and composition to study. I unfortunately, have maxed out both my book budget for the month as well as my request for materials to be purchased at the library right now… so I don’t have a first-hand review of the book to offer yet.  But I’m certain, like all of Celenza’s books, it’s excellent…

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And What About Halloween?

I’ll be honest, I’m not particularly thrilled with most Halloween books out there. They generally fall to two extremes: the much too-scary ghoulish books or the cutesy little stories that are explicitly twaddle.  Maybe it’s because there’s nothing really in the spiritual realm to bank this holiday on… with the exception of All Saint’s Day on November 1st—for which there are of course many good saint books.  But Halloween as it’s popularly known today? Pretty barren for the literature world. There are of course, a couple gems, generally related to pumpkins in general: Pumpkin Moonshine by Tasha Tudor is probably my only “must have” for this specific holiday. But Too Many Pumpkins is another fun one worth picking up.  And if you are able to find a good copy of Mousekin’s Golden House for under $20 you’d be lucky, but chances are slim. There are probably others, but I’ve stopped searching for great Halloween specific books. I turn to other sources to get into the spirit of things.

Ed Emberley is single-handedly responsible for encouraging my children to become little artists.  Whenever I used to try and get them to draw a scene from a story or just be creative, they would whine that “they didn’t know how.”  So I first bought Ed Emberley’s: Make a World to see if they would be motivated to try. Would they ever!  Suddenly, the whole world was opened up to them! They just needed to realize how easy it was to break down basic figures into manageable parts to draw, and Emberley was the first to show them how. Lately the boys have been drawing from two of his very Halloween oriented titles: Ed Emberley’s Drawing Book of Weirdos and Ed Emberley’s Big Orange Drawing Book (unfortunately out of print right now) . Both books are excellent for inspiring fun, not-too-scary-but-just-scary-enough drawings. We currently have expanded our How-To-Draw ______ books but still have a good half dozen of Emberley’s titles.

Another alternative to traditional Halloween stories are to explore picture books that really embody mystery and suspense… not necessarily fear. Chris Van Allsburg comes to mind with books like The Stranger or the fun and macabre (a great combo) alphabet book The Z Was Zapped.

Finally, this a great time to avoid the commercial Halloween fare altogether and bust out the old, creepy fairy tales like Hansel and GretelRumpelstiltskin, or the modern but delicious Heckedy Peg. Search through many picture books to find one that gives a fair rendition of classic fairy tales or just save yourself the pain and invest in a good, quality anthology of originals.  Enter Andrew Lang’s Colored Fairy Book Collection if you want to do the piecemeal approach like I do.  Otherwise there are complete anthologies like Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Andersen: The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories.

Please note that not all fairy tales were written for children and some can be quite gruesome and morbid.  Use your best discretion in previewing these tales… but know that this is what they looked like before Disney came to popularize and trivialize them.


“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”-Albert Einstein 
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To a Publisher’s Shame

I picked up Autumn Harvest at the thrift store a while back with eagerness.  I immediately recognized the illustration style that made White Snow, Bright Snow a Caldecott Award Winner in the late 1940s. The same author, Alvin Tresselt, wrote Autumn Harvest and the same artist, Roger Duvoisin, illustrated it. This team also produced a quirky, quiet book called Hide and Seek Fog (itself a Caldecott Honor Book) and their work complements each other beautifully. One that I didn’t know about is called The Beaver Pond and while out of print, looks to be readily and economically available. Furthermore, Roger Duvoisin is the illustrator for other fantastic and popular books like Petunia and The Happy Lion too; his accomplishments and credibility can’t be denied.

Here’s my beef. Why—if you have such a lauded duo of picture book makers— would publishers let their other titles go out of print?!  Forget for a moment, the worthiness of other titles, isn’t there something to be said for celebrity power in the children’s literature world? But let it be known that Autumn Harvest is worthy! The story is simple, and slow. It’s a cycle of nature and lifestyle beginning with the earliest harvest season:

 After the threshing, timid filed mice scurried through the stubble to find what the machines had left. And chattering birds gathered in the hedgerows to feast on the fallen grain. Each night at sundown the katydids sang louder.  Katydid…katydidn’t…katydid…katydidn’t. Till the first frost tipped the maples with scarlet, and turned the elms to gold.

