- Rebecca Purdy
Call me clichéd, but autumn is one of my favorite times of year. On a physical level, I can pull out my cozy sweaters and boots and be consistently warm, and on a spiritual one, I can kick leaves with my husband and enjoy the breeze while walking the dogs. Somehow picture book authors successfully capture all of the wonderful elements of this beautiful season of change.
“Ska-tat” by Kimberly Knutson reads like jazz, incorporating the sounds of the season, as well as the sheer joy of playing in the leaves. The recurring refrain of “Krish-krash! Ka-rak! Sha-shoo! Ska-tat!” accompanies three children as they throw big handfuls of leaves into the air, jump into deep mountains of them and crunch them underfoot. Although not poetry, the story has a delightful rhythm. “We jump through the twig-snappy piles and crunch up a smell like spicy toast while the acorns roll underfoot.” It makes you want to take a walk in the woods doesn’t it? Between the onomatopoeia and the vivid imagery this book can be enjoyed without even looking at the pictures. However, the wonderful collage illustrations use actual fall leaves, and are worth poring over.
In “Leaves” by David Ezra Stein it was the bear’s first year. “Everything was going well until the first leaf fell.” That was troublesome. He examined it closely, first from him belly and then from his hand. Soon leaves were falling all over the island. “He tried to catch them and put them back on...but it was not the same.” That text accompanies a delightful illustration of an exasperated looking bear sitting beneath a stark tree with leaves stabbed on its branches. Readers will agree with bear, it’s definitely not the same! Soon he is sleepy and, finding a hole, fills it with leaves and falls asleep “just as the wind began to blow.” Awaking in the spring, he welcomes “the little buds on the bare arms of the trees” and believes they welcome him too. Stein’s soft watercolors, colors blurring over the edges of the pen drawn borders, are a lovely accompaniment to this gentle story.
Another gentle introduction to hibernation for preschoolers is Jim Arnosky’s “Every Autumn Comes the Bear,” in which he describes one bear’s annual journey through the woods. The bear encounters many other creatures as he walks, growling into the bobcat’s lair, climbing a cliff where ravens perch and startling a grouse into flight. Finally, “when the hill is white with snow" the bear finds a den and crawls inside. “Nestled there against cold rock, with only fat and fur to keep him warm, he sleeps all winter long.” Arnosky’s illustrations are so realistic they reflect outside our windows with the added benefit of up close encounters with animals usually seen from afar. The vivid detail includes the freckles on the bear’s nose and the gentle coloration of a nuthatch and chickadee,
“Leaves were falling. The air was getting cold.” It was time for “The Busy Little Squirrel” in author Nancy Tafuri’s book to get ready for winter. The mice invite him to join them in nibbling a pumpkin “But Squirrel couldn’t...He was so busy!” The cardinal invites him to rest on a branch, “But Squirrel couldn’t...He was so busy!” At each invitation the refrain offers the perfect opportunity to let young children read along. Finally, the owl calls, inviting squirrel to watch the moon. This time Squirrel couldn’t...because he was fast asleep! Large illustrations and a lovely autumnal palette make this a great read aloud.
Originally published in the 10/22/12 Free Lance-Star newspaper.