Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Waiting For Sweetness

They appear with regularity annually.  There's still snow on the ground.  There's still a chill in the air but the days are longer and more often are filled with sunshine. They, these buckets, hang from sugar maple trees, gathering sap no longer necessary for the winter months. 

For those of us who adorn our pancakes, waffles, French toast or hot cereal with dribbles or pools of maple syrup, we are grateful to see these buckets.  Maple syrup is also preferred by some in baking and cooking as a distinctive sweetener.  The smell alone is enough to bring delectable memories soaring into our minds.  Two January releases focus their attention on collecting the sap, sugaring time. 

For those eager to learn about the process, Bear Goes Sugaring (Neal Porter Books, Holiday House, January 7, 2020) written and illustrated by Maxwell Eaton III is an enlightening and lively title.  You may know Maxwell Eaton III for his Truth About . . . (Seriously Funny Facts About Your Favorite Animals) series.  Maxwell Eaton III brings the same fascinating information and the same generous helping of humor to Bear Goes Sugaring as he does in his other marvelous nonfiction books.

The winter has been long and cold, and while the temperature is still below freezing at night, it's now above freezing during the day.  The sun is shining, and spring is on its way.  It's sugaring time! Time for Bear to make maple syrup.  

That means
right? (questions his canine companion) (squirrel is still snoozing)

Further details appear in a sign posted in front of Bear's home about the correct months of the year and temperatures.  Inside Bear's home she finds her brace, a hand-powered drill, her drill bit, stainless steel spouts and buckets with lids.  As she looks for the proper tree, readers are educated about four different types of maple trees.

We follow her to a sugar maple and watch as she drills a proper, size and length, hole and hammers in the spout.  A bucket is hung and covered.  It's no surprise when her dog asks if it's syrup yet.  Bear happens to notice a hole in one of the buckets (her dog did this earlier mistakenly with the hammer).  We learn about other kinds of buckets.  As the sap drips into the bucket, dog is puzzled to discover it's not syrup.  An explanation of sap follows.

As the sap falls into the buckets Bear sets up her evaporating system.  We watch her build the structure and stack the wood.  We follow how the process works to turn the sap into syrup.  We are reminded about the proportions of water and sugar in sap.  Guess how many buckets of sap are needed to make a gallon of syrup?  This is the reason syrup is expensive and prized.  It's one more generous gift from trees.

Bear works diligently for a week bringing buckets of sap to covered collection buckets until she has enough to fill the evaporator pan.  For an entire day she works over the evaporator, gradually adding sap to the pre-heater, stirring and straining.  There are a few more steps as night falls and then Bear takes a pot of syrup into the house.  (At this time her dog and the squirrel are nearly passed out from hunger.  Their craving for pancakes has reached an all-time high.)  As the full moon rises outside, inside at the kitchen table stomachs start to fill with pancakes topped with . . . maple syrup.

The information provided by Maxwell Eaton III flows like a conversation between friends.  Each portion of the process is supplied concisely and correctly to readers.  It's as if he understands exactly what we need and want to know.  The side comments by Bear's dog and the squirrel are hilarious!  Even a warming on a sign on the verso page about the process and need for a responsible (human) adult is presented with comedic conversation.  Dog says:

in dog

Generous additional fact balloons address specifics outside of the general narrative.  Illustrations are labeled for clarity.  Here are passages from one-and one-half pages.

Wait a minute! Bear notices a hole in one of the buckets.
Weird! (Dog)

Luckily, just about anything that can safely hold liquid food can hold sap.  Bear digs an empty plastic milk jug out of the recycling bin, cleans it, and cuts a hole near the top.
I lost scissors
privileges long
ago. (Dog)

Then she hangs it on a spout just like a bucket and ta-da!
I guess we'll
never mention
this again. (Dog)

Milk jugs are a great way to collect sap
without spending a lot of money. (Caption box)

The full color image on the matching dust jacket and book case is a wonderful scene of Bear working at night at her evaporator.  The trees with the hanging buckets, mountains, greenery and starry sky extend over the spine to the left edge of the back.   The design and layout on the front are superb with the steam framing Bear's face and her puny comment is just a hint of the fun and facts to come.  On the dust jacket the title text is varnished.

A lighter shade of the red found in the title text covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page is a panoramic scene of Bear's home and her barn.  The sun is just starting to rise between the mountains.  A two-page illustration contains, on the right, the front of Bear's home with the first page of the book and on the left is the mountain behind her home allowing for space for publication information.

Maxwell Eaton III rendered his pictures

with watercolor and graphite pencil on 140 lb. bright white, cold press, watercolor paper.

They alternate between full-page pictures and double-page visuals.  There are insets of detailed images within the main illustrations as well as smaller pictures on top of larger images.  The point of view shifts, also.  When Bear is inserting the spout into the tree, we only see her hand holding the hammer as it knocks the spout in place.  Careful readers will notice a humorous thread within this narrative based on the comments of Dog and Squirrel.  (And did a mouse just join this book?)

