Summers when I’m lucky enough to paddle in Northern Ontario I take countless photos of them–their branches permanently bending to one side from decades of shaping.
The Wind and the Trees features two pines, one young, one old, growing beside each other over the years. The elder shares information with the younger tree about the wind: the way it strengthens it, shapes it, perpetuates its species and carries its messages to other trees. The younger tree listens, asks questions and slowly grows with each page turn.
Between being wowed by the vividly different skies on each spread and delighting in the black ink animals, it’s possible to miss the aging and changing of the older tree, which eventually meets its maker after a windstorm.
The second in a the serious of wordless spreads is one of the most poignant page turns that I’ve felt in some time. When I shared this picture book with my teenage daughter, I watched her face during this page turn. She felt it too!
The ending is full of life and promise, leaving the reader with a sense of wonder over trees themselves, but more so how this deceptively simple picture book by a fellow Canadian can pack such an emotional punch.
It’s year two for me participating in the Fall Writing Frenzy, a kid lit writing challenge to compose under 200 words of text, inspired by one of the fall-themed pictures provided.
Below is the photo that caught my eye, and the words that it led me to write.
My Many Oranges
Those windows are warm orange. Warm orange haunts me, taunts me, doesn’t want me. Not right now.
Living in concrete gray, oranges jump out at me. There’s the siren orange that recently woke me. No sleeping on the park bench in that neighborhood, apparently. Their inflated sense of self-importance.
But siren orange led me to the truest of oranges and its sweet juiciness. The perk to spending the night behind bars is breakfast, albeit also behind bars.
Then there was the clementine orange of last December. A pig-tailed girl’s arm shot out a backseat window as her SUV passed the corner of Carling and Woodroffe where I stood, shivering. The clear bag also held mini cheeses, hand sanitizer and a five-dollar bill. I spent all but thirty-five cents of it on a steaming triple double.
The orange inside the metal drum, that’s a fairly warm orange, too. Last week, after Raul scavenged some wood and Ida found her lighter and my newspapers were dry, we stood around it and forgot about life not being okay for almost an hour.
But the warmest orange is behind windows like those ones, where one day I’ll be again.
TROUBLE has no trouble addressing prejudice in a gentle and humorous fashion.
Squirrel does not plan to invite their new neighbour over for tea–it’s a bear, after all! Squirrel has seen bears on TV and must protect their darling Chamomile from his terrible teeth, knife-like claws and huge horrifying hungers. Battersby’s horizontal split-panels cleverly show the reader that all of Squirrel’s preconceived notions of a bear do not fit the description of their new neighbour, a gentle soul whose hungers are satisfied by chocolate chip cookies.
Squirrel’s overreactions culminate in the unnecessary rescue of Chamomile from Bear’s home, teapot a-swinging! When Squirrel sees Bear knitting and Chamomile playing with the ball of yarn, Squirrel realizes that the only trouble lies only with them.
One must suspect from Battersby’s book dedication that her own friendship that formed over tea and cookies sparked the finale of TROUBLE. As Bear and Squirrel get to know each other readers will be spurred to boil their kettles and settle down to read TROUBLE again. It takes multiple readings to fully savor the whimsical details in the mixed media illustrations (e.g. Bear’s bunny slippers) and exceptional picture book text (e.g. listen for the internal rhyme!).
The endpapers, consisting of pictures of real teapots and cookie jars, make this picture book good to the last drop.
I. Ben-Barak, author. J. Frost, Illustrator. Roaring Brook Press, 2020
Here we have plot-driven, interactive (à la PRESS HERE (Tullet)), not to mention educational picture book brilliance. THERE’S A SKELETON INSIDE YOU! unveils the anatomy and function of a human hand layer-by-layer. First, the bones. Second, the muscles. And finally, the nerves. As each layer is revealed, how it is used to help Quog and Oort repair their spaceship is demonstrated.
“Is this what inside my hand really looks like?” my daughter asked.
It’s a fair question as this story is being told by two space aliens. If there was any doubt, the fine print confirms that the diagrams are true to form.
Child-friendly descriptions indicate how each layer of the hand helps rebuild the spaceship:
“Muscles connect to your bones. When they contract they pull the bones and make you move stuff.”
This is one of those ‘wish I’d thought of it myself’ books that will be the first glimpse for many children as to what lies underneath our skin. Budding biologists beware, THERE’S A SKELETON INSIDE YOU! will only have you clamouring for more anatomy and physiology titles, which are rare in the picture book realm.
K. Norman, author. Bob Kolar, illustrator. Candlewick Press, 2019
Anatomy is at its funnest in Give Me Back My Bones!
