Since summer is about little things, friendships and time together, check out these two new picture books that celebrate just that.
I recently discovered this lovely book written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein called “Hush, Little Bunny” (2019, Balzer and Bray, ages 1-5). Based on the lullaby, “Hush, Little Baby,” Papa bunny calls to his little bunny, “Come, little bunny, don’t be shy. It’s time to tell the snow goodbye.”
Off they hop into the wide world, where Papa gives little bunny the big blue sky. Joyous watercolor and ink illustrations ring true with their love and connection. “And if that big blue sky clouds over, Papa’s gonna give you a patch of clover,” Papa continues. There are meadows to run through and safe nests underground, and should there be afternoon showers, there are trees to stay by, hung with flowers.
As the day goes on, there are fireflies to play with, and when those “take wing,” there is the place where the blackbird sings. Finally, as the sun goes down, Papa finishes his song and tribute, “Come, little bunny, come what may, I’ll watch you grow from day to day. And when the spring has come and gone, I’m still gonna love you all year long.”
“Vernon Is On His Way: Small Stories” (2018, written and illustrated by Philip C. Stead, Roaring Brook Press, ages 3-8) is a sequel to Stead’s 2012 book, “A Home for Bird” (Roaring Brook Press), during which Vernon (a frog) and his friends discover a lost and silent cuckoo clock bird and work to find it just the right home.
Now, in “Vernon Is On His Way,” we find Vernon in the first of the three stories, “Waiting.” The sketched illustrations of Vernon sitting on a snail by a single flower surrounded by white space show his emptiness, as the text reads, “Vernon waits, and waits, and waits. Vernon wonders if he will ever not be waiting.” Finally the snail pops his head out and off they go. Vernon is on his way.
In the next story, Vernon meets up with his friends Skunk and Porcupine and they decide to go fishing. Though we find later that none have gone fishing before, Porcupine is nervous because he doesn’t know how to fish. The banter between the three friends is priceless, and the genuine emotion comes across in a child-accessible way. “I am not good at fishing,” Porcupine worries. “I am ruining everything.” Later, however, as they are all trying unsuccessfully to fish, Porcupine speaks up, suggesting that if they do see a fish, they might say hello. “That is a very good idea.” Skunk agrees. Colorful, expressive spreads follow, where the pictures finish the story.
In the last and longest story, “Gardening,” Vernon sits alone, sad, in his garden thinking of Bird and he wanders off to look for his memories of Bird. On his journeys to the river and forest, where Bird liked to go, he picks up water and flowers to replant in his garden. Finally, he is so tired, he falls asleep.
Skunk is worried about him. “I am worried too,” said Porcupine. “There are a lot of things to worry about,” he says. But they can’t find anything to cheer him up. The reader sees, though, that as they are rummaging through Vernon’s garden, the flowers Vernon has brought there get caught in Porcupine’s quills. Finally, when Vernon wakes up, he says, “You brought me my garden,” and he is happy. These gentle stories celebrate friendship and small things, brimming with lots of love.