Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up

Busy Spring: Nature Wakes Up
Sean Taylor , Alex Morss and Cinyee Chiu
Words & Pictures

If you live in the northern hemisphere, like me you have probably been noticing beautiful wild flowers – snowdrops, daisies, celandines and primroses springing up, an abundance of catkins, blossom starting to open on trees, pussy willow buds bursting; as well as the occasional bee and butterfly. We even saw frogspawn a couple of times last week (the end of February). Definitely spring, with its promise of so much, is my favourite season and this year it seems even more important than ever to celebrate its arrival.

That is exactly what the two children in this beautiful book (written by children’s author Sean Taylor and ecologist Alex Morss) are doing. The older girl acting as narrator, tells us how what starts out as a hunt for Dad’s fork so he can plant some carrots turns into an exploration of the family’s garden. ’Everything smelled like wet earth and sunshine.”

“The spring sunlight is nature’s alarm clock,” Dad says, taking the opportunity to mention pollination.
Both girls are observant, asking lots of questions and noticing signs of new life all around – tadpoles,

a bird building its nest and a wealth of minibeasts – ants, woodlice, worms and beetles and several species of butterfly, as well as playfully emulating some of the creatures they discover.
Throughout, Dad subtly provides snippets of relevant information concerning life cycles, habitats

and what causes the seasons; and throughout the children’s sense of excitement is palpable.

Cinyee Chiu’s illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, beautifully composed and carefully observed.

At the back of the book are several pages of more detailed information about spring and how it affects the flora and fauna, as well as some suggestions for ways children can get involved in helping nature in its struggle against climate change.

A must have book for families with young children, as well as foundation stage settings and KS1 classrooms.

Little Adventurers: What Bear? Where? / Autumn

Little Adventurers: What Bear? Where?
Philip Ardagh and Elissa Elwick
Walker Books
Peanut, Floss, her little brother, Sprat and Finnegan, the four little adventurers who hold weekly club meetings in their very own shed HQ are back. Now they’re on the trail of animals in the garden where they head with collecting jars, magnifying glass and binoculars at the ready.
Inevitably, there are misidentifications: Peanut’s snake turns out to be a hosepipe …

and Peanut’s giant egg is in fact Sprat’s long-lost ball; and Peanut forgets that things look much bigger when viewed through a magnifying glass.
The creepy crawlies search however is more fruitful with several minibeasts being found;

but the most important find of all is that of a furry animal – a very special one indeed. In fact that’s the only one that doesn’t get released back into the wild at the end of the day.
As well as the entertaining story, there is a whole lot to see and enjoy by way of visual detail: posters, signs, speech bubbles and occasional font changes, all of which are embedded within Elissa Elwick’s zany illustrations.
Another Little Adventurers story that will, one hopes, spark the imaginations of curious adventurers around the ages of Peanut et al.
More of the natural world in:

Autumn
David A.Carter
Abrams Appleseed
This is the third of the author’s seasonal pop-up books and as always Carter’s paper-engineering is amazing.
We start at ground level with a variety of squashes bursting forth from the centre-fold surrounded by a scattering of other flora and fauna and there’s ‘a chill in the air’.
Turn over and clever cutting allows you to make some of the leaves appear to be falling from the oak tree …

behind which wild turkeys roam and a river winds, providing a home for some otters. On winds the river through fields, ‘full of life’ widening out to a place where beavers have built a dam and lodge.
Next stop is a wheat field, ripe and ready for cutting for, as the final spread informs, ‘Winter is coming: it’s time to harvest.’
Full of mellow fruitfulness this lovely book certainly is, albeit USA style, but that can be an interesting talking point as well as an opportunity for widening horizons.

The Road Home / Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall!

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The Road Home
Katie Cotton and Sarah Jacoby
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
What a beauty this is: Katie Cotton’s gentle cadences combine with picture book artist Sarah Jacoby’s atmospherically beautiful illustrations to create a memorable evocation of the approach of winter.
Fly with me to far away, / where sun still warms the ground. / For winter’s in the dying light/ and in that windswept sound.’ the mother bird says to her young one as they prepare to leave the safety of their nest and undertake a long, arduous flight together.

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It’s a flight that will take them and readers on a meditative journey as a mouse builds a nest for her little one and rabbits flee from wolves hunting their prey.

