Two New Picture Books You Can’t Live Without
(Or, How to Get Your Fill of Sunflowers This Week):
A Dutch import and the highly-anticipated
A Seed is Sleepy

h1 March 21st, 2007 by jules

The Wish
by Elle van Lieshout and Erik van Os
and illustrated by Paula Gerritsen
Front Street Books
January 2007
My source: Library copy

This is an import from a husband-and-wife team from the Netherlands, and Gerritsen — the illustrator — is from the Netherlands as well. This is a fetching little treat whose illustrations smack just a bit of Lisbeth Zwerger’s; it’s like Zwerger on a heavy dose of whimsy.

“Far away from the rest of the world lived a woman named Lila. She had a small house on a cliff, overlooking the sea. Year after year she plowed the fields and planted seeds.” And on this opening spread, we have an eye-catching, off-center view of Lila heading up the steep, rocky hill on which she lives, carrying a huge bundle of healthy sunflowers. Lila and her flowers and her home are heaped to our left, and the valley dips in the spread’s center — with a view of the ocean by which Lila lives. It’s a delightful perspective.

So, every spring Lila sows sunflowers (and look closely — she’s eyeing her far-off neighbor in his red tractor over her shoulder, while she gardens away and her cat snoozes in one of her buckets. It’s another spread with subtle humor and much character — in a disciplined, uncluttered style). Every summer she picks beans. Every autumn she collects apples for applesauce. In the winter, she sits by the fire and finishes the last of her applesauce, wondering when spring will come again.

But lo and behold, Lila sees a shooting star one night. “Thank goodness. Lila made a wish.” (And it’s on this spread where, if you look closely again, you’ll see her neighbor’s house from afar — the one with the red tractor). Her wish comes true — a bag of flour is waiting in front of her home the next morning. When she gets hungry again, another star falls. More flour. “That’s how she survived the long, cold winter.” And there’s her neighbor again, scootin’ about on that tractor. Look closely again and be rewarded: He’s got a big grin on that face, and Lila — heading back into her house with her flour to make some more bread — is turning to look at him.

And it’s here where the author pauses to say: “Of course, she could have wished for something completely different from a bag of flour.” In the next two spreads, we’re shown what Lila could have wished for — lots of delectable treats and drinks, fancy clothes (Lila feeling a bit awkward in those imagined, extravagant duds), or a huge, heaping pile of gold and diamonds, a carriage, and a big ‘ol palace with people to serve her (another winning spread — this one fanciful and vibrant in all its yellows and gleaming diamonds).

“Most people would wish for something fancy when a star falls. But not Lila. It didn’t even cross her mind . . . except on the night of her birthday.” On this night, Lila wishes for two cupcakes and a shiny red tractor with a chaffeur. And you simply don’t want to miss the book’s final spread in which this wish comes true, thanks to her shooting stars. With his arm around her waist, as they’re zooming about in the red tractor near Lila’s sunflower garden (with the cat hanging on for dear life), her neighbor is there, and Lila has everything she could possibly want.

What a great, little love story this is (making this one just as enjoyable for adults). And you know what I love? Publishers Weekly’s review saying this: “A heavier-handed setting might have made readers impatient with Lila’s stubborn refusal to wish big; as it is, they will wish they could meet Lila themselves.” Word. That’s the particular and exuberant joy of this book — a quiet, little modern parable for our busy, consumeristic lives.

A Seed is Sleepy
by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long
Chronicle Books
February 2007
My source: Review copy

David Elzey may be on to something in his review of A Seed is Sleepy when he says, “I saw a lot of grandmothers buy An Egg Is Quiet and not one kid ever picked it up.” But he’s also on to something when he writes, “both of Aston and Long’s creations celebrate the aspects of natural birth in ways that are poetic and unique. The watercolors in both speak to a naturalist’s love of its subject and the simplicity in these books yields a wealth of information presented in an uncomplicated fashion. It never feels like they are teaching, never feels scientific, and to that end both books are a triumph.”

Yup, I know this is supposed to be my review, but Elzey nails it, as he usually does.

Aston and Long have done it again after last year’s impressive An Egg is Quiet (reviewed here last year by Yours Truly — and to see the scads of honors it received, go here). Just as Long brought us eloquent watercolors of a wide variety of the world’s eggs, this time she’s created quite the meticulously-detailed, exquisitely-rendered visual spread of the world of seeds and the redwoods, sunflowers, and Japanese maples into which they grow. Aston presents her seed information in the same manner in which she taught us about eggs: this time we learn that a seed is adventurous, secretive, inventive, generous, and more (inviting elementary and middle school classes to fill in the blanks a bit further as well as take other aspects of nature and present them in the same manner).

All the beauty and wonder starts with the book’s very opening spread: a dramatic, close-up view of a sunflower and its seeds with the following text: “A seed is sleepy. It lies there, tucked inside the flower, on its cone, or beneath the soil. Snug. Still.” Ah a nice bit of mystery and anticipation thrown in the mix there. The entire book is infused with this sense of wonder, whether the talented duo are presenting tiny orchid seeds (“{t}here might be a million seeds in one pod!”); the flippin’ GIGANTOID seed of the coco de mer (“{i}t can weigh up to 60 pounds”); the seed of the coast redwood
(“{w}ho would guess that a seed as small as a freckle would grow into the world’s tallest tree?”); or the timidity of the bright red-orange seed of the Texas mountain laurel (ten years might pass, Aston tells us, before this seed shows its purple blooms. TEN YEARS, I tell ya).

If you picked up An Egg is Quiet last year and are familiar with its unassuming elegance, then you can rest assured that this spring blockbuster sequel of a title is, arguably, even better, even more stunning than the one that precedes it. And you can rest assured that those perfect little endpapers appear again – this time with a wide variety of colorful seeds presented up front and What They Become presented in the back – all created with Long’s careful attention and intricate adornment. Even the lovely handlettering is back (Anne Robin returns to provide the calligraphy).

At the very least, treat yourself to the book’s final spread, the curtain call to the aforementioned opening one: simply gorgeous, resplendent yellow sunflowers, our secretive, valiant seeds awakened to the world. It’ll take your breath away for a moment.

{See also Kelly Herold’s recent, glowing review here at Book Buds} . . .

3 comments to “Two New Picture Books You Can’t Live Without
(Or, How to Get Your Fill of Sunflowers This Week):
A Dutch import and the highly-anticipated
A Seed is Sleepy

  1. You had me at “like Zwerger on a heavy dose of whimsy.” You know how I love me some Zwerger.

  2. Thank you for these book recommendations! My almost-four-year-old daughter is my Sunflower Girl. I predict she’s going to be taller than I (5’4″) by the time she’s in 6th grade.

  3. Agreed with Elzey in the intro — I thought An Egg is Quiet was beautiful, but my kids gave me that withering “you-are-such-a-geek” look when I suggested we read it again.

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