The weather outside might be frightful where you are, but even in the off-season, young children can always find the beauty of nature in a picture book. This week’s collection of Cybils Awards nominated picture books demonstrates an appreciation and acknowledgement of the wonders of the natural world. Treasures can be found in the form of seeds, eggs, water, and even a butternut squash.
I’m a huge proponent of encouraging children to interact with the outdoor environment, and quality children’s literature can always support kids’ real life experiences. Here are five books to check out with your children as you think about the world around us.
1. If You Hold a Seed by Elly MacKay — There are plenty of picture books that address the growth of a tree over the course of many years, from a tiny seed to a towering tree, but there’s something different about this one. The concise text may not hold many words, but there is a magical feeling to it. Each page ends almost with bated breath, with the sentence continuing to the next page and the thought growing with each turn. The passage of time is depicted gently, and in a way that even young children can begin to conceptualize. Even more magical is MacKay’s unique illustrations which have an old-fashioned look and a depth to them that is unusual for a two-dimensional art form. I had to read a little bit of her website to learn about the fascinating process that she uses to create this look, and I can’t emphasize enough the beautiful effect!
2. Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler — While the previous book takes a very realistic viewpoint of the life cycle of a tree (albeit with a magical feeling), this one goes for a more imaginative tale. A tiny woman named Miss Maple travels throughout the year to gather seeds, her full baskets resting on the backs of harnessed bluebirds, and she cares for them in preparation of their planting. There are some elements of reality here, such as the beautiful page of realistic illustrations of twenty different types of identified seeds, and plenty of whimsy in the storytelling. Older children can certainly be brought into a discussion comparing both of these seed-related books and how they each present a similar story in different ways.
3. Hank Finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley — My adoration of wordless picture books has been established already in this Cybils season, and here’s another good one to add to the list. Hank is a cuddly little creature who comes upon an egg lying on the ground. When he looks up, he can see a nest in the tree above him, and Hank is determined to return this egg to its proper place. It’s a challenge, for sure, since Hank is just a little guy, but he will go to great lengths to get the job done, utilizing all the resources he can find around him in the forest. Rolling over a stump gives him a slight boost, but not enough. Creating a ladder with twigs and vines makes for another valiant, but ultimately unsuccessful, effort. Perhaps the best thing he can offer is warmth as the night comes, but Hank’s resourcefulness will not stop the next day. Children will certainly be attracted to the photographs of the adorable stuffed creatures that provide the illustrations for this book.
4. Water in the Park: A Book About Water and the Times of the Day by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin — As a preschool teacher, I often incorporated investigations of water in the natural world into the curriculum with my students, for it’s an amazing thing to study and explore. This book shows several different ways in which water is important in a community, focusing on a park that is a central gathering place. In the early morning, the turtles can be seen crawling out of the pond water to settle upon the rocks as dogs on walks come to splash around for fun. Later in the day, the splash pad on the playground is the hot spot for children looking to cool down, while the groundskeepers care for the bushes and flowerbeds by watering them with hoses. By day’s end, a storm rolls in and the skies open up to drench every surface of the entire park along with any remaining people! This makes for an interesting concept book about both water and time that incorporates a narrative, as well.
5. Sophie’s Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf — When a little girl picks out a squash at the farmer’s market, her parents were thinking about recipes, but Sophie had friendship on her mind. With a few swipes of a marker, Sophie’s squash had a smiley face, and it was soon wrapped in a baby blanket and brought into the folds of Sophie’s play. The squash becomes Bernice, and Sophie brings her on adventures galore. But time takes its toll on Bernice, and Sophie becomes concerned about Bernice’s spots and growing squishiness. She asks the man at the farmer’s market about keeping a squash healthy, and though she takes his advice, she has to wait a while to see if it works. All winter long, Sophie waits, and she is greeted by a little surprise in the spring that grows to an even bigger joy by summer. There’s so much to love here, from Sophie’s determined nature to the celebration of a cool vegetable in a nontraditional way.
Let me know if you’ve read any of these with your own little ones. I know that we’ll be checking these out again and again, especially next spring when our farmer’s market starts up again!
All opinions offered here are mine alone, and do not represent the Cybils Awards.