[furry review] If You Go Down to the Woods Today by Rachel Piercey and Freya Hartas

Brush your fur, wash your paws, and spiff up your whiskers — it’s time to join Bear as he shows us around his magical woodland home with cheery poems to read and wondrous things to find.

If You Go Down to the Woods Today by Rachel Piercey and Freya Hartas (Magic Cat Publishing, 2021), is, as Kirkus called it, “a tour de force of interactive two-dimensional nature.” And when they say “tour de force” they really mean it.

I read many poetry picture books throughout the year, and this is one of the few that literally had me squealing with delight and disbelief when I first saw the art. Wow!

“Bunny’s Birthday”

Before reading any of the poems, I joyously pored over the incredible pictures, my eyes getting wider and wider because there was just so much to see!

Okay, yes, I admit to being partial when it comes to bears in particular, and can’t resist tiny animals doing all manner of adorable things, but the level of detail and charm here is truly off the scale. And I could barely contain myself at the prospect of a comely, good natured bear poet! *hugs self*

from “Home Sweet Home”
Spring is waking up the world!
Will you come with me?
My woodland home is full of friends,
let’s peek inside and see . . .

Beginning with Spring, Bear celebrates each season by highlighting special events and activities he enjoys with all his animal friends. The book features 16 double page spreads, each with a special Bear-narrated poem and a seek-and-find legend inviting the reader to spot such wonders as “Mama Weasel wheeling a wheelbarrow,” “Papa Deer and Mama Fox launching into the long jump,” and “Mice playing frisbee.” Kids are asked not only to identify many different kinds of animals, but to count them too.

from “Home Sweet Home”
from “Home Sweet Home”

Interesting, unexpected, refreshing. Great way to pull readers into every scene and make them look even closer, with a satisfying payoff each time, since the depictions are actually even cuter than anticipated. Really!

from “Bunny’s Birthday”

Spring and Fall each boast four events, while there are five for Summer and three for Winter. Season headers whet the appetite for what’s to come:

Spring Brings New Life

  • “Bear’s World Awakes”
  • “Home Sweet Home”
  • “School Days”
  • “Bunny’s Birthday”

Summer Brings the Sun

  • “Field Day”
  • “High Summer”
  • “Swimming Lessons”
  • “Bear’s Picnic”
  • “Putting on a Play”

Autumn Brings Shorter Days

  • “Goodbye Party”
  • “Rainy Day”
  • “Art Class”
  • “Bear’s Campfire”

Winter Brings the Cold

  • “Winter Sports”
  • “Bear’s Winter Feast”
  • “Bear’s Den”

Kids will love immersing themselves in all these proceedings, as they observe raccoons, rabbits, owls, ducks, foxes, wrens, bats, squirrels, butterflies, spiders, ants, frogs, chipmunks, caterpillars, skunks, snails and more, doing so many fun things. Such a fabulous way to explore animal habitats and note seasonal changes!

“High Summer”
from “High Summer”

Best of all, for each season there’s some kind of mouthwatering feast: at Bunny’s Birthday there’s a big plate of “wibbly-wobbly jello” in addition to cake, at Bear’s Picnic there are multiple cloths laden with breads, cheese, veggies, pies and cookies; at the Goodbye Party, a huge picnic featuring apples, berries, and lotsa carrots, and at Bear’s Winter Feast, the animals gather around bountiful tables displaying festive plum puddings and hot drinks. Merriment galore, and in so many of the book’s spreads, lots of teapots, cups and saucers. 🙂

“The Goodbye Party”
from “The Goodbye Party”

Here are two more of my favorite spreads with poems posted in their entirely.

In “School Days,” I love the classroom inside a tree trunk with Mama Squirrel giving counting lessons and Raccoon lecturing about mushrooms. Spider teaches the alphabet with his ABC web, Owl opines on the moon, and Nana Rabbit helps students make wind chimes. 

“School Days”

It’s time for school inside the woods,
to come and learn together,
and make a whole new group of friends
with fur or shells or feathers.

Our classroom is a hollow trunk,
our playground is close by.
Our teachers pad from underground
or dart in from the sky.

We learn the moon, we feel the sun,
we read the changing trees,
we keep a record of the pond,
make music from the breeze.

And all the different animals
look after one another:
new-to-school, or oldest here,
neighbors, sisters, brothers.

*

“The Art Class” spread is sheer autumnal gorgeousness with all manner of critters busy creating art: Frog’s painting a vase, Raccoon’s crafting a jug, and Mice up on a branch are busy quilting. Bear’s a little frustrated, having crumpled up his picture, but he’ll likely try again. 🙂

“Art Class”

The sharpness in the air
creates a feeling hard to name.
The trees are orange, scarlet, gold,
each leaf a tongue of flame.

And living in this autumn world,
which glows inside the heart,
inspires my friends and I to try
our paws at works of art.

Each artist dreams of building up
their own unique creation,
and fills the paper, clay, or cloth
with wild imagination.

