‘Water in the Park,’ by Emily Jenkins, and More
By CAROLYN JURISPublished: May 31, 2013
“Rain, rain, go away.” Kids have always chanted the familiar refrain — gazing out the window wistfully, chin on fist — as if they had the power to make it happen. But these days, what’s a little precipitation when there are peevish birds to be flung and other indoor, on-screen distractions? In an era in which the directive “Go play” no longer implies “outside,” the idea that rain may affect a child’s fun is perhaps a quaint one. But four new picture books remind us that no matter how cosseted we are by technology, a downpour still holds the power to move us.
By Linda Ashman
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
32 pp. Houghton Mifflin. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 4 to 8)
WATER IN THE PARK
A Book About Water and the Times of the Day
By Emily Jenkins
Illustrated by Stephanie Graegin
40 pp. Schwartz & Wade. $16.99.(Picture book; ages 3 to 6)
Written and illustrated by Arthur Geisert
32 pp. Enchanted Lion. $17.95. (Picture book; ages 4 to 8)
By Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrated by Steven Salerno
40 pp. Disney-Hyperion. $16.99. (Picture book; ages 3 to 7)
Two very different attitudes about the weather go head-to-head in Linda Ashman’s buoyant “Rain!” All furrowed brow and put-upon frown, an older, balding man grumps “Rain!” at the drops he sees outside his window. Meanwhile, in another apartment building, a little boy throws his arms up and delights at the “rain!” plinking on the fire escape. As the two go about their respective days — the boy with his green froggy hat and cheery disposition, the man with his pessimistic attitude — their moods are reflected in their environments and in the faces of the people they encounter. Christian Robinson, whose illustrations for “Harlem’s Little Blackbird,” by Renée Watson, made for a winsome debut last year, uses paint and collage to render the man’s home in muddy colors; the boy’s room, by contrast, has buttery yellow walls and circus polka dots. Everyone the man meets is soured by the experience, as shown by a downturned mouth here, an aggrieved expression there. The boy, on the other hand, spreads metaphorical sunshine, prompting enthusiastic waves and indulgent smiles. When the two inevitably cross paths, it’s no surprise the boy’s positive outlook wins over the grouch — eventually — but their interaction still feels fresh and natural. By the time the man returns to his apartment building, the sun is out; but the implication is that, having embraced the boy’s viewpoint, he’d be happy either way.
Unlike Ashman’s story, in which rain drives the plot, “Water in the Park” showcases a sweltering summer day, and the storm arrives only in the final few pages. But water is everywhere: from the pond in which a small fleet of dogs goes splashing, to the hoses volunteers use to nourish thirsty flower beds, to the pails that industrious children fill from sprinklers and pour onto slides. In an author’s note, Emily Jenkins says she was inspired by the various ways she saw people and animals use water during one punishing Brooklyn summer. Her story’s characters are as diverse as their real-life counterparts in Prospect Park: multiracial families headed by straight or gay parents; nannies and their charges; an elderly couple who’ve not only grown to look like each other but who also resemble their stoop-shouldered, geriatric dog. Stephanie Graegin’s pencil-and-ink washes depict more than a hundred individuals (go on, ask your child to count them), and several recur throughout the book, just as you might run into a neighborhood friend. Jenkins taps out the day’s rhythm in clear, unadorned prose, as early-walking dogs give way to midmorning babies, who then make room for adults on lunch break and the after-school crowd, and onward until the skies open up at dusk.
While the average evening storm is rarely more than a nuisance for most city dwellers, farmers, typically, are far more vulnerable to capricious nature. It’s this exposure that drives the story in the wordless “Thunderstorm.” The illustrator Arthur Geisert grew up in Los Angeles, lived for many years in Galena, Ill., and now makes his home in rural Iowa. He may be best known for his anthropomorphized pigs, seen most recently in “Ice” and “The Giant Seed,” but his new work is more in the spirit of 2010’s earthy “Country Road ABC,” in which “E” stood for Erosion and “I” for Inoculate. “Thunderstorm,” too, is grounded in the real world, down to the time stamps that mark a squall’s progress across Midwestern farmland over the course of one Saturday afternoon. The artist’s trademark copperplate etchings, tinged with watercolors, lend a timeless feel to his slice-of-life illustrations, which show how a farm family and various animals weather the storm. Though the story line isn’t always easy to track — Whose fence is being torn up? And where did that tornado come from? — each page’s abundant details invite lingering and repeated visits. Cutaways reveal where foxes have burrowed for shelter, and offer a glimpse into the farmhouse kitchen, where the family warily eyes the leaking ceiling. Geisert allows the storm to do real damage, but he also shows the community getting to work once the skies clear, determined to set things right.
“Boom!” tells a more finite story, and one many children will relate to. Pert-nosed Rosie is a brave little dog. She gamely faces down tigers (well, a stuffed toy one) and house cats, and fears neither sudsy baths nor roaring vacuum cleaners. But the first crack of thunder sends her whimpering for comfort from, as Mary Lyn Ray affectionately describes him, “the boy she knew best.” Though plenty of pups cower under the sofa when a storm rages, Rosie seems to be as much reader (or one-being-read-to) surrogate as pet. While the unnamed boy tries to explain away the noise with fanciful stories — “Thunder was watermelons rolling from a watermelon truck” or “a block fort falling” — the way a parent might, Rosie knows what’s really happening. “It was the big, big sky growling big, big growls,” she determines, and though she tries, she can’t find a place where she feels truly safe. Eventually the boy scoops her up in his arms and they wait it out together; she imagines “the boy may have felt a little frightened, too,” though the serene look that Steven Salerno has drawn on his face belies that notion. At story’s end, the sun shines once more, Rosie yaps happily and the storm is but a memory, except for a few wooden blocks (perhaps from that aforementioned fort) strewn across the floor. In other words, this too shall pass.