Tag Archive | forests

Giving Thanks, by Jonathan London

Giving Thanks, by Jonathan London

“Of course my young friends call me a tree hugger,” says author Jonathan London. “But they’re right. I am.” And he celebrates nature in his 2003 book, Giving Thanks. London teamed up with Gregory Manchess, a self-taught illustrator who also lives on the west coast, who calls their book “a timeless expression of love for nature and of understanding our place in the realm of life.” And according to the book’s jacket, author London admits that just like the characters in his story, “I give thanks to the things of nature every day.”

In the story, the father says a thank-you for the day every day, to Mother Earth and to Father Sky. “Like his Indian friends – singers and storytellers – Dad believes that the things of nature a gift,” London writes. While he explains his philosophy, they stroll through some amazing scenery. A raccoon scurries as they walk under purple clouds. And as the sky turns blue, a tiny frog hides in the tall grass.

It’s the illustrations that really give the story its visual impact. (On the book’s jacket Manchess is identified as a “self-taught illustrator,” and I found myself wondering if that gave his pictures an extra wildness.) Gregory Manchess is like an impressionist Edward Hopper, capturing the light and shadows on the house and the trees around it, while using soft edges to suggest the shapes. He contributes a gorgeous watercolor for the title page – with swatches of yellow-white representing the clouds at sunset, covering a purple sky. The color scheme continues on the next page, where those colors are now covered by the dark-green silhouettes of a pine tree’s leaf, and the amber horizon of a hill is visible in the background, and at its base is a row of distant trees.

The father says a thank you to “the wild mushrooms that smell like pumpkins.” He thanks the trees, with their spectacular red and yellow autumn foliage. There’s an exciting drawing of a fox leaping off over a yellow field. There’s tracks of a deer, and a flock of scattering quails – and the father thanks them all.

Though it’s a simple story, it keeps getting more and more interesting, thanks to Machess’s imaginative illustrations. When London mentions a hawk, “high in the sky,” Manchess switches to a panoramic aerial view, with the hawk’s wings in the foreground and a yellow forest beneath. In the next illustration, it’s just the yellow of the sunset, and the hawk is disappearing among the last clouds. But then there’s a spectacular moonrise over an ancient and twisted tree.

And then the father gives thanks to the moon.

The Good-Night Kiss, by Jim Aylesworth

The Good-Night Kiss, by Jim Aylesworth

“On the night of the good-night kiss, a small green frog peeks out from under a lily pad.” The illustrations by Walter Lyon Krudop are beautiful – and they walk the reader through a series of animals watching the setting sun. The green frog sees an old raccoon, “sniffing along the pond bank, looking for something to eat.” And the ripples on the pond are a shimmering orange – while a dark red flower leans in the foreground.

The story travels to a new creature on nearly every page, and the book offers a breath-taking glimpse into the world of nature. “I have always had a dream of living the country,” the illustrator reveals on the book’s jacket, “and I think that’s where the inspiration for these paintings comes from.” In the light of the rising moon, there’s the silvery outline of a deer drinking from the pond. And Krudop’s next illustration shows that same deer – as seen from an owl flying across a field overhead.

The owls wings are spread in a spectacular array of feathers – matching the lines of the furrows in the field below. And in the next drawing, the owl’s landed in a dark window at the very top of a tall, red barn. Looking down into the shadows, it can just make out the dim colors on the shirt of a farmer. And the farmer’s climbing down from the seat of his tractor – where he glimpses a man in pickup truck driving down a dusty road…

It’s a beautiful book, and I love the illustrations, but there’s also something zen-like about the story by Jim Aylesworth. The man’s pickup truck pulls into a gas station – where it sees an enormous 18-wheeler that’s lit up in the moonlight. The 18-wheeler travels under a railroad bridge, and the truck’s driver spots the man in the lighted window of a freight train’s caboose. There’s moody night-time drawings for every scene, but Aylesworth keeps adding more and more new people to his mysterious chain of omniscience….

Aylesworth dedicates the book to “those who tuck them in, with love!” and it’s a hint about how he’ll ultimately end the story. I was expecting the series to end with one creature finally catching a glimpse of the small green frog that’s peeking out from under a lily pad. But instead Aylesworth ends his story with a tiny white moth, catching a gentle glimpse of a parent who’s giving their child a good-night kiss. And the book ends with two sweet, simple words.

“Good night!”