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!
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*
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.
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!
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!
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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**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.