Did I mention that I am a huge fan of the Steads? Oh yes, I did.
So last year when I saw and then it’s spring by Julie Fogliano with illustrations by Erin E. Stead (Roaring Brook Press, 2012) on display on my local bookstore, I did the only reasonable thing there was to do: I bought it.
and then it’s spring spent May through September with us on the wicker furniture in our three-season porch. There are few better places to read a book, or to watch a landscape turn from white, to brown, to green; and that’s just what and then it’s spring is all about.
Written in a second-person, unrhymed, lower case verse with only one period on the last page, and then it’s spring immediately brings to mind a certain “little lame balloon man.” This book is “mud-lucious” and “puddle-wonderful.”*
It begins: “First you have brown,/ all around you have brown” and our protagonist, a young boy, stands with his dog staring at various shades of brown garden, field, trees and cattails. We know a strong, cold spring breeze blows because the tail of the boy’s red scarf blows straight back from his neck, and even the tiny turtle is still sporting a cap. It’s desolate, even a bit lonely. This illustration captures the melancholy limbo of a season change.
On the next page he plants seeds: “then there are seeds”
On the next: “and a wish for rain,”
And the next: “and then it rains”
The brown becomes a “hopeful, very possible sort of brown,” and times passes. The boy sits in his wagon and worries about his seeds. Why aren’t they growing? Could it have been the birds? Or the bears? (Oh, how I love Erin E. Stead’s bears, especially when they are stomping).
More times passes and we get to my daughter’s favorite page. Fogliano writes, “and the brown,/ still brown,/ has a greenish hum/ that you can only hear/ if you put your ear to the ground/ and close your eyes,” which is what the boy (and the bunny) are doing, while we get to watch a chipmunk, three mice, a worm and some ants busy in their tunnels. Three-fourths of this page is underground.
My daughter and I trace our fingers on their trails, laugh at the turtle who is looking at the ant, and look! there is something else hard at work, too! The seeds have rooted and are heading for sunlight.
Finally, after a few more weeks (spoiler alert) “…the brown isn’t around/ and now you have green,/ all around you have green” and my daughter, who I’ve already explained is the swing enthusiast, delights in the boy, barefoot, celebrating the growth of his plants with a ride on his tire swing. Of course, she gives him a push.
This book, with minimal text, can take us fifteen to twenty minutes to read, and often as soon as I finish my daughter says, “read it again.”
Over time, the words and the rhythm, which I’ll admit felt a bit funny in my mouth at first, have become part of the Picture Book House cannon, and I can hear and feel them even when we aren’t reading.
This book appeals to us also because we are gardeners who start our plants from seed with grow lights on the same three-season porch mentioned above.
The timing of the seed planting, sprouting, and land changing from brown to green in and then it’s spring seems a bit off to me, but the point is made, and made well. It is a gift to watch something grow. And whether or not you will be planting real seeds this spring, you should absolutely watch them sprout in and then it’s spring.
Picture Book House Rating: Reading it Again, Mommy!
*in Just- by e.e. Cummings
Our view from Picture Book House when all around we have brown (except for the double rainbow, last year on St. Patrick’s Day last year–no joke).
Our view from Picture Book House today: All white.