Earth Day is upon us, and I thought I’d take the opportunity to mention four spring picture books that get the green thing right.
Let’s get straight to it then.
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I.C. Springman describes herself as a “small-house person in a McMansion-loving world.” She wrote More for her grandsons in the hope that “one day there will be enough for all” in our consumer-driven world. That may make you wonder if you’re in for some preaching, but fret not. This isn’t an explicitly moralistic tale for children about the idea that less is more. Instead, it’s an economically worded story of great—and graceful—restraint, illustrated in rich, detailed acrylics and colored pencil by Brian Lies.
One magpie starts out with nothing. “Nothing” becomes “Something” when a mouse brings him a marble for his nest. The magpie keeps piling on the junk until the mouse declares it’s “more than enough,” then helping the bird declutter. Springman and Lies give lots of space in this striking book for child readers to consider what it truly means to conserve. (Now if only the mouse could come to my house…)
I chatted briefly with Lies about this book, and it turns out that it’s had an interesting, rather mind-meldy path to publication. “I first came up with the idea of a book about a bird with a hoarding problem back in 1995,” he told me, “but I couldn't make the text I'd written to accompany the suite of sketches I'd drawn NOT be preachy. Then in 2010, I.C. Springman's spare text, through several sheer coincidences, was plucked from the slush pile by the assistant to my editor, the intrepid Kate O'Sullivan at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, who had never seen my earlier attempts at More. She thought I might be able to do something interesting with the spare text. Those quantitative words made all the difference—though it definitely has a message, it no longer wags a finger at you.”
In the continued spirit of restraint, Laurel Snyder offers up another subtle story of environmental upkeep in Good Night, Laila Tov. A young brother and sister head off one morning on a family adventure to the beach, followed by “the deepest field we’d ever seen,” their parents bringing along plants strapped to the top of their car. In this poem of a picture book, the children revel in—via Snyder’s smooth rhyming couplets and pleasing imagery—the wonders of the earth: green fields, sweet red berries, shushing storms, whispering waves, hot sand and tall grasses. In the book’s front-flap note, we learn that the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam is the notion of “repairing the world.” Indeed, the family plants trees in the fields they visit, and their entire adventure, one that children of any faith can appreciate, is brought to vivid life in Jui Ishida’s sweeping, colorful spreads.
This May will bring Bonnie Christensen’s Plant a Little Seed, a joyous celebration of the wonders of planting in the earth. “We plant a little seed or two,” the book opens, “or three or four or more, then pat the soil, warm in the sun…” With vibrant, thickly outlined illustrations, Christensen emphasizes the patience required of growing things (“we…wait and dream…and dream and wait some more”). As two children who have planted flowers, fruits and vegetables in a community garden see their hard work pay off, readers rejoice with them in their harvest, while they munch “right off the vine” and later in autumn when they feast together during Thanksgiving. A celebration of the earth’s rich rewards, as well as friendship and community, this book sings with cheer.
Finally, don’t forget the January release of Laura Purdie Salas’s A Leaf Can Be…. Salas poetically explores the various functions of a leaf—“Sun taker,” “Food maker,” “Air cleaner,” “Frost catcher,” “Fine healer” and much more—in this spare, out-of-the-box look at nature. Salas closes the book with notes about her poetic choices. (If you’re, say, baffled about what “Moth matcher” means, no worries. She explains with the aid of science, even providing recommendations for further reading.) Violeta Dabija illustrates this one with lots of round, comforting lines and lush (mostly) green palettes. I find the font distracting, but all in all, this one is an excellent choice for elementary classrooms, particularly as a poetry-writing prompt.
Here’s to Earth Day 2012—and all the children’s books that honor its spirit in style.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.
MORE. Copyright 2012 by I.C. Springman. Illustrations copyright 2012 by Brian Lies. Published by Houghton Mifflin. Spread used with permission of Brian Lies.
PLANT A LITTLE SEED. Copyright 2012 by Bonnie Christensen. Published by Neal Porter/Roaring Brook. Spread used with permission of Bonnie Christensen.