'The Story of May' is a story of months for kids interested in changing seasons

BOOKS FOR KIDS

October 01, 1993|By Molly Dunham Glassman | Molly Dunham Glassman,Staff Writer

Maybe it's the spectacle of leaves ablaze in scarlet and bronze, the sharp smell of ripe apples or the sting of an autumn wind.

L Or maybe it's just scheduled in most teachers' lesson plans.

Whatever the reasons, this is the time of year kids tune into the changing seasons. Here are some books with seasonal themes but year-round appeal.

* "The Story of May," by Mordicai Gerstein (HarperCollins, $16, 48 pages, ages 4-8) opens with spring, not fall. But it's the best of the lot, so it leads off.

Mr. Gerstein has personified the months of the year, transforming them into a colorful extended family of uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters. Once they wandered free, doing whatever they pleased, whenever they pleased.

That's how April -- a beautiful, lanky woman with auburn curls to her waist -- met December, a handsome bear of a man with a long, white beard. Their daughter is May, a young wisp of a girl with wavy, blond hair.

One day May strays from her mother's meadow of blossoming cherry trees and sprouting bulbs and finds herself face-to-face with a brown-skinned woman who is planting acres of vegetables. It's her Aunt June, who asks, "What are you doing so far from home? Are you going to visit your father?"

Turns out April has never told May about her father. So the curious girls sets off on a journey to find him, meeting the rest of her relatives along the way: Uncle July, a fat farmer in overalls; Grandpa August, a round, George Foreman look-alike; Aunt September, resplendent in her Carmen Miranda hat laden with a harvest of fruits and vegetables; Uncle October, wearing a leotard of autumn leaves.

Finally May's grandmother, November, shows her the way through a snowstorm to December's icy palace. The father embraces the daughter he has never known and explains why he and her mother are separated.

"I loved her smile and her sense of humor," he says of April. "She'd spread sunshine all over, and when everyone came out to play, she'd suddenly drench them with buckets of sleet and hail. I was the only one who thought she was funny. We married right away, but there was trouble from the start.

"I'd coat the trees with gorgeous ice, not noticing your mother had sewn new leaves on them. She'd have a fit and turn everything to mud. . . . We had terrible fights, ice storms and sun showers.

"Finally the family decided we should all settle into some sensible order, and your mother and I were put at opposite ends of the year."

May visits with her father for several weeks and then heads home to Mom. One by one, her escorts are Uncle January, a skier as handsome as Alberto Tomba; Aunt February, a red-faced woman with a chronic cold; and Cousin March, a jester who takes May for a ride through the wind on his kite.

April is thrilled upon May's return. She doesn't want to hear about December, but she agrees to let May visit her father often. It's an interesting joint custody case, to say the least:

"If you feel a warm breeze on a December day, or think you hear a robin, it's almost certain May is there," Mr. Gerstein writes. "Or if a blizzard hits in the middle of April, you can guess that December stopped in to say hello."

Mr. Gerstein's watercolors are as original as the story, funny and fresh as a surprise spring storm.

* "Can't Sit Still," by Karen E. Lotz, illustrated by Colleen Browning (Dutton, $13.99, 38 pages, ages 4-8) cartwheels readers through the seasons with a young African-American girl in the city.

Ms. Lotz's poetry careens along:

pump the pedals

race the sun

slipping

sliding

down the block

wind smells like hot java beans

tickles the hairs on the back of my neck

The star of this picture book rides her bike through the neighborhood in the autumn, snuggles under "grandma's patchwork tent" in the winter, climbs up to the roof of her apartment building in the spring and escapes the laundromat with a ride on the Ferris wheel in summer.

Ms. Browning, a realist known for her paintings of the human body, captures every bounce, skip and spin of the little girl who can't sit still.

* The pace slows to a stroll in "How Does the Wind Walk?" by Nancy White Carlstrom, illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray (Macmillan, $14.95, 32 pages, ages 4-7). A young boy wanders through the woods in autumn, swept up in swirls of orange and gold.

How does the wind walk in autumn?

The wind walks in a rush,

brushing colored leaves

from the trees as she passes.

Ms. Carlstrom, best known for her "Jesse Bear" books, wrote one of my all-time favorites for toddlers, "No Nap for Benjamin Badger." Her words are a joy to be heard -- she can make a read-aloud rookie sound like a pro:

At night, the wind walks with a whistle

and a whip in her hand.

Windows shake and branches stand

trembling in the moonlight.

* "The Wild Woods" by Simon James (Candlewick Press, $13.95, pages, ages 3-7) follows a little girl, Jess, and her grandfather on a hike through the forest. Jess, an adventurous sort, chases after a squirrel and decides she wants to take him home.

Granddad tries to keep up, shouting ahead about the impracticality of keeping a squirrel. What will she feed him? "He likes our sandwiches," Jess answers. Where will he sleep? "I'll make him a bed in my room."

Finally, Jess admits that she knows the squirrel belongs in the wild. But that doesn't mean she won't keep her options open the next time she meets an animal -- just to keep Granddad on his toes.

Mr. James' pen and watercolor illustrations are reminiscent of Quentin Blake, and the lighthearted style fits well with a story in which the kid leaves the grown-up guessing.

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