Posted in picture books

Spring and Summer stories to make you smile

With Spring and Summer come a lighter type of picture book: open spaces, verdant greens, cheery yellows, happy colors and stories about enjoying the outdoors. I’ve got a few picture books here that are perfect for those longer, warmer days.

Free, by Sam Usher, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536217049

Ages 4-7

The boy and his grandfather from Sam Usher’s Seasons With Grandad series are back! In Free, the boy and Grandad care for a sick bird who returns to them every day. Grandad looks up new ways to get the bird to reunite with other birds, but it looks like their new feathered friend needs a bit of help, so they gather their equipment and strike out to find a tree for their new friend. Sam Usher brings his touch of magical realism to this story of a boy, his grandfather, and a little bird that needs their help, elevating it from sweet to simply extraordinary. Ink and watercolor illustrations are expressive and provide a soothing, intimate feel to the storytelling and the relationship between Grandad, Boy, and Bird. Riots of color in strategic moments make for a delightful surprise. I love Sam Usher’s books, so this one is a definite buy for me.

Free has a starred review from Kirkus.

(UK edition image taken from Amazon.com: the US edition notes that one of the birds “was sick”.)

 

Sweet Pea Summer, by Hazel Mitchell, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536210347

Ages 4-8

A girl’s her father brings her to spend the summer with her grandparents when her mother has to go into the hospital. To keep her occupied, her grandfather invites her to help in his garden, asking her to look after his snow peas. She learns to care for them and nurture them, taking great pride in the growing pods, and her grandfather suggests she may even get to enter them in the flower show when the season ends. So what happens that causes the flowers to start dying? Stumped, the girl tries multiple fixes until she discovers the reason. A gently told story of love, nurturing, perseverance and determination, this is a beautifully illustrated story, with colorful spreads of the English countryside and cheery gardens. There are so many details to discover in the sprawling townscape and countryside, from bustling businesses and commuters to the playful garden animals hopping and frolicking around the greenery. A book that encourages readers to endure hard times and embrace the support around them, Sweet Pea Summer is a good warm-weather read. Have some sweet pea coloring pages handy for an accompanying storytime activity. Pair with Zee Grows a Tree for a storytime about the love between nature and kids.

Visit Hazel Mitchell’s author webpage for more information about her books, her artwork, and a host of printable activities about her book, Toby.

 

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, retold by Georghia Ellinas/Illustrated by Jane Ray, (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536217735

Ages 4-8

The companion to last year’s William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a dreamlike, picture book interpretation of the famous Shakespeare comedy, great for new audiences. The Fairy Kingdom is up in arms as King Oberon is in a disagreement with his wife, Queen Titania; a group of young nobles arrive in the magical forest from Athens, all in love with the wrong person; and Puck, a mischievous servant of King Oberon’s decides to stir up some trouble just for the fun of it. Retold from Puck’s perspective, this is a very readable, enjoyable breakdown of the hilarious story of mistaken identity, love, and mischievous fairies. Shakespeare’s famous ending, “If we shadows have offended…” closes the story. The artwork is a tapestry of beautiful color, artwork that captures the playful spirit of the play and the otherworldly characters in the story. Moonlight figures heavily in the artwork, a glowing sheen adding illumination and bringing out the details in each character. A great read-aloud idea for older classes (1-3 grades, for instance), consider an Introduction to Shakespeare display for your Children’s Room with books like Anna Claybourne and Tilly’s Where’s Will?, The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review series by Ian Lendler and illustrated by Zack Giallongo, and Mabel and the Queen of Dreams, by Henry, Joshua, & Harrison Herz. Visit ilustrator Jane Ray’s website for free printable coloring pages.

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Seasons with Granddad explores fall with Storm

Storm, by Sam Usher (Seasons with Granddad), by Sam Usher, (Aug. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536202823

Ages 3-7

Sam Usher’s Seasons with Granddad wanders into the fall with Storm. A red-headed young boy wakes up to see the wind rattling at his window; orange and red leaves flying outside. He can’t wait to go outside so he can play in the leaves and the wind with his granddad, who agrees that it’s perfect kite-flying weather. Grandfather and grandson discover a treasure trove of goodies from previous adventures (readers of previous Seasons with Granddad books may recognize a few) as they search for the kite, then head to the park for their newest adventure. As the storm nears, Granddad and grandson head home to enjoy a meal together.

Seasons with Granddad is such a lovely series about a grandparent and grandchild. I love the familiarity of the story: the grandson wakes up to the latest seasonal weather, and he always says, “I couldn’t wait to go outside”. The action moves gently between the outside world, where the weather takes on a fantastic turn, and indoors, where the two prepare for their latest endeavor. Granddad and grandson experience a bit of magic in their everyday life, then head home to share some quiet time together. It’s a comforting series, filled with everyday magic and the unconditional love that one can only find with a loving caregiver. This is the kind of book you read on a lap; it’s the kind of quiet adventure that begs readers to slowly savor every moment, every bit of ink and watercolor artwork, because there’s something new to discover every time.

 

Storm, and its companion books Rain, Sun, and Snow, are the kind of books you keep forever. They’re wonderful books about weather and the seasons, but first and foremost, they’re about the special and magical relationship between generations. Grandparents Day in the US falls on Sunday, September 9; this would be a sweet gift for the grandparents in your lives.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Sam Usher’s Rain explores patience and celebrates imagination

Rain, Sam Usher, (March 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9296-4

Recommended for readers 3-7

It’s raining out – and the young boy sitting inside can’t wait to go outside and have an adventure! Grandpa suggests they wait for the rain to stop, and putters around the home while the boy fidgets and waits for the weather to let up. When the rain finally lets up, Grandpa and grandson go out to mail a letter, and have their own adventure together.

I adore the quiet adventure of Rain: it’s got a soothing repetition while pulsing with the excited impatience a child knows all too well when waiting for an adult to give him or her the go-ahead to do something fun. The boy tries to talk his grandfather into heading outside by talking about things one can do in the rain (catch raindrops splash in puddles) and expressing a desire to go on adventures, like voyaging with sea monsters or visit a floating city. Grandpa, unruffled, continues to tell the boy to wait for the rain to stop. We feel the boy’s impatience when he repeats, “But did the rain stop? NO!” When it’s finally time to venture out, the excursion is every bit as exhilarating as the boy expected. When they return home, grandfather and grandson sit together, with warm socks and hot chocolate, sharing a perfect moment together, complete with the dispensing of grandfatherly wisdom: “…the very best things are always worth waiting for”.

Sam Usher’s art reminds me of some of my favorite British illustrators, Tony Ross and Quentin Blake. His use of watercolor makes grandfather’s home warm and cozy, and the rain outside looks almost dewy and real as seen from the boy’s window. His rainy scene spreads are properly gray and stormy, with sparks of imagination wandering into the picture to prepare readers for what’s coming: a prow of a boat here, an upturned umbrella there. The endpapers extend the story, with puddles and birds, and a cameo by the penguin from Usher’s previous book, Snow.

This is the second in a four-part celebration of the seasons. Snow (2015) saw the boy trying to get Grandpa out of bed to adventure in the snow. I can’t wait to see what Mr. Usher has in store for the next two seasons.

This is a great read-aloud for toddlers and preschoolers alike, and a wonderful companion to nonfiction books about weather and the seasons. Ask the kids what their adventure in the rain would look like; talk about what to wear in the rain (raincoats, boots), and let them decorate their own umbrellas. I really like this one from MamaJenn that incorporates glue raindrops.