… and continuing on through the season until the farmer’s family gathers around the table for Thanksgiving. All the while accompanied by Duvoisin’s excellent, vintage drawings. I’m just not sure where the book goes wrong enough to get left in the publishing dust pile? Is it too dated or nostalgic?  Is it because the farmer is not PC and he smokes a pipe? What?! Why suffocate our children with other filth in print and avoid the riches of yesteryear?  I suppose it’s the vicious cycle with all consumerism: if people buy it, they produce it.  If they produce it, people buy it, if for nothing else than for lack of better options.  So who really is to blame them? Us? Them?

Whatever the case may be, don’t get all glittery eyed at the Barnes and Noble shelf of books when there are treasures waiting to be purchased second hand all over the place. Do some research. Don’t settle for pig slop. Buy books with wrinkles.

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Appreciating Arnosky

Today I dug into our October basket (yes, our “seasonal” rotation of picture books has now grown into a “monthly” rotation of books!! I include all our picture books in this rotation (excepting non-fiction) so as to ensure we are getting a chance to read and appreciate all the good ones we have.  Otherwise, treasures get buried and forgotten in the surplus.) and pulled out Every Autumn Comes the Bear by Jim Arnosky.

I was reminded again of how much we love this author.  Is it the brilliance of the text?  Not so much.  The glory of the illustrations?  Not exactly.  I think what it is has to do with the perfect marriage of text and imagery Arnosky offers in all of his books.  He writes simple story lines… easy enough for a 2 year old to sit through, yet engaging enough for an 8 year old to appreciate.  And he doesn’t fictionalize things or  indulge in anthropomorphism like so many other popular kiddy books do— I have no problem with talking animals, believe you me… but all things have their place.  And animals in Arnosky’s books are simply stars in the natural history story he has to tell. And they are excellent.

Crinkleroot
Tom Bombadil

We own Grandfather Buffalo and Coyote Raid In Cactus Canyon also but I’m starting to get the itch that tells me I need to purchase more of his titles… so loved they are and so seasonally appropriate they can be.  On my shortlist are Rabbits & Raindrops or Raccoons and Ripe Corn and Armadillo’s Orange (get a load of those used prices! Ha!). And we can’t forget Crinkleroot and his series… which are very basic primers to different aspects of nature; kids love them. As a side-note, Crinkleroot reminds me of how I envision a simpler version of Tom Bombadil. If you get that reference, it’s a strong indication you might be awesome.

Anyway, Jim Arnosky provides good stuff all around!  Go get some books!

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Bargain Book Roundup!

Skimming through the current Bargain Books on Amazon can be daunting because there is so much chaff and very little wheat. But here are some notable hardcover books that are currently on sale for a good price! Get ’em while they’re hot!

The Donkey of Gallipoli: A True Story of Courage in World War I I just talked about how much I love Frane Lessac a couple weeks ago! I was so excited to see this book on sale, it’s my favorite WW1 picture book to date.

The Legend of Saint Nicholas Demi’s version of the story, criticized for having a Catholic bias. I hate to break it you everyone, but Nicholas of Myra was in fact, a Catholic bishop.

Martin de Porres: The Rose in the Desert This is a pretty new book on St. Martin. I bought it full price last year when it came out… so great was my curiosity. Some folks were a bit offended that the monks in here were portrayed as meanish or critical. I don’t know St. Martin’s story really well, but I do know that the Church is a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints… and that sometimes, holy people have faced more persecution from INSIDE the church than outside of it! So I was not too bothered by any biases that some saw in this book. It had lovely art and was a good primer on a wonderful man.

Louisa: The Life of Louisa May Alcott I just learned a little about this famous author and was surprised to find out that she never WANTED or INTENDED to write a book for girls! She had other material that her first publisher didn’t love and she was asked to write a story for girls… so she did, and did the sequels just to keep the bills paid. Despite the fact that those stories weren’t what was initially on her heart, she sure made a success of herself for generations to come!

The Trouble with Wishes This is a light, fun retelling of the famous myth about Pygmalion.

Pandora I love Robert Burleigh’s Hercules book and he writes a bunch of other excellent non-fiction titles as well.

Adèle & Simon in America I absolutely love Barbara McClintock; her illustrations are so old-world evocative… and this is a fun little look and find book for little eyes.

Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman One of my favorite Johnny Appleseed picture books.

Snow Superb picture/text symetry here. This would be a great addition to anyone’s winter basket (the general part of this season sometimes gets overlooked in deference to the millions of Christmas season books…)

Close to the Wind: The Beaufort Scale I have not seen this in person yet, but it looks absolutely delightful and original and perfect for explaining not only the scale on which wind is measured but so many other nautical things too, lovely art!