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Yes, nature is hard, brutal at times, and this is no cosy picture woven here from words and pictures; rather it’s a powerfully gripping contemplation of the contrasting harshness and stark beauty of life in the wild ‘This road is hard, this road is long.’ we’re told over and over, but at the same time it’s a reassuring one: ‘ … we are not alone. / For you are here, and I’m with you … / and so this road is home.
The impact of this book is slow-burning: it’s an impact that grows with each re-reading, with the words and landscapes lingering in the mind long after the covers have been closed.

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Hocus Pocus, It’s Fall!
Anne Sibley O’Brien and Susan Gal
Abrams Appleseed
The same partnership that brought us the lovely Abracadabra It’s Spring! has moved the focus to the autumn, as it’s called in the UK. It’s the time when the long summer days are already getting shorter, the temperature starts to drop, the leaves are just beginning to get those tinges of orange and gold and school opens once more. Everywhere are signs of change: seed pods burst scattering an abundance of feathery ‘clouds’…

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birds get ready to fly to warmer climes and the trees are glowing in a multitude of glorious colours.
In a short time, ‘Chilly gusts/ toss leaves around. / Shazam!‘ And a carpet of leaves covers the ground just waiting for children to frolic and kick them skywards. What joy!

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This is the season for squirrels to start laying away food for their winter store, there’s an abundance of delicious fruit to be picked and cooked …

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or hollowed and made into pumpkin faces. Some animals curl up in their burrows for a long sleep and we humans dig out our warmer clothes and delight in all the season brings…
All of this is celebrated in pictures verbal and visual. Eleven gate-folds open up to reveal Gal’s glorious extended scenes to delight the eye and complement O’Brien’s exciting rhyming text.

A Welcome Song for Baby

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A Welcome Song for Baby
Marsha Diane Arnold and Sophie Allsopp
Tamarind
The small girl narrator of this lovely book comes up with a wonderful idea when she sees everyone else busy with welcome preparations for the new baby and wonders what she can do. “Can the baby hear us?” she asks her mum. “Yes, Emma, the baby is listening,” comes the reply. She decides to share all her own favourite sounds beginning with winter’s ‘Tinkling icicles. Whistling wind. /Slushity-slush-slush-snow. // Chattery teeth. Snowballs SPLOSH. / Sleds and skates shoosh- shooshing. // Purring kitty. Snoring dog. /Pop-pop-crackling fire./ All winter long, I share the sounds./ All the sounds, all round, all round.”
Come spring and there’s blossom blowing in the breeze, chirping sparrows, robin’s song, whirring dragonflies, clickety bikes, WHOOSHING swings, lizards skittle-scooting, rumbly thunder

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and more.
Summer brings the sounds of bees, flies, crickets, bouncing balls, skipping chants, a water sprinkler, frogs croaking, owls hooting and campfire stories told by her dad.

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Then one warm summer’s day Emma’s mum announces, … “Today is Baby’s birth day.” Not long after, it’s time to welcome the new family member face to face …

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and come autumn Emma and her new sibling have a whole lot of new sounds to enjoy together.

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This is an enormously heart-warming celebration of a new baby told with sensitivity and affection. The closeness of the whole family is beautifully conveyed in Sophie Allsopp’s richly hued and patterned illustrations.

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Tree

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Tree
Britta Teckentrup and Patricia Hegarty
Little Tiger Press
This glorious celebration of nature and the seasonal changes it brings is presented through the focus of a single apple tree standing in a forest.
I’m a huge fan of Britta Teckentrup’s work and in this instance she makes ingenious use of die-cuts that increase in number as we move towards midsummer and then decrease to the single owl’s look-out as midwinter comes around once more, disappearing completely in the final two spreads.
The story begins as the forest is gripped by the icy chill of midwinter; no animals are visible save the single owl peeping from its hole in the tree trunk and watching …

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As winter gradually gives way to spring, shoots begin to peep through, leaves unfurl and bear cubs frolic. Then slowly more animals appear, nesting birds and more can be seen in the tree’s branches:

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birdsong fills the air showing summer’s on its way with its bees, butterflies and ripening fruit.

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Then come the glowing colours of autumn and the animals start to prepare for the coming of another winter when once again it’s time to take shelter.
Not only do we follow scenes of the changing seasons but also the changes as day turns to night

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in this superbly crafted book.
Patricia Hegarty’s lyrical text takes the form of rhyming couplets that are a real pleasure to read aloud and have the effect of making the reader slow down to allow for listeners to savour not only the gorgeous scenes as they subtly change, but the words themselves.
One thing is certain, no matter what the season, this is a book to treasure.
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