As the winter days get shorter and cold and dark evenings set in earlier, it helps to find a book or two full of warmth and light to combat the darkness. Here are two 2012 books that do the job well:
— "Nightsong" (2012, Simon & Schuster, written by Ari Berk and illustrated by Loren Long, ages 3-7) tells the story of Chiro, a young bat whose mother tells him it's time to fly on his own.
"But the night is dark, Momma ... darker than the moth's dark eyes ... darker even than the water before dawn," Chiro responds.
He admits that he can't always see in the dark. His mother responds that there are other ways to help him make his way in the world.
"Use your good sense," she replies. "Sense is the song you sing out into the world, and the song the world sings back to you. Sing, and the world will answer. That is how you'll see."
She lets Chiro go, and he falls into the darkness and learns to fly. Frightened at first, he then remembers to sing. Soon Chiro can hear trees, branches, lines of noise and rivers of whispers singing back to him.
He follows his song, past the pond and further into the world than he's ever gone. Finally, satisfied, he knows that it's time to return home.
"The music of the land rose up in all of its many textures, each tree, each cliff, each place he'd passed, until finally the song of home added its voice to the others."
This quiet picture book has a depth, warmth and beauty in the lyrical language and breathtaking acrylic and graphite illustrations, which will add light to the darkest of nights.
— In "Chloe and the Lion" (2012, Disney-Hyperion Books, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex, ages 4-9), the main character, Chloe, also encounters darkness and fear, in the form of a forest where she becomes lost after getting dizzy from riding too many times on the merry-go-round.
However, it is the unique approach of this book that sets it apart.
The book begins with an introduction.
"This is me, Mac. I'm the author of this book. This is my friend, Adam. He's the illustrator of this book. And this is Chloe. She's the main character of this book."
When the story follows Chloe into the forest and states that a huge lion leapt out from behind an oak tree, the author stops the story.
"I'm sorry. Hold on. Adam, could you come out here?"
Adam, the illustrator, has drawn a dragon instead of a lion. After some arguing back and forth, he is fired.
Another illustrator comes along, who takes his place. He draws a new lion which swallows Adam, beginning a series of twists and turns in the story that are unpredictable and amusing.
The interactions between the author, illustrators and characters (including the lion) are not only hilarious but instructive. By breaking the "fourth wall" between author and reader, children will feel as if they've gotten a peek at the creative process behind the making of a picture book.
Adults will be amused, too, by the many subtle references in the text in this unique, bright and funny book.
Alice B. McGinty (http://www.alicebmcginty.com ) is the award-winning author of more than 40 books for children as well as the director of a summer writing camp for teens. She is a writing teacher, manuscript coach and the co-regional adviser for the Illinois Chapter of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.