Children’s Book Review: A Trio of Volumes Pay Homage to Special Gifts

By Cyrisse Jaffee

These three books celebrate different kinds of gifts: two from nature — and one that comes via the post office.

Gift & Box by Ellen Mayer. Illustrated by Brizida Magro. Knopf, 2023.

Wintergarden by Jane Fox. Illustrated by Jasu Hu. Holiday House, 2024.

Thank You, Moon by Melissa Stewart. Illustrated by Jessica Lanan. Knopf, 2023.

“Gift’s purpose,” we are told, “was to delight. Box’s purpose was to protect.” Together, they are a package, sent from a grandmother to her granddaughter far away. Whether they like shapes, transportation, humor, or just a satisfying story of friendship, kids will love following the pair’s journey, as told in the aptly titled Gift & Box.

Sometimes their travel is boring, sometimes bumpy, occasionally smelly, or scary — but also fun. They both get seasick on a big boat, and, like most traveling companions, they can get on each other’s nerves. But they also support one another and form an affectionate bond. When they arrive at their destination, Gift fulfills its mission; the little girl is pleased with her present. But more than that, she knows that the Box itself is also a gift of sorts, one that she can use with her imagination. Instead of getting sent to recycling, Box becomes an instant airplane, one which the little girl can climb in to visit her grandmother.

The art — a colorful and energetic mixture of crayon, handmade stamps, ink, and collage — is appealingly whimsical, funny, and original, helping to elevate the story into a romp. Kids will grow as fond of Gift and Box as any other character they’ve met in a story and may gain a whole new perspective when the next mail-order delivery arrives.

Although grammarians might wince at the one-word title, Wintergarden, this lovely story will probably bring a smile to your face. “In the winter when it snows,” a little girl says, “my mama grows a garden.” Together, mother and daughter plant “teeny tiny” seeds of oregano, parsley, and baby greens on their apartment windowsill. The girl waits and watches, turning the pots toward the light and making sure the plants are watered.

Eventually, the plants sprout and are eaten fresh or used to season soup and potatoes. Then it’s the little girl’s turn to plant the next batch, which she will harvest in the spring. Artist Jasu Hu’s dreamy pencil and watercolor illustrations fit the text perfectly, lending an air of both serenity and excitement. An afterword gives thorough instructions on how families can create their own “wintergarden” and have fresh greens all year round.

As befitting a paean to the moon, the art in Thank You, Moon is awash in blues, grays, and greens. On the left-hand side of each spread is simple text, thanking the moon for the many ways it makes “life on our planet possible” — helping to keep the Earth stable, allowing nocturnal animals the darkness they need to hunt, or giving just enough light for baby leatherback turtles to find their way to the sea and safety. On the right-hand page, smaller text provides a more advanced scientific explanation of each moon-influenced phenomenon.

The variety of animals represented is unusual, from the European nightjar bird to the black-headed night monkey to microscopic zooplankton to the African dung beetle (warning: this insect eats poop, so be prepared for the usual snorts and snickers). The illustrations are serviceable, though not always as detailed as one might want for some of the scenarios. Although the colors are rich, the drawings seem hurried and lack specificity, especially in showing animal habitats.

Scientists might quibble with the romantic ending: “But most of all, thank you, Moon, for enchanting us with your ever-changing beauty, night after night…” However, kids who love the night sky will enjoy the book, and older siblings (or adults who are reading the book aloud) will appreciate the more advanced information included. At the end, there are additional facts given about each of the animals and the moon itself.

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.

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