The holiday season is often a time of reflection. Some of us have it in our internal clocks to look back over the year as we turn to face the new one ahead. 2020 has undoubtedly been one of the most difficult years any of us can remember given the losses and hardships of COVID-19, the destruction and devastation of the Iowa derecho, and a brutal, ongoing election year. Given all of this, our homes and families have become bulwarks in the storms more than ever providing a source of refuge where the quiet calm of the holidays can be experienced and enjoyed.
Two new picture books are perfect reads for that kind of quiet calm that will feed and nurture the soul well past the holidays and for years to come.
“Green on Green”
In Dianne White’s “Green on Green” (2020, Beach Lane Books, ages 4 to 8, $17.99), we follow a family on a richly textured journey through the seasons. It is a pastoral pleasure with White’s soothing words, mostly in rhyme but always lyrical, alighting between the stunningly joyful illustrations by Felicita Sala. The two create a collaboration celebrating the cycle of the natural world, the strong bonds of family togetherness, and the immense satisfactions simple pleasures such as reading, music and eating with friends can bring.
At the book’s beginning, the boy’s mother gives him a flower. The family and their friends transition through the seasons, the boy admiring the glorious colors, changes and natural elements the four seasons of the year provide. We see changes happening also — to his mother and their family — as her tummy grows bigger and bigger by Christmas. As in the circle of life, spring comes again and the boy is a happy big brother now, sweetly offering a flower to his new sibling in a beautiful open meadow. This lovely picture book is calming and gorgeous. A feast for the eyes and ears, and a lullaby for young children to enjoy at bedtime.
“Bess the Barn Stands Strong”
Central Iowa debut picture book author, Elizabeth Gilbert Bedia, enjoys the release of her first book, “Bess the Barn Stands Strong” (2020, Page Street Kids, ages 4 to 8, $17.99) with art by Katie Hickey. This evocative, emotional story is one of rejuvenation, restoration, and value in things that age and wear. Bess begins life as a beautiful new barn, built by a proud farmer. Inside Bess the Barn, the farmer and Bess see life born, say goodbye to dear friends, enjoy years of celebrations, and grow old together until the sad day when the farmer leaves this world. As with the all-too-common story of Progress, the farm is sold to a young farmer with new ideas for a new everything, even a new barn. No time for Bess. No time for celebrations. Bess is left empty, hollow, and sad.
When a mean storm comes, destroying the new barn, the animals flee back to Bess who stands strong and protects them. The young farmer is grateful and has a new idea – one just right for Bess — and one just right for a warm, happy ending kids will love!
This wonderful story tweaks the heart in surprising ways. And, for young children who witnessed August’s derecho and have lingering anxious effects from it, this book could serve as a discussion point as well. (I.e., “When things like that happen, our house — like Bess the barn — protects us like she protected the animals,” hopefully offering children reassurance.)
Bedia was inspired to write this story after a beloved barn in her neighborhood was torn down, leaving her heartbroken. Both she and illustrator Katie Hickey make a beautifully compelling case to preserve all barns everywhere.
Wendy Henrichs is a children’s author living in Iowa City.