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OPINION: Seasons come in their own time

Waiting for summer is explored in this picture book by Nikki McClure

Too often, children's picture books show spring as a warm, gentle season full of sunshine, flowers, and happy butterflies.

We know better.

So does Nikki McClure, author and illustrator of "Mama, Is It Summer Yet?"

In fact, her understanding of spring captured me with her first illustration. A mother holds her son as they look out of the window at a stark, leafless tree.

"Mama, is it summer yet?" asks the boy.

"Not yet, my little one," answers the mother as they move outside, bundled in hat, scarf, and mittens. "But the buds are swelling."

Gradually, the story inches toward the change of seasons. The mother and son watch a squirrel build a nest. Next, the boy fills a watering can and the two begin to plant a garden.

On each page, the boy asks, "Mama, is it summer yet?"

As the pages turn, Nikki McClure gradually adds color to her black-and-white paper-cut illustrations.

When they get on a small boat in a pond, they see yellow ducklings. The boy also wears yellow boots and a yellow vest.

When it is warm enough to read books underneath the apple tree, the blossoms and the quilt are tinted with pink.

Meanwhile, the swallows capture the energy of change. As they fly, long exaggerated lines show their swooping, curving paths.

There's also a beautiful universal quality to McClure's illustrations. At first, I found myself wondering if the story was contemporary or historical or if it took place in Asia or the United States. But by the end, I was so caught up in the intimacy of the parent-child relationship that it didn't even matter.

"Mama, Is It Summer Yet?" is the newly-released board book version of McClure's classic picture book. No doubt, the sturdy pages will hold up to repeated readings, both by preschoolers and adults.

"Mama, Is It Summer Yet?" By Nikki McClure. Abrams, 2018. 30 pp.

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