KidPages: Three Picture Books for Spring

Mar 27, 2015

The grass is greening up, the daffodils are opening, the air is warm and fragrant . . . and our book basket is overflowing with spring picture books (a sure sign that spring is finally here!). Here are three of our favorites:

1. Hatch, Little Egg by Édouard Manceau

For me, this little book conveys the essence of spring: the wonder and anticipation, but also the surprise and unexpectedness of it all.

Told completely in dialogue, the animals are racing over to see the chick hatch out of the egg. They come on motorcycles and cars with their cameras slung around their necks. They can hardly wait. They're afraid they might miss it, but luckily they arrive just before the first crack appears. They gather around in giddy anticipation . . . but what comes out of that egg is not at all what they were expecting.

I love a picture book that looks like it's going along a predictable path and then veers off to something completely surprising, and this book does that very, very well. I also love that it addresses a fear that I know many children have--that of doing something new in front of an audience. Kids like to be able to test the water, explore new territory, and try new things without everyone watching and cheering them on. (Of course, some kids love an audience and the accompanying applause, but this book is for the kids who don't.)

I will admit that it took me a couple of times through the book to know how to read it. Like I said above, it's told solely in dialogue, but it's mainly just exclamatory phrases: "Ooooh! Here we go!" "Look! There is it!" "The egg is hatching! The egg is hatching!" etc. You don't really know who's saying what, and they're not very descriptive to the overall plot. But then I discovered that if I simply point to one of the animals as I'm saying the exclamation, it merges the text and pictures together, and I think having the story told through joyful cries really contributes to the overall feeling of excitement.

2. Jack's Garden by Henry Cole

Adaptations of The House That Jack Built are almost as common (and frequently as poorly done) as those of There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (why anyone thinks it will be funny if that old lady swallows a bell or a rose instead, I'll never know).

So I was, as you might guess, just a bit dubious of Jack's Garden, but I'm glad I gave it a chance (and I beg you to do the same).

It begins on an empty garden plot with Jack standing in the middle, shovel in hand. Behind him, there's a tree with clusters of white blossoms--our first indication that it's spring--and of course the words that tell us right away the kind of book we're getting into: "This is the garden that Jack planted."

But this is why I love this book: While the text follows the expanding pattern we're all familiar with, the illustrations take on a different role entirely--that of teacher. There's a large picture in the middle of the page, but around the edges, the reader is introduced to the various cast members that play a role in making a successful and authentic garden.

For example, when the text reads, "These are the seeds . . ." the borders are filled with little piles of seeds--lupines and phlox and hollyhock, all perfectly detailed so that you would be able to recognize them if you held a few of them in your hand. My favorite page (that goes with "This is the rain . . ." ) showcases the various kinds of clouds that might bring that much needed rain to your little seedlings.

There is just so much to look at and talk about. It feels almost like a reference manual--like something you could take out with you to your own garden and use to identify that mysterious wild flower that just popped up in the corner or that armored beetle creeping along a stem. But still, through it all, you've got the running anthem of "the garden that Jack planted," and it just ties up the whole thing into a great little package that's very interesting and engaging for kids.

3. Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson

If you like Hervé Tullet's Press Here, you definitely need to check out Tap the Magic Tree. Told in a similar style, it invites the reader to perform various actions, but instead of colored dots, the creative medium is a tree. Touch each bud on the tree and soon it is covered in blossoms; shake the tree and the apples fall down; blow on the tree and the leaves fly away.

This book is as much about the four seasons as it is about spring. But it begins and ends in spring, so I figure if you can only choose one season for it to be about, spring's the best choice.

The first changes happen slowly, gradually. The opening page is just a bare brown tree. It looks dead, but there is life there, just waiting to come out. Tap here, and tap there, and green leaves begin to appear. Before you know it, the tree is full and beautiful once more.

I love it that the tree is referred to as magic because spring really does feel magical to me. Look one day, and the tree is empty; look the next, and it is somehow, miraculously, magically, covered in white blossoms. The changes happen slowly but then all in a rush. Buds stay tightly closed for days and then magically open up over night. It's such a thrilling season, and this book captures that feeling.

Also, can I just say how much I love interactive picture books that do not rely on flaps? Nothing to worry about tearing out of this book. Just enjoy.

What picture books have delighted you this spring?

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