March Books: Winter into Spring

By on March 2, 2012

by Meribeth C. Shank

As the seasons shift, enjoy three very different springtime stories, from fanciful to traditional aspects of spring, also including a perhaps surprising African setting for a different perspective.

In Like a Lion Out Like a Lamb
by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully.
Holiday House, $16.95 & $6.95

Ages 4-6

Veteran author Bauer sends the March lion in through a boy’s front door, traipsing muddy footprints and trading howls, in a rollicking, rhythmic, rhyming text, cadenced to perfection with McCully’s signature watercolor, pen and ink paintings. Deft language links “an enormous sneeze” with “breeze, trees, chickadees and bumblebees” in a smooth transition from lion’s growls to lamb, “who comes riding in, gliding in, striding in” to take charge of “grass and flowers, sunshine and showers; and babies, small and large.”

In a seemingly effortless partnership of words and images, this award-winning team mixes single and double-paged spreads using an expert blending of movement and change.  The illustrator’s skillful harmony of color with white space complements the author’s subtle use of occasional repetition for a timeless celebration of spring.

and then it’s spring
by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Roaring Brook Press, $16.99
Ages 4-6

In less than two hundred words, debut author Fogliano launches a garden, and introduces readers to the uncertainty and hopefulness of a rookie farmer. A be-speckled youngster, accompanied by his ever-present rabbit, turtle and dog companions, observes the brown “all around” before “there are seeds.”  Wishes and rain follow, but still for week upon week, “it’s just brown.”

Then there is worry: birds and (somewhat surprisingly) bears show up in the snow. And then the nearly audible “greenish hum,” is followed by a sunny day after a rainy day, with puddles still visible.

In a poetic repetition of “then” and “and,” the ending comes around in an understated but essential closing line and art; “but the brown isn’t around and now you have green, all around you have green.”

Caldecott medalist Stead uses woodblock printing techniques and pencil to contrast rounded cloud shapes and seed hills with rectangular stripes of farmland, fences, and the angled farmhouse. It is an astute coupling of deceptively simple language with spare but elegant, balanced illustrations.

Desert Elephants
by Helen Cowcher
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.99
Ages 6-8

Beginning in February and into June, springtime in West Africa is characterized by the migration of the “last remaining desert elephants.” They follow an ancient route and share the land with nomadic peoples; Dogon, Fulani, and Tuareg. The latter have a saying: “We live with the elephants and the elephants live with us.”

The author’s beautiful illustrations feature realistic paintings of the elephants, including one double page spread of an elephant face on, and others of journeying, sleeping, playing elephants in daylight, sunset, lakeside and mountain landscapes. As people and elephants interact, Cowcher’s storytelling shows the importance of radio for sharing information, negotiating, and music.

Several double page spreads feature not only the native people of Mali, but tourists, rangers and guides, and radio announcers. A family of newcomers, unfamiliar with the elephants’ patterns, has established a home in the path of the migration. As nearby villagers discuss a solution, cultural traditions and sayings are emphasized, helping readers understand the importance of sharing the land and working together.

A bright-colored map of the migration route is featured inside the front and back covers. Also, an Author’s Note arranged as questions and answers is included at the end.

Meribeth Shank works in the Media Center at Miami Country Day School, an independent school in Miami Shores, Florida, teaches classes on Writing Books for Children, and earned her MFA in Writing for children from Vermont College.  You can also find her on the web:   http://meribeths.blogspot.com

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