Since Mother Nature has been having a difficult time deciding whether it's winter or spring, maybe these two new seasonal picture books will give a hint as to how the yearly cycle is supposed to go.
We start with winter and "Snowflakes Fall" (2013, Random House, written by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Steven Kellogg, ages 2-6). "After the flowers are gone, Snowflakes fall. Flake, After flake, After flake, Each one a pattern, All its own — No two the same — All beautiful."
As the snow blankets winding rivers, the fur of dogs and a peaceful hilltop town, soft blues, whirling white snow and joyful children adorn the painted illustrations. MacLachlan and Kellogg, two highly acclaimed children's book creators, have come together to make a stunningly beautiful book. The children depicted in Kellogg's signature style are alive with color and motion. The spare, lyrical poem follows life's natural cycle, winter to spring, as the snow melts, returns as rain and flowers grow.
Though "Wailing winds may blow, And frantic, icy snowflakes scratch the window glass," there is the promise of renewal when "we wake in the morning light — Surprise! The world shines."
This book was written in honor of the children who died in Sandy Hook, Conn., where Steven Kellogg raised his family. Its subtle message of sorrow and loss can be seen by those looking for it and used as a means to talk about tragic events.
However, the book can be cherished on a literal level as well, glowing with life and joy.
Then we come to spring. The weather warms, snow stops falling and the animals get busy. "Mama Built a Little Nest" (2014, Beach Lane Books, written by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Steve Jenkins, ages 2-7) is a lovely nonfiction book that introduces children to the many types of nests built by birds.
"Mama built a little nest, inside a sturdy trunk. She used her beak to tap-tap-tap, the perfect place to bunk." The text on the opposite side of the page tells older readers a bit more about the tree hole nests created by woodpeckers. Jenkins' detailed collage illustrations show the nests and their builders in full color.
Readers will learn, through a simple rhyming text on one side of the page and a short blurb of prose with more detailed information on the other side, about the nests of hummingbirds, hawks and more. For example, one narrator says, "Mama built a little nest, by digging out a burrow. It was a hoot, our little home, a safe and feathery furrow." The baby owl is shown front and center, its round yellow eyes peeking out of its nest.
At the end, this warm, engaging book comes back to the reader. "You have a nest — your very own! A place to rest your head, with pillows soft and cozy thoughts — your nest is called a bed." Readers will not only enjoy all the things they've learned from this Illinois author's book, but they'll love the clever way in which it is presented.
Alice B. McGinty (alicebmcginty.com), is the co-regional adviser of the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators and the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children. She directs a summer writing camp, Words on Fire, for teens, and she tutors school-age children in writing.