Good Reading for Spring Fever

Alison Morris -- March 3rd, 2009

I’ve lived in Boston for almost exactly eight years now — long enough to know that the weather here works like clockwork at this time of year, contrary to what you may have heard about the predictability of precipitation in New England. It ALWAYS snows in Boston during the first week of March. Always! Usually the snow arrives during the first weekend of the month, but sometimes it’ll arrive that Friday or Monday. Seriously. (Search the weather history of The Old Farmer’s Almanac if you don’t believe me.)

This weekend was no exception to the rule, as we Beantown residents found ourselves shoveling some 8 or 9 inches of white stuff this morning, AND griping about it. While January shovelers tend to move with a spirited gait or at least a resigned sense of purpose around here, March shovelers give off a disgruntled air, exhibiting an unmistakable "I AM SO SICK OF THIS" attitude. Gone are the impromptu snow angels and the "We’re all this together" camaraderie. This morning it was "every shoveler for himself" on our street, as elsewhere.

We are coming into the time of year when a reprieve from the snow is a VERY welcome thing. And spring (SPRING!) is a serious preoccupation. Two weeks ago I went out to Walden Pond on an unseasonably sunny day when there were signs of thawing. The place was crawling with other folks like me who couldn’t wait to take advantage of the sunshine and felt overjoyed to be going without their heaviest coats. There is no doubt about it: we are all showing the earliest symptoms of SPRING FEVER. In that vein, I’m going to mention here some of my favorite books celebrating spring and ask that you do the same.

First and foremost on my list is The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). This is the story (hopefully well-known to all of you!) of a Depression-era girl with a green thumb who leaves her country home to work for her unsmiling uncle in his city bakery. I cannot read this book without getting a lump in my throat, but it’s a lump I welcome wholeheartedly! I absolutely love everything about this book.

In one of my first posts on this blog, almost two years ago, I sang the praises of Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman (HarperCollins) which absolutely deserves a place on my list of favorite spring reads! (You will note, too, that that 2007 post was not spring-related but it WAS inspired by another day spent doing what? Shoveling. Oy.)

With Easter on the horizon, I can’t help but think of The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes written by DuBose Heyward and illustrated by Marjorie Flack (Houghton Mifflin). This quote from Learning Magazine sums it up perfectly: "It is difficult to believe that this very modern feminist tale was originally written in 1939. A gem of a fantasy in which kindness and cleverness win out over size and brawn."

If you associate spring with cleaning, you should add a copy of Sara Varon’s delightful new comics-style, wordless picture book Chicken and Cat Clean Up (Scholastic, March 2009) to your collection. This book is filled with the same quirky charm and humorous bits that have turned readers like me into diehard Sara Varon fans. When Cat accompanies Chicken on his housekeeping rounds, the slightly clumsy, somewhat clueless kitty proves to be less than perfect for the job of cleaning but perfectly suited to another job that just happens to come along. SO. MUCH. FUN.

And speaking of things that are "SO. MUCH. FUN.", Gareth and I had the great, great pleasure of meeting Sara Varon in the fall of 2007, but I was so busy with store events and such at the time that my photo of us with her (and report on that meeting) never made it onto this blog. I’m going to post our picture here so that you can see Sara, and you can marvel with me at the fact that we were two of the only people who showed up to her signing of Robot Dreams at New England Comics in Brookline, despite the store’s obvious efforts to get the word out. While this meant we had lots of uninterrupted chat time with Sara it did suggest that the bulk of the world had not yet discovered Sara’s greatness, which I found distressing. I hope that’s changed in the year and a half since then, and if not? Maybe Chicken and Cat’s new adventure will help.

One of my favorite board books is Spring Is Here by Taro Gomi (Chronicle Books). As we zoom in at the image of a calf we see the year move through all four seasons until we come back to where we started.

A more recent favorite for the preschool crowd is The Big Yellow Sunflower by Frances Barry (Candlewick Press), which is one of two books in their Fold Out and Find Out series. (The other is Little Green Frogs.) I love the very clever concept behind this book — so much so that I took photos of it last year when the book was hot of the presses, but (yes, there’s a theme developing) I never posted them here. While we’re making up for previous post omissions, let’s take a trip through this ingenious-for-its-simplicity book. Here, as you might have guessed, is the cover:

Here’s a look at the title page…

which folds back to reveal page one and a hint (on the back of the title page) of what’s to come. 

We’ve now turned the page three times and see what’s happening?

You get the idea, right? (Pardon the terrible glare in these photos.)

Once you’ve gone through the whole story, you’ve got (what else?) a big yellow sunflower!)

But there’s still one more bit to explore. One half of the sunflower’s center folds down to reveal one last page, featuring instructions on "How to Grow Your Own Sunflowers."

I look forward to seeing ACTUAL sunflowers around here one of these days! For the time being, though, I’m stuck with those on the printed page.

What books would you recommend reading to get us all in the mood for spring? Plant those seeds here, please! Your suggestions don’t have to pertain to growth or gardening or religious holidays. For more inspiration look at the clever categories (and four terrific recommendations) made by Catherine Owen in her article about springtime children’s books on Suite101.

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