Bones are stirred up on the ocean floor after a stormy night at sea, prompting a skeleton to start rebuilding itself. As bones are collected, their seafaring uses are woven into the rhyming text.
I’m grasping for some hand bones,
my wave-ahoy-to-land bones
or dig-a-hole-in-sand bones –
I miss my metacarpals.
Don’t be fooled as I initially was, this picture book that teaches the proper names of bones holds oodles of child appeal. Most pages hint that a certain character is being rebuilt, but it’s not until the final page turn that a pirate is revealed. This caused commotion in my house as my daughters flipped backwards through the pages to discover what they’d missed, like the spyglass in the sand, earring hooked on coral, and peg leg entwined in an octopus arm.
The humour and details in the underwater illustrations by Bob Kolar aren’t fully appreciated until the pages of this picture book are poured over again. We chuckled at the fish carrying the mandible (jaw) with their own mandible and delighted in finding metacarpals (hand bones) among the corals.
Words and pictures unite on the final page to tie this story up perfectly–picture book endings don’t get any better.
Fall Writing Frenzy, 2020 (Image 14, courtesy of Susan Kaye Leopold)
Nausea rises in me every time. This isn’t even a real sunflower! It doesn’t matter. My body reacts instantly, as if I’m allergic. Then my mind joins in, going places I wish it wouldn’t. It’s been two years for goodness sake.
I’m supposed to put another image in my head. Or practice mindfulness–knit, meditate, cook. Today I let the memories percolate in.
The aluminum watering cans bursting with weighty discs of sunshine. One on each round, linen‑covered table, three on the head table, one beside the guest book. I gifted matching mirrors to my bridesmaids. Jigsaw cut by my dad, toll painted by me. The beholder looked as if they wore a loin’s mane of golden petals. Our wedding photos were even taken at a nearby field–the two of us, dwarfed in a sea of gold and green.
No more us. Just me. Me, who’s still figuring out how to fill a Saturday once the apartment is clean and I’ve made enough soup for a month. Me, who’s still reading about the five stages of grief. Me, who still reels at the sight of sunflowers–sunflowers! Stinking sunflowers.
“Sweet and salty”, as the jacket flap says, is the perfect way to describe this seaside story, where the sea herself is a character. The sea is the only friend that salty Captain Swashby has ever known and has ever wanted. Indeed, the sea has provided for Swashby his entire life.
Swashby’s solitary life on the shore is swept away when an exuberant child and her grandmother move in next door. Swashby does not want company and feeds their oatmeal cookies to the gulls. He proceeds to write them pointed messages in the sand. But the sea knows Swasbhy better than he knows himself, and proceeds to ‘fiddle, just a little’. The sea erases some letters in Swashby’s ‘NO TRESPASSING’ message leaving the child with instructions to ‘SING’.
The modified messages continue, and the child’s response to some incite Swashby to teach her some seaside tips. But it’s the sea who, in the end, teaches Swashby that even a salty seaman can be sweetened by friendship.
This story is of the same high calibre of other of Beth Ferry’s picture books, with clever use of language, a sprinkle of humour and loads of heart. Martinez‑Neal’s illustrations in beige and blues make for a perfect seaside palette. The child’s personality swells from the page and the wild and windblown Swashby is what one imagines a salty, and sweet, seaman to be.
C. Higgins, author. Z. OHora, illustrator. Chronicle Books, 2019.
The narrative voice in this story sings, simply sings, through the use of language that uses just a sprinkling of literary devices. BIKES FOR SALE is a story about a neighbourhood and making a new friend in a serendipitous way. It comes complete with the lowest of lows (what could be worse than not one, but two, bike crashes?), a stellar surprise that lifts the reader up again, a lemonade stand and stick collecting. Yes, stick collecting. Other than potentially giving children yet another idea for a rare collectible item to stash in their drawers, this story has no faults. Its illustrations are kid-friendly to the core, with animal characters that include a dog-walking cat. This picture book will warm your heart.
By Einat Tsarfati. Abram Books for Young Readers, 2019
Mount the stairs of an apartment building with a young redhead who is headed home for the day. Each door is a little different–the first has a lot of locks, so must belong to a family of Egyptian artifact thieves. The second door is surrounded by muddy footprints. A rambunctious canine likely lives inside, but the protagonist imagines an explorer and his pet tiger behind the door. The journey to her seventh floor apartment continues in the same creative fashion, ending with a boring door, and behind it, boring parents–or so she thinks.
The surprise ending and the detailed two-page spreads of the apartments behind each door will make this a poured-over picture book. Hunting for the hamster that appears on the ‘LOST’ signs at building’s entrance adds additional charm. The verdict–a lighthearted picture book about the power of imagination that will spark creativity and conversation in your neighborhood, too!