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is a bird's eye view of Bear working at her evaporator.  Around the evaporator Bear on the left is skimming foam, in the center she is adding wood to the fire and on the right, she is pouring sap into the pre-heater from a bucket.  A shovel is sticking up in the snow.  Empty buckets are on the left near the barn.  In front of the wood stack on the right, Dog and Squirrel, on their backs, are lamenting the length of time this is taking and their "extreme" hunger.

This book, Bear Goes Sugaring written and illustrated by Maxwell Eaton III is funny and factual.  I can't imagine a unit on sugaring, maple syrup, food or the transition from winter to spring without this book.  There are pages showing a map of Maple Syrup Territory, A Variety of Evaporators, Old Spouts and a Traditional Sugarhouse.  At the close is an author's note and list of three resources for further reading.  I highly recommend this title for your collections.

To learn more about Maxwell Eaton III and his other books, follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  Maxwell Eaton III maintains accounts on Instagram and Twitter.  At Penguin Random House you can view the title page.  At the publisher's website are links to two sets of activity sheets.

Gary D. Schmidt and his late wife, writing under the name of Elizabeth Stickney, have penned a more intimate fictional account of sugaring and the wait for maple syrup.  Almost Time (Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, January 14, 2020) illustrated by G. Brian Karas is an endearing story about a boy and his father.  It's about anticipation, patience and love set within the changing seasons.

When Ethan had to eat his pancakes with applesauce instead of maple syrup one Sunday morning, he knew it was almost sugaring time.

He was curious to know if the sap was running yet.  His dad said the days were still too cold.  After sledding one day, Ethan discovered a shining sun does not necessarily mean the temperature is warmer.  The following week on Sunday Ethan again wondered if it was time to tap the trees. 

He was told the nights are still too long.  He looked for extra light and his best stuffed toy friend, but it was too dark.  Another week passed and the only difference was Ethan now had a loose tooth.  When he wondered when it will fall out, his dad was fairly certain it will come out when it's time to tap the trees.

Ethan waited and waited.  It's as if time had stopped.  It's still too cold during the day and the nights still had hours and hours of darkness.  And no matter how loose his tooth was, it did not fall out.

One day, as if by magic, something happened to Ethan at school.  When the bus delivered him home Ethan had something to show his dad.  His dad had something to show Ethan.  For an entire week the father and son duo worked together until one Sunday morning, the wait was over.  Yum.

The writing in this book is similar to the waiting and making of maple syrup.  The cadence is slow, soft and patient with results that are sweet but not too sweet.  It's worth the wait because when you get that first taste, you can't help but sigh.  Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney write with the sure knowledge of the human spirit and of the relationship between a loving child and parent.

They use a combination of narrative and conversation.  A rhythm is established by coming back to each Sunday.  Between those Sundays we see how things move forward from week to week.  They add charming details like the name of Ethan's teddy bear, Roosevelt.  Here is a passage.

When he bit down on a walnut, he discovered something.
"My tooth is loose!" he said.

His father inspected. "I expect it will fall out before long."
"How long?" asked Ethan.
"About as long as it takes the sap to start running," Dad said. 

The three trees with buckets featured on the front of the matching dust jacket and book case are tall compared to Ethan.  It's as if they symbolize the length of the wait for him.  You can imagine Ethan standing there and speaking to them as he holds Roosevelt.  What do you think he is saying?  I really like the use of shadow in the trees and Ethan and his footprints in the snow.

To the left, on the back, on a canvas of muted red is a small square with rounded corners.  On this cream-colored background sits a jar of maple syrup on a table.  Roosevelt, his head peaking over the edge of the table, is looking at it. 

A bright, deep spring green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the title page, with his back to us, Ethan is looking out a window at the snow.  Rendered in

pencil and digital color

these illustrations by G. Brian Karas are enchanting, elevating and expanding the text.  The double-page picture for the dedications is a gorgeous night scene, a panoramic view of Ethan and his dad's home in the woods.  It's a limited color palette with a crescent moon in the sky.

The images alternate in size to complement the text and pacing.  We are shown single-page pictures, double-page visuals, or smaller rounded corner squares or rectangles on a full page.  The facial expressions on Ethan and his father along with their body postures are lovely, so lovely.  There is an exquisite tenderness in their relationship as shown by G. Brian Karas.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is on a single page.  It is a loosely framed square.  It is in Ethan's bedroom at night.  We can see the outside through the window next to his bed.  A single light on the table next to his bed casts a glow in the room.  Ethan is snuggled under the covers with Roosevelt.  Ethan is looking out the window as his dad bends down and kisses him good night on his forehead.  The text for this picture is:

And the nights were still long.

You'll want to add this title, Almost Time written by Gary D. Schmidt and Elizabeth Stickney with illustrations by G. Brian Karas, to your list of huggable books.  It will enhance your story time themes on family, seasons, patience and how maple syrup is made. Hold a place on your personal and professional bookshelves for this delightful story.

To learn more about Gary D. Schmidt and G. Brian Karas, please follow the links attached to their names.  G. Brian Karas does have an account on Twitter

No comments:

Post a Comment