March 17, 2016


When Spring Comes. By Kevin Henkes. Illustrated by Laura Dronzek. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $17.99.

Little Butterfly. By Laura Logan. Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. $14.99.

Pinkalicious and the Little Butterfly. By Victoria Kann. HarperFestival. $4.99.

     The change of seasons, an eternal delight for children – not to mention adults – gives authors many ways to reach out to young readers and even to pre-readers. Kevin Henkes starts When Spring Comes firmly in winter, with a look at leafless trees that “look like black sticks against the sky” and on whose branches sit a couple of cardinals – birds that do not fly away from winter climes during cold weather. Then, on the next page, the trees are covered in pink and white blossoms and green leaves. The lovely acrylic illustrations by Laura Dronzek are a big part of what makes this book special: they complement and complete the narrative. Henkes writes about leftover mounds of snow; Dronzek shows the remains of a snowman melting bit by bit until, when Henkes writes that the snow mounds are gone, Dronzek shows a bird pecking at the ground near some small leftover pieces of coal that once adorned the snowman. Henkes not only shows seasonal change but also makes room for some humor: spring is well-known for bringing rain – “And more rain and more rain,” Henkes writes, while Dronzek shows people walking along a very muddy path and Henkes says, “I hope you like umbrellas.” Henkes also points out that spring “changes its mind a lot,” and Dronzek shows newly sprouted flowers weighed down by some clearly unexpected snow. Contrast and continuity are all that this charming book is about, and while the pleasant narrative and the pictures of buds, baby birds, kittens and more make it seem as if spring is the season, Henkes saves for the end of the book a reminder that even when spring has settled in for good, the waiting is not over – because then it is time to wait for summer. Kids and parents alike will not mind the wait, or waits, with a companion such as When Spring Comes.

     The communication is totally visual rather than a function of words combined with pictures in Laura Logan’s Little Butterfly, a picture book that is entirely pictures and that is just as expressive without words as many others are with them. Spring is, after all, a time for butterflies and other insects, and this tale of a little girl who has a magical experience with monarch butterflies fits the season beautifully. It starts when the girl accidentally snags her bright orange cape on a door, so it tears a bit and some of the thread unravels. She sits under a tree while examining the damage, and then her playful kitten comes over, and then the kitten leaps into the air and catches a monarch butterfly – tearing its bright orange wing exactly as the girl has torn her cape. The girl scolds the kitten and gently picks up the butterfly, shedding a noticeable tear while holding it – and when she releases it, wonder of wonders, it is able to fly away. The kitten comes back, and girl and kitten snuggle in for an al fresco nap – when suddenly, as the girl sleeps, there are monarch butterflies all about, and soon they cover her completely and help her to, yes, fly! High up they take her, but she is not the slightest bit afraid, basking in the wonder and delight of the experience as the butterflies transport her here and there and as she herself finally experiences her cape being transformed into her very own butterfly wings. And then she is back on the ground, her cape just a torn piece of clothing again – but the butterfly with the injured wing is there, too, and maybe, just maybe, it was not all a dream, but a case of a gentle kindness gently reciprocated. A lovely little fairy-tale of a book in which the girl’s expressions tell the story so well that no words are necessary, Little Butterfly is also a book that adults and young children can enjoy discussing after it is over. What really happened? Was it all imaginary? Or was something more going on? And does it really matter, as long as the girl herself remembers the effect her act of kindness had, or seemed to have?

     Monarch butterflies are also at the center of Victoria Kann’s Pinkalicious and the Little Butterfly, a more conventionally told story that is a very pleasant one in its own way. Pinkalicious does not turn into a butterfly or imagine turning into one, but she does draw a picture of “a fairy princess riding a magnificent butterfly” – and Kann’s rendition of Pinkalicious’ drawing is a highlight of the book. The reason for the drawing is that Pinkalicious’ class has been observing and caring for three caterpillars. Two of them have emerged from their chrysalises as orange-winged monarch butterflies and have flown away, but the third chrysalis remains behind. It is the one belonging to Pinkalicious’ favorite caterpillar, a green one she has named Wiggles. Pinkalicious makes her drawing because “maybe if I showed Wiggles my picture tomorrow, he would come out and fly.” Well, this is, after all, a Pinkalicious story, so there has to be something of a certain distinctive color in it – and sure enough, when Wiggles does emerge, “There was a PINK butterfly!” With eight stars on its wings, no less! Of course it looks nothing like a monarch butterfly, but Pinkalicious’ expression of delight more than makes up for any scientific inaccuracy – and actually, Pinkalicious and the Little Butterfly has more science in it than Kann’s books usually do. It also has the dozens of stickers featured in HarperFestival books, and in this case even those are special, including not only Pinkalicious and her friends but also a whole batch of butterflies in a very wide variety of colors – plus one solitary green caterpillar. A Pinkalicious tale, a springtime story and a classroom-project explanation all rolled into one, Pinkalicious and the Little Butterfly is one of the most pleasant and enjoyable short books that Kann has produced in the book-plus-sticker format.

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