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May 25, 2010

New Books: Mama, Is It Summer Yet?

Sometimes you can tell almost at first glance when a picture book is going to be special. Usually the art is the driving force—so gorgeous, so unique, that it immediately separates the book from the pack. There are times when, on cracking the cover, I discover with disappointment that the storytelling isn’t up to the illustrations’ standard. But more often than not, the beauty is enough to carry a simple tale for the required duration. The best recent example I can think of is The Lion and the Mouse, by Jerry Pinkney, a completely wordless masterpiece that won the Caldecott this year; it’s probably my favorite children’s book to have come out since I’ve had kids.

I recently saw another book that enters this rarefied air, one that has made me wish I’d started this blog a little earlier, so I could have featured it in time for Mother’s Day: Nikki McClure’s Mama, Is It Summer Yet? Its call-and-response-style text alternates between a boy asking the title question during the months before summer and his mother’s various answers (e.g., “Not yet, my little one. But the buds are swelling. Soon new leaves will unfold.”), until summer finally arrives on the last pages.

But the art…the art! McClure’s dazzling illustrations, as she explains in an author’s note at the end, are made of cut paper: The self-taught artist drew images on black paper, then cut them out with a knife to create lacelike images. The result is truly arresting, like folk art depicting modern scenes, vaguely reminiscent of some of Maurice Sendak’s early work. The effect, in combination with the unaffected words, is nearly hypnotic, evoking a sense of peace and calm.

So while I may have missed Mother’s Day, I can still wholeheartedly recommend Mama, Is It Summer Yet? as an excellent bedtime read for the little ones (and perhaps even slightly bigger ones—our five-year-old was quite taken with the art) in your household.

Update: I was so forlorn about missing the holiday, I neglected to note that the subject matter remains quite a propos for the season!

[Photos: Whitney Webster]

1 comment:

  1. thanks for letting me know that there's a new Nikki McClure book. We have All in a Day and absolutely love the illustrations.