Each piece is different from the next:
the colors, styles, and scenes,
and how it makes you feel inside
and what you think it means.

*

Whether a paean to creativity or a nod to helping one another, Piercey’s spritely rhyming verses are a wonderful way to introduce kids to poetry. Their upbeat musicality makes them a pleasure to read aloud. 

She’s created a friendly, appealing persona for Bear, who imparts interesting facts about nature in every poem. 

from “Bear’s Picnic”
from “Bear’s Picnic”

Hartas’s enchanting illustrations are drawn in pencil and then colored digitally.  A nature lover, she enjoys drawing humorous characters and animals in fantastical settings. Not surprisingly, she counts Elsa Beskow and Jill Barklem of Brambly Hedge fame among her fave illustrators.

I especially love her whimsical humor in depicting the animals because she was able to create oodles of mini visual narratives while expanding on Piercey’s poems. Her animal characters are emotive, fun to follow, and brim with personality.

from “High Summer”

To top everything off, there’s a Nature Trail with fun activities at the end to encourage readers to go outside and explore the natural world for themselves.

“Putting on a Play”

If You Go Down to the Woods Today, with its fetching poems, beautiful art, and educational interactive elements will provide young readers with hours of enjoyment. There’s also an inspiring over-arching message about living in harmony not only with nature, but with each other, as we see so many different creatures getting along so well together. And of course, there’s the sheer wonder of just how varied, interesting, colorful, and amazing Mother Nature truly is.

from “High Summer”

*

Enjoy this delightful book chat video. Rachel reads several of the poems while Freya draws some of the characters, and they both talk about their literary and artistic influences. What’s also nice is that you’ll be able to see several of the spreads up close in more detail — this is one book where you definitely have to see it in person to fully appreciate the art.

*

IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS TODAY
written by Rachel Piercey
illustrated by Freya Hartas
published by Magic Cat Publishing, March 2021
Poetry Picture Book for ages 4+, 48 pp.
**Starred Review** from Kirkus

A beary fine book!

*

The lovely and talented Irene Latham is hosting the Roundup at Live Your Poem. Zip on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Have a nice weekend!

*


*This post contains Amazon and Bookshop Affiliate links. When you purchase an item using either, Jama’s Alphabet Soup may receive a small referral fee at no cost to you. Choose Bookshop to support independent bookstores. Thank you!

**Interior spreads text copyright © 2021 Rachel Piercey, illustrations © 2021 Freya Hartas, published by Magic Cat Publishing. All rights reserved.

***Copyright © 2021 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

39 thoughts on “[furry review] If You Go Down to the Woods Today by Rachel Piercey and Freya Hartas

  1. Oh, my goodness! This is a book to get lost in. Thank you for such an excellent review. I’m sold. The illustration of the mice and their books….oh, so sweet. I know some little “dears” that will love this. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll need to return later to watch the entire video, Jama, but I will! The poetry & illustrations are so special to see & how could anyone choose a favorite from all the wonderful examples you shared? I cannot, but I do love that school in a tree trunk! I also must tell you that my library has it & I will get it soon! Thanks so much for the wonderful post & intro to this new poetry book!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad your library has it!! You will enjoy it. The schoolroom in the tree trunk is wonderful. Look for the little bunny on the toilet in “Bunny’s Birthday.” 🙂

      Like

  3. Ha ha – I like how you write “If You Go Down to the Woods Today, with its fetching poems, beautiful art, and educational interactive elements will provide young readers with hours of enjoyment.” Young readers yes, but also older readers like me (well, not *much* older, but you know…)… can’t WAIT to get my hands and eyes on this book!!! Naturally I wish I could have done so a million years ago, when I *was* younger, but it’s never too late! Thanks so much for bringing this wonderful looking book to everyone’s attention!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make a good point — readers of ALL ages will love this book. I had a lot of fun spotting all the different things in each spread. More challenging than I thought it would be.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow is right, Jama! I can ‘bearly’ contain myself from so much cuteness – the bear pile from “The Goodbye Party”. Your introduction to books is causing a serious dent in my bank account…I love it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a delightful book, thanks for this lovely review and sharing it Jama! Such lively rhythmic poems and feel good art. I loved watching the video too, and hearing about the many writers and artists that influence both Rachel and Freya! I’m going to be humming the song in my head for a while, and your bears must be ticked pink by all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The resident bears were beside themselves when they saw this book. I had to convince them that they should continue living indoors, however. Loved hearing Rachel’s and Freya’s British accents. Refreshing to hear from such young PB creators.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This looks like a wonderful book for my granddaughter. Do you have a link to Amazon Canada that I can use so that you may get a referral fee?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right now I don’t have any Amazon Canada links, but thanks so much for asking, Rosey! Appreciate it. Your granddaughter will love this book!

      Like

  7. Whoa, you had me at the cover! But the rest of the book is incredible. Thanks for sharing this one, Jama, it’s absolutely gorgeous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This one’s actually great for readers of all ages — it certainly kept me occupied looking for all the items in the various legends.

      Like

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