In a chilly New England forest, the narrator, a birch stump, awaits the approaching cold, dark times.
At first, the stump is a proud birch tree until the day that Beaver gnaws it down, as beavers will do. As Beaver ambles off, the stump hears him complain about the approaching “cold and darkness.” Soon, other animals pass by the stump, and it asks if they have been gossiping about that cold and dark. Each one denies it, saying they heard it from some other animal, and so fear creeps into the forest. Later, Beaver returns to the stump, admitting that he spread the rumor to help everyone to prepare but does not know where he learned it. The stump waits, but all that comes is the returning warm weather, which brings its own surprise. Kelley’s text attempts to be a cautionary tale about how rumors spread and grow, but it doesn’t hang together. Readers accustomed to stories that explain the seasons will find it confusing—winter does come, and it is definitely a period of cold and darkness, at least in New England. In Kelley’s illustrations, beautifully painted, realistic-looking animals pose in Native dress. Although a concluding note explains that he bases his story in Wabanaki lore and his illustrations on a series of his paintings of tribal elders, there is no further context to ground readers or to situate them as to their authenticity.
Confusing and sorely lacking context. (Picture book. 3-6)