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Check It Out

Courier Article by Carol Banks
Sunday, September 25, 2005

Autumn Topics Are Abundant in Children's Books

It's autumn again. The year's perfect time, according to a lot of us. Reading is always in season, and your public libraries have a bounty of children's books that celebrate the joys of autumn. Here's a sampling.

A fun way to introduce the wonders of the fall season is Eileen Spinelli's I Know It's Autumn. All the things we love about fall are mentioned here: "the school bus toots its horn," "leafy trees turn colors -- red, gold and brown," "yellow mums are blooming in the flower bed," "noisy geese fly south across the evening sky." This is a gentle book with its softly shaded illustrations by Nancy Hayashi. The sweet memories evoked from the text make this book a natural read-aloud. Share it with someone you love while a spicy pumpkin pie bakes in the oven. Save a piece for me!

Being from Indiana, we've been raised on tall tales about John Chapman's tree-planting exploits, but did you know that Oregon has its own Johnny Appleseed?

Henderson Luelling, a native Iowan, along with his wife and eight children, set out for Oregon in 1847 with a wagonload full of "seven hundred plants and young fruit trees." The Luelling family's cross-country adventures come to life in Deborah Hopkinson's Apples to Oregon: Being the (Slightly) True Narrative of How a Brave Pioneer Father Brought Apples, Peaches, Pears, Plums, Grapes, and Cherries (AND CHILDREN) Across the Plains.

It's a perfect blend of fact stretched just a tad for humorous effect. Hopkinson chooses daughter Delicious Luelling as narrator, and she is a worthy storyteller. Clad in a bright apple-red dress with leaf green neckerchief, Delicious is every bit the hardy pioneer, as she helps her family cross wide rivers and survive a hailstorm, then a drought.

Artist Nancy Carpenter's folk-art oil paintings are a perfect match for this tall tale.

Did you know that "oak trees are struck by lightning more than any other kind of tree"? Or that "oak trees can live for more than 200 years"? For more fun facts about the mighty oak, budding botanists should look for From Little Acorns ... A First Look at the Life Cycle of a Tree, written by Sam Godwin and illustrated by Simone Abel.

The symbiotic relationship between squirrels and oaks is presented in a clever way. Godwin uses a mother squirrel and her young one to provide a running commentary.

All in all, I learned a lot from this book. You can, too.

One of the integral components of a children's picture book is its artwork. When it comes to spectacular visual presentations, no one does it better than Lois Ehlert. Her signature found-object collages are a story in themselves.

About her latest endeavor, Leaf Man, Ehlert explains how she went about collecting her "art." She then color-copied her leaves almost immediately, before they lost their vibrant colors. It shows. Leaf Man is truly a symphony of autumn color. Leaf Man, made of a maple leaf, two acorn eyes and a sweet gum fruit mouth is buffeted by the wind here and there and then to places unknown.

Presented on die-cut pages, the text, like our leafy friend, flows on pages filled with imaginative trees, animals, fish and insects, all of which have been designed using nature's bounty.

Although Margaret Wise Brown has been gone for more than 50 years, her children's books are timeless. Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny and the Noisy Book series are just a few of her masterpieces that perpetually appear on Best Books for Children lists everywhere.

Brown's The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin, newly discovered and published, is a Halloween feast for the eyes and ears.

The little yellow pumpkin in the field longed to be ferocious -- ferocious enough to scare away the field mice. But he just stayed "a fat little, round little, yellow little pumpkin."

This is a Halloween book that's safe for even the littlest goblins at your house -- slightly spooky and full of fun.

Carol Banks is supervisor of the READ Center, Central Library's children's Department. Contact her at (812) 428-8222. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of the library.