Children’s Books Roundup: Spring Is Here!
By Cyrisse Jaffee
Kari, Percival, How to Say Hello to a Worm: A First Guide to Outside. Penguin Random House, 2022.
Cathy Goldman Fishman, illustrated by Melanie Hall. A Spring Stroll in the City. Familius, 2021.
Kate McMullan, Happy Springtime! Pictures by Sujean Rim. Holiday House, 2021.
Susan, Kusel, The Passover Guest. Illustrated by Sean Rubin. Holiday House, 2021.
There are so many ways to celebrate the arrival of spring with kids. You can take a walk in the rain, look for flowers or grass sprouting in sidewalk cracks, or plant a garden. After your adventures, you can settle down and read these books.
In How to Say Hello to a Worm: A First Guide to Outside, author and illustrator Kari Percival invites children to explore the outdoors by asking — and answering — some springtime questions: “How do you say hello to a worm? Gently, very gently. Hello, Worm!” A diverse group of children are shown happily digging in the dirt, planting seeds, watering the garden, and examining insects. Eventually their hard work and patience pays off with a splendid harvest. For her first picture book, local author Percival relied on her experiences with the Early Birds’ Garden Club that she founded as part of a community garden near Boston. The illustrations are bright and bold, featuring earthy browns, fresh greens, and lovely pinks. Together with the text, the book conveys the joy and satisfaction of watching things grow. An author’s note provides additional guidance and encouragement for grown-ups on how and why to garden with toddlers.
Cathy Goldman Fishman also gives us a glimpse of springtime in her board book, A Spring Stroll in the City. During her walk, a young girl encounters various symbols of spring — kites, tulips, baby animals — with a nod to various spring holidays. There’s a shamrock, boxes of matzohs stacked in a store window, a bowl of brightly colored eggs. Straw sombreros hint at Cinco de Mayo and people dancing with scarves represent Nowruz, the Persian New Year celebration. The simple, rhyming text, which doubles as a counting book, makes this board book a good read-aloud for the littlest ones.
Happy Springtime! by Kate McMullan, illustrated by Sujean Rim, perfectly captures winter fatigue and the promise that is spring. “Do not lose heart!” she entreats, “school bus riders heading out on a cold, dark morning … dogs dressed in sweaters and booties.” As spring arrives, “wielders of watering cans” and “riders of bicycles” and “turtles basking on warm rocks” can rejoice in the rain, celebrate the sun, and sing to the spring. This book is full of enthusiasm and merriment, accompanied by gorgeous watercolors that go from the blues of winter to splashes of green, orange, pink, and red that color the flowers, umbrellas, trees, and birds. The cadence of the text, written as a sort of love letter to the season, engages the reader who surely is looking forward to all the beauty and action of spring.
In The Passover Guest, a retelling of a classic I.L. Peretz story “The Magician,” Susan Kusel combines springtime, Passover, and the Great Depression. During the Passover Seder, a meal that celebrates the ancient story of Jewish resistance and survival, it is customary to welcome guests, even strangers, into the home. It is also traditional to pour a glass of wine and open the door for the prophet Elijah, who symbolizes hope for the future (and may also perform miracles). Muriel, who lives in Washington, DC, in 1933, is worried about how her family will celebrate the holiday. Like so many others, her father has lost his job and there is no money for food or candles. When Muriel sees a juggler dressed in rags, she gives him her only penny. When the same man appears at their threadbare home, they invite him in. Suddenly, a “mountain of brisket, oceans of flavorful soup, and fields of crunchy matzoh” appear. Soon, the whole neighborhood joins in and there is plenty for all. Afterwards, Muriel realizes that Elijah’s cup is empty and realizes who their mysterious guest was. Sean Rubin’s beautiful illustrations, playful yet also serious, set the tone for a story that is both realistic and fanciful. This is a lovely choice to bring as a Seder gift — along with your best matzoh balls, of course.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a recently published, well-written book about Easter for kids that isn’t overly cute (think red-cheeked bunny cartoon characters), or part of a series (Berenstain Bears, Pete the Cat, Peppa Pig, and so on) or deeply religious. The latter isn’t surprising because for Christians Easter tells the story of death and resurrection — tricky concepts to make kid-friendly. Even though in the US Easter is commonly associated with more secular customs such as egg hunts and eating chocolate bunnies, there is definitely a lack of worthy titles to recommend even on those topics. A good substitute might be a book like Baby Touch and Feel: Bunny (DK Publishers), or similar titles on animals born in the spring.
Cyrisse Jaffee is a former children’s and YA librarian, a children’s book editor and book reviewer, and a creator of educational materials for WGBH. She holds a master’s degree in Library Science from Simmons College and lives in Newton, MA.