Lynn and Cindy: We know it’s fall and the leaves are blanketing our lawns. But we’d much rather stay inside with this trio of picture books than waste all that time raking. If we wait, maybe the winter winds will blow the leaves into our neighbor’s yards and save our aching backs. Besides, what would the focus group play in if we get rid of all those leaves? So pour some cider and enjoy.
Lynn: G. Brian Karas’ lovely new book, As An Oak Tree Grows (2014), opens on a late summer day in 1775 as a Native American boy plants an acorn in the woods. Each turn of the page moves the story forward 25 years, depicting not only the life cycle of the slowly growing oak tree but also the changes in the countryside. The forest yields to a small house by cleared farmsteads and then to a small town and eventually to a city. The old tree is brought down by a lightning strike after 200 years but a cheering reminder follows as the next page shows a new tree sprout springing up beside the stump. The two-page illustrations are done in gouache and pencil and are warmly inviting and filled with details fun to spot. The book is reminiscent of Virginia Lee Burton’s classic The Little House (1942) and the two books would be wonderful for pairing in a classroom or story hour. Karas has included a timeline on each page and a terrific poster with innovations noted on the tree’s rings.
Cindy: Trees are planted to mark special occasions, and what is more special than a baby on the way? Maple (2014), by Lori Nichols, features a young girl of the same name who loves to play under and around the maple tree her parents planted when she was just a “whisper of an idea.” As Maple grew, so did the tree. The seasons change and Maple shares her coat with the bare tree or dances around it, or, as in a beautiful two-page spread, lies under the tree and watches the leaves dance just for her. One day, there is a new sapling planted next to her maple. And soon she learns that another baby is on the way and Maple plays with the baby in familiar ways until the leaves dance for them both. Maple and baby sister Willow have a lot of fun ahead. Debut picture book author/illustrator Nichols creates a perfect gift book for a big sister preparing to meet a new sibling, one that focuses on love and caring, but libraries are going to want to stock up, too, as this story is a winner. The illustrations are charmin and I can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel that will be published this month, Maple and Willow Together.
Lynn: And then there’s a very different kind of tree, envisioned by one of my favorite picture-book illustrators, Sophie Blackall, in The Baby Tree (2014). Mom and Dad tell a little boy that a new baby is coming. He has a hundred questions but before he can get them out it is time to rush out the door. The most important question is, “Where are we going to get the baby?” He asks the teenager who walks him to school and she tells him that you plant a seed an it grows into a baby tree. Each new person the boy encounters has a different answer, each different from the next and each holding a snippet of the truth (except for his Grandpa’s!). In the end, his parents set him straight, of course. Blackall’s illustrations are wonderful—eccentric and engaging with the perfect amount of child-centered goofiness. A very nice addition to the end is a list of questions and answers about babies that are geared to young children.