Books for kids: New picture books offer some worldly enlightenment
In honor of a new year, I've chosen two new picture books that can help young readers (and maybe the rest of us) see the world in a new way:
— "Step Gently Out" (2012, Candlewick Press, poem by Helen Frost, photographs by Rick Lieder, ages 2-6) combines a poem with stunning close-up photographs to create a lovely, lyrical nonfiction book which encourages children to look more closely at the natural world.
The text begins, "Step gently out, be still, and watch a single blade of grass. An ant climbs up to look around. A honeybee flies past."
On the beginning spreads accompanying these lines of text, the photos show a praying mantis stepping gently over flower buds, a caterpillar on a blade of grass, a carpenter ant struggling to climb a stem and a honeybee in flight.
Readers will see marvelous detailed photos of moths, spiders, crickets, damselflies, and fireflies in their natural surroundings. My favorite shows a spider in a web "splashed with morning dew."
This leads to the last photo and line of text, which reads, "In song and dance and stillness, they share the world with you."
The beauty of this book is that most of these creatures can be found in our own backyards — if we look for them. Frost's short poem, combined with the amazing photos, encourage a sense of exploration and wonder. Two pages of back matter give additional information about each creature pictured in the book.
— "The Reader" (2012, Amazon Children's Publishing, written by Amy Hest, illustrated by Lauren Castillo, ages 3-7) also uses a simple approach to share a sense of wonder.
In this story, we're introduced to the reader, who is a young boy with a small brown dog, a sturdy brown suitcase, and "a long red sled with a long, loopy rope for pulling through deep snow."
"His boots are high and very heavy," the text tells us, as the watercolor illustrations show the boy pulling his sled through the snow, "but he is strong, and his train tracks are impeccably straight. They are beautiful."
The story follows the boy as he pulls his sled (loaded with the suitcase) slowly up a steep hill. Finally, he reaches the top, where his dog is waiting.
"And then he is there, at the top of the world," the text says.
The boy and his dog make snow angels (and dog angels) and have warm drinks (brought in a thermos) and crunchy toast. But we get a sense that something else is coming.
"And now," says the reader to the dog, "it's time." The boy opens his suitcase, takes out a book, and with the dog in his arms, begins to read. "And the only sound in the world is the sound of the reader reading to the very last page the very last word." When they're done, off they sled down the hill, back home.
There is something timeless about this picture book, which uses well-chosen words to capture a mood and a moment, and encourage us to look at simple events with a new appreciation. There's a great satisfaction in watching this young boy's excursion into the snow to celebrate reading, friendship, and independence.
Wishing you a wonderful new year!
Alice B. McGinty (http://www.alicebmcginty.com) is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children as well as a writing teacher, manuscript coach and the co-regional adviser for the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.