In fact, my great-grandmother used to tell me stories about when she picked berries in those same woods as a girl and as she was doing so, a Native American Indian approached her on horseback. This would have been in the early 1900s, so you can imagine how much the experience left an impression on her.
My dad shared that story with me, in the shade of those same woods, picking berries in what has become known to our family as the “celestial berry patch.” Last summer, in the quiet heat of an August afternoon, as my kids and I picked berries (eating every third one, of course) they’d turn to me with dirt all over their clothes, and purple-red berry juice staining their fingers and lips, it struck me how much of a tradition it had become.
They’d plunk down next to me, using a fallen tree as a makeshift bench and steal berries from my bucket, and they’d ask me to tell them again about the time their great-great-grandma saw a “real-live Indian” in the forest.
They’ll plead with me to tell them about when she saw a bear, or when grandpa stepped on a snake. With those kinds of childhood memories to go on, I can say that a treasured storybook has always been Robert McCloskey’s “Blueberries for Sal.” As a kid, I could absolutely relate to the story of Sal happily exploring the forests, snatching berries from her mother’s bucket. The bear cub and Sal, each becoming so immersed in the pine-forest world around them that they wind up temporarily lost.
As a mom, I can understand the amount of patience it takes to continue picking berries, despite the grubby kid-fingers that keep swiping my hard-earned berries. Today, as I was looking over lists of new children’s books, I was delighted to see a new book based on McCloskey’s classic. “Baby Bear Sees Blue” was written and illustrated by Ashley Wolff, and couldn’t be a more lovely picture book for children.
Just as the human mother and mama bear in “Blueberries for Sal” introduce their children to the forests, Baby Bear gets to discover the magic of color in “Baby Bear Sees Blue.” The images in the book were rendered with the artisan perfection of someone who genuinely understands what it means to bring to life the essence of the forest but in a fictionalized way that very young children will love. It’s a little book packed full of vibrant hues and the spirit of discovery.
It teaches young kids the joys of color and shares with them the feeling of seeing, for the very first time, the color green as baby bear watches fish in a pond. The artwork is striking and energizing, and looking at it re-awakens the reader to their senses. It’s as much a book about the introduction of color as it is a book about the pleasure of experiencing the world through our sense of sight, touch, smell. At any rate, I know that I’ll be taking it along on our family outing to the woods for berries. I think it’ll be a perfect fit for sitting in the shade and sharing with the kids…now I just need a book to teach them to keep their hands out of my berry bucket.
Ashley Wolff, children’s author and illustrator, her new book “Baby Bear Sees Blue” was published by Beach Lane Books (Simon & Schuster).