September 20, 2012


Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin. By Tad Hills. Schwartz & Wade. $10.99.

Everything Goes: Henry Goes Skating. By B.B. Bourne. Illustrations by Simon Abbott. Harper. $16.99.

Mr. Noah and His Family. By Jane Werner. Illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen. Golden Books. $3.99.

The Cow Went Over the Mountain. By Jeanette Krinsley. Illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky. Golden Books. $3.99.

Seed by Seed: The Legend and Legacy of John “Appleseed” Chapman. By Esmé Raji Codell. Illustrations by Lynne Rae Perkins. Greenwillow/HarperCollins. $16.99.

      Those charmers, Duck and Goose, have another of their adorable adventures – a seasonal one – in the lap-size board book, Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin.  Originally published in 2009, Tad Hills’ easy-to-read, delightfully illustrated book has all the usual characteristics of Hills’ simple stories about these two friends: super-cute illustrations, a plot based on a misunderstanding, and an eventual happy solution.  It starts when Duck and Goose see their friend Thistle carrying a pumpkin and decide to get one themselves.  But they do not know where to look, so of course they go, amusingly, to all the wrong places: a log, a leaf pile, an apple tree and so forth.  Their expressions are priceless, and their bewilderment invites young children to exclaim “no, not there!” as Duck and Goose search in yet another incorrect spot.  Eventually, Thistle returns and suggests they look in the pumpkin patch, where of course they find what they want – and praise themselves for knowing just where to search.  Simple, silly and heartwarming, Duck & Goose Find a Pumpkin is a delightful tale for autumn, or anytime.

      Henry Goes Skating is a winter story based on the Everything Goes books by Brian Biggs, but without Biggs himself involved.  This (+++) book is in the “I Can Read!” series, at the beginning “My First” level for kids just starting to learn to read – around ages 4-6.  Large print, simple sentences, and illustrations in Biggs’ style are combined into a story of a snowy day in which Henry and his family decide to go skating, with their trip somewhat delayed when a bus gets stuck on ice and has to be towed.  They make it to the park, where they see police officers on horses – which, Henry notices, can go on ice and snow better than buses and other vehicles can.  Henry watches a Zamboni smooth the ice, then he and his parents skate together, and then everyone goes home to make a snowman.  This is a fine book for kindergartners and pre-kindergartners on a cold day, whether or not there is snow and ice.

      Two (+++) reprints of Little Golden Books are timeless rather than seasonal: families that like these short, nostalgic works will enjoy them anytime.  Mr. Noah and His Family, which dates to 1948, is about a little girl playing with a Noah’s Ark toy, which contains pairs of animals that look similar but differ in significant ways: one camel is blue and one is brown; one pig is pink and one is red-and-white-checked; one giraffe has real giraffe colors and one is green, black and red; one skunk is larger and one is smaller; and so on.  There is no story – just pleasantly drawn pages of pictures of the toy animals being unpacked from the ark, played with and put back aboard.  There is a story in The Cow Went Over the Mountain, originally published in 1963.  Little Cow gets her mother’s permission to go to a nearby mountain where “the grass is munchier,” and along the way picks up other animals looking for something better: a frog seeking crunchier bugs, a duck looking for sploshier water, a pig hoping for slushier mud, and a bear wanting gooier honey.  Of course, when they arrive, they find that things are not really munchier, crunchier, splashier, slushier or gooier after all, until cow notices another mountain and says things are better there.  So they all head in that direction – which turns out to take them back to their original mountain, where everything is just fine.  “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” would be an obvious moral, but there is no moralizing here – the story is told straightforwardly and amusingly, with no attempt to make it into more than a pleasant tale.

      Seed by Seed, though, is built around a moral; and it is much more than a simple story.  Esmé Raji Codell skillfully tells of the life of Johnny Appleseed – the true tale, although much embellished by legend, of John Chapman, who spent decades planting apple seeds throughout the West as the United States grew in the early 19th century.  Sensitively rendered watercolor-and-gouache illustrations by Lynne Rae Perkins expertly transport children back in time, page by page, from a current urban environment to an age when “you could not hear the engines of airplanes in the sky, or the sounds of phones ringing.  Maybe you could catch the creaking of a wagon wheel, straining against the ruts in the road, or the fall of an axe against wood.”  The beautifully rendered time travel then leads seamlessly into the Johnny Appleseed story, which Codell and Perkins tell with attention not only to fact but also to elements that may or may not be true.  Chapman (1774-1845) is known for what he planted, but Codell’s tale says the apple seeds are only part of it: “He lived by example.”  Seed by Seed portrays Chapman as a very early environmentalist and a pacifist, living by a belief that we should use and share what we have, respect nature, make peace, and take small steps toward a destination.  This is a romanticized view of Chapman and one that fits 21st-century sensibilities well, but it is not, after all, particularly off-base: Chapman did lead a life outdoors, in harmony with nature, and was sensitive to animals and equally at home with European settlers and Native Americans.  What is downplayed here is the religious basis of Chapman’s life, although Codell does write that “he claimed that spirits and angels told him to be a messenger of peace,” and that he was a follower of philosopher and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772).  Codell portrays Chapman both as larger than life and as a man of his time, and Perkins’ illustrations reinforce that approach not only in the way they show people and animals but also through lovely pseudo-maps and pictures of flowers and herbs associated with the Johnny Appleseed story.  The moralizing does become a touch heavy, as in the “what seed will you plant?” conclusion after the tale returns to the present day; but the apple-pie recipe at the end lends a delicious touch that everyone will enjoy.  Seed by Seed is a (++++) book for its beautifully matched combination of words and pictures and for the timelessness of its story – one that is heartfelt and uplifting in any season, in any year.

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