I’m always captured by the fall—its vibrant colors and cozy frame of mind help get me in the mood for short winter days, long winter nights and writing to the backdrop of gentle snow storms. Fall also puts me in the mood to pull out some of my favorite change-of-season picture books and rediscover why I love them. So for the next few weeks, I’m devoting Sensibility and Sense to some of my fall favorites. I invite you to join me as we take a closer look at these gems and see what makes them work so beautifully. My first pick is what I consider a picture-book-lover’s dream…
Bear Has a Story to Tell, by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook Press, 2012)
In this book, the big, cuddly main character has a problem: he’s getting very sleepy but needs to tell a story. We discover his dilemma within the first two lines of the text…
“It was almost winter and Bear was getting sleepy. But first, Bear had a story to tell.”
For picture-book writers, establishing the problem that needs to be solved quickly is essential to the story. In the first two lines of text we learn the main character is Bear, he is getting sleepy, and he has a story to tell. That sets the stage for not only watching Bear work to solve his problem, but rooting for him on each page to get the job done. The author uses a host of other lovable characters to accomplish this, so by the time Bear creeps into his den for his nap, his story still untold, readers feel confident that Bear’s friends will want to listen to the story as soon as they are able. In this case, when spring arrives.
So we’ve got a problem, an easy-to-love main character to root for, and friends to help him on his journey. It’s the perfect cast of characters to tell a story about the true meaning of friendship and the importance of putting the needs of others first. Bear’s kindness to each of his friends, even though it makes it more difficult to solve his own problem, is in the end what endears him to us even more.
The story becomes quiet and thoughtful in the middle, as the first winter snowflakes fall and Bear heads towards his den. The reader feels the story slowing down, just as Bear is slowing down for his long winter nap. The pacing here is spot-on in both picture and text. When the sun returns, Bear awakens and again becomes the helper, as each of his friends come back from far away or from a deep sleep. The story ends with each friend returning all of Bear’s favors by helping him remember his story. The book makes a complete circle, ending with the exact same text that began Bear’s tale…
“It was almost winter and Bear was getting sleepy.”
The illustrations match the warmth of the text, with soft colors and lines, and the subtle yet meaningful expressions on the faces of Bear, Mouse, Duck, Frog and Mole. I love how the illustrator perfectly captures autumn and brings on spring with simple changes…sunshine, mud and few small hints of green, keeping with the overall tone of the story.
So if you’re looking for the perfect fall picture book, pick up Bear Has a Story to Tell. You’ll be glad you did!
Sensibility- Fall picture books encourage us to reflect and remember the year that is ending and to look forward to the one that is soon to begin.
Sense- Learning by example is one of the best ways to increase knowledge. Take time to analyze picture books that really speak to you and to the children in your life. Keep a list of the ones you like best and what makes them work.
What are some of your favorite fall picture books?