The color yellow gets a bum rap. I think it’s too often seen as being insufferably peppy, but I have an ardent fondness for it. It’s more modest than red and less ingratiating than orange. I even painted my home office yellow so that it will help boost me as I stumble out of bed and get to work. A morning person I am not. I need the humble cheer of yellow to nudge me toward things like speech and common courtesy.
Given that I’ve always been partial to it (it’s tied with blue as my favorite color, because how can a person pick just one?), I’m particularly fond of two new picture books that make yellow the star of the show, one more overtly than the other – Lauren Stringer’s Yellow Time and Philip C. Stead’s Samson in the Snow. There’s something here for everyone, however, with both of these books – even if yellow is not your thing. Both books, but particularly Stead’s, bring to mind my favorite picture book of all time: Ruth Krauss’ The Happy Day, illustrated by Marc Simont, published in 1949 (and a 1950 Caldecott Honor book). If you love picture books but have somehow not seen this one, drop everything now (and just come back and read my words later). It is utter perfection. Yellow doesn’t take the stage till the very end of the book (save the cover), but bless my soul and yours too, it is well worth the wait.
Let’s start with Stead’s book, since it is a sister book, I think, to The Happy Day with its sister flower on the cover, right there in the title. In this book, we meet Samson, a woolly mammoth, who tends a patch of dandelions and longs for a friend. When a little red bird appears and kindly asks for some dandelions—she wants to give some to a friend, who is having a bad day and whose favorite color is yellow, just as Samson’s is—Samson hands them over. He loves his dandelions, but he’s happy to share. Samson falls asleep, dreaming of yellow but then yellow turning to white, and he then wakes to a world of snow.
Samson immediately remembers the little red bird and worries she is unsafe; she is so small, after all, and it’s a big, snowy world out there. The next spread shows that, indeed, the bird has fallen, unconscious and beaten by the weather. On Samson’s trek to find her (“It is better to walk than to worry,” he decides), he meets the mouse whose day the little red bird had intended to brighten with Samson’s flowers. The two of them find the little red bird, and now Samson has, not one, but two new friends.
There’s a lot of well-thought-out stuff going on in this beautiful book with its radiant, textured illustrations, which include velvety blue snow landscapes. There are endearing characters; indelible images (the Samson-dreams-of-yellow spread is just what I need to look at every morning to improve my mood); and symbolism that is never heavy-handed. But the book’s greatest achievement is its warm, compassionate tone. The book is even dedicated to “Anyone Who Is Having A Bad Day,” a dedication that may or may not have made me burst into tears, since I read it the night after the first presidential debate, during which one presidential candidate bullied and interrupted his opponent at every available opportunity. Samson is just who we need, in fact, after these interminable days of Donald Trump. Or, really, any day of the year.
Lauren Stringer’s Yellow Time is a celebration of Autumn and its changing colors, but yellow is the real star here. “Yellow time” only comes once a year and “before white time,” Stringer writes, building a sense of anticipation that is contagious and propels the page turns: The trees burst with yellow leaves; the air “smells different”; and everyone eagerly waits. “The trees can’t hold on forever.” Then it happens—“WHOOSH!”—and the wind blows the yellow leaves through the air, a “symphony of yellow.” Children run and play in the bright yellow hues, and crows sing the praises of yellow and yellow alone. In the end, children press yellow leaves in their books, as we see bare Winter trees outside.
This book is a riot of yellow, Stringer never holding back. She manages to avoid overwhelming readers with the color; yellow is the name of the game here, but it never wears out its welcome. The artwork swoops and swirls, especially at the wind’s arrival, and there’s a vibrant energy to the whole affair. It all adds up to a wild celebration of nature, children of all skin colors drunk on Fall and participating in the revelry outdoors by joining hands, making yellow-leaf crowns, and howling into the sky. It’s a breath of fresh air, bad pun not intended, and a picture book that exudes cheer. Needless to say, it’s a wonderful read for precisely this time of year. Right now, go grab a copy if you can. You’ll be rewarded.
It’s also a distinct pleasure to pair these books together. (Story-timers, take note.) Stringer’s book uses yellow as a springboard to say farewell to nature’s last gasp before stark Winter, and Stead’s book is drenched in the snow, yet uses yellow as the symbol of a warm and welcome refuge from the cold.
Rays of glowing yellow sunlight, both books.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
SAMSON IN THE SNOW. © 2016 Philip C. Stead. Illustration used by permission of the publisher, Neal Porter/Roaring Brook Press, New York.
YELLOW TIME. © 2016 Lauren Stringer. Illustration used by permission of the publisher, Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster, New York.