Angela and the Baby Jesus A beautiful picture book embodying the “real meaning” of Christmas from the author of the famous Angela’s Ashes.

Merry Christmas, Curious George! I don’t generally advocate for commercial characters in picture books, but Curious George was cool before he became… well… cool. So if you have any young fans in your house who’d love a George Christmas book, this is your ticket…

Corn. Gail Gibbons may not author the most beautiful books on the planet, but they sure are excellent contributions to non-fiction topics. Corn would be a great addition to anyone’s harvest or autumn basket of books. I recently found Spiders at the thrift store for our Fall basket and think Corn would accompany that nicely!

Panorama: A Foldout Book I don’t know much about this book, but it looks intriguing and like it might make for a beautiful, unique gift. Here is a blog post I found describing it a bit more in depth.

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A Lost Book of Thanksgiving Art

This year, we are doing artist studies in a way that highlights just one artist per school term… a new painting each week.  In our home, it looks a lot like this.  Anyway, to get my boys excited about art in general, I knew I had to introduce them to a very boyish, exciting artist first, before getting into things like Degas and the ballerinas.  Enter N. C. Wyeth.  He is an extremely prolific and wonderfully exciting artist for young boys (think pirates, cowboys and knights) and we had a lot of fun appreciating his work.  The problem is that there exists very little literature that tells us about the artist himself in a child-friendly way, and no real compendium of his work in the picture book world.  Or so I thought.  I just discovered N.C. Wyeth’s Pilgrims which is an out of print (but readily and economically available used) story of Thanksgiving from the perspective of his happy paintings and cheerful characters (Wyeth was a consummate American, even if this meant overlooking some of the darker realities of the Thanksgiving story).  We actually have a number of Thanksgiving books and weren’t necessarily looking for more– but this popped onto my radar just last week– and I had to buy it.  Even if we have moved onto Rembrandt (to correlate with a visiting exhibit coming to the Seattle Art Museum soon), the boys were excited to peruse the book and see some more paintings by this artist, larger than the 4 x 6’s I’ve been pinning on our board.  The story itself by Robert San Souci is fairly typical.  But the art is classic, and the notes about Wyeth in the end are great.  I’m surprised to not see it mentioned more often either in conjunction with artist studies, or with Thanksgiving itself.

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Butterfly Tree: Pick of the Week

Often when an author makes a children’s picture book based on a memory he or she had, the result falls flat.  It’s hard to convey sometimes the significance and specialness of an event in a way that complete strangers (and young strangers to boot) will appreciate.  In the picture book world, there are exceptions to this of course. Authors like Allen Say or Barbara Cooney for example, both excel at making lovely stories out of personal memories.

Sandra Markle’s Butterfly Tree is a book in this vein.  The text, though not rhyming, is written in stanzas and the fuzzy (oil paint?) illustrations give the book a somber tone and set a thoughtful pace.  The story is about a girl witnessing a giant migration of monarch butterflies: it looks like it’s raining black pepper from a clear blue sky.  She is confused and frightened at first as she and her mother go to investigate in the woods.  All her senses seem heightened as she goes through the trees noticing things until suddenly An explosion of golden-orange bits fills the sunlight streaming between the branches.


 I especially appreciated the endnotes in this book as it fills in the gaps on a personal level with the author and shows an informative map illustrating the migration routes of Monarchs.  The book would make an excellent fill in on a butterfly study or general winter preparation/migration/hibernation studies for animals.
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Apple by Nikki McClure

Washington State has produced a couple great children’s book author/illustrators (including my very, very favorite, Doris Burns), with the latest being from Olympia– the excellent Nikki McClure.  She is famous for her intricate, yet deceptively simple looking paper cut illustrations in her titles for very young children.  Her first attempts at paper cut illustrations gave birth to a little, homegrown book that was distributed locally in 1996. Apple is the new reprint of that effort, now available to the masses!  It is lovely, and begins with the play on words: “Fall”… as you see an apple falling from a tree.  The book continues with a single word on each page, documenting the life of the apple as it goes through autumn and is composted into the ground before giving new life the following spring.  The book would make a great springboard to inspire budding artists or writers with the art of paper-cutting.  Here is a great little tutorial on that. The little write ups in the back about the life of apples and about composting are just as excellent as this juicy, little morsel of a book itself and I highly recommend it for your early reading pleasure.

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