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Sunday, April 1, 2012

Gem, written and illustrated by Hollie Hobbie. Little Brown, Hachette. 2012. $18.50 ages 3 and up

"I wanted to tell the story of Gem's spring journey - all the way to my garden. This book, which took me all winter to make and which warmed the coldest days, is for you.   Love, Gram."

Do' they' say that spring comes to those who wait? Perhaps not. In Manitoba this year, we have not had to wait at all. The weather has been balmy to say the least. Today, April 1, it is to be 20C. I wonder if it's a joke played by an April Fools weather forecaster. What it means for me is that it has turned my thoughts to some of the new spring books that have been recent arrivals in the mail.

First, I want to share this lovely new book from Hollie Hobbie...always a consummate chronicler of the details and beauty of nature. Her watercolor illustrations are infused with light and warmth as she explores Gem's world during his springtime journey from pond to garden. The lovely springtime palette of sparkling greens and yellows, coupled with always changing perspectives, give the young reader a clear and breathtaking look at the imagined journey of one such tiny traveler. The only written words come from two from Gram to Hope and one from Hope back to her grandmother.

The rest of the story shines through in the gorgeous artwork. It is spring, and Gem is game for adventure. He sets off on an arduous, yet refreshing, trek that takes him to a garden. It takes time and perseverance; Gem is filled with the need to find a lush and food-filled home. Flabbergasted by a close encounter with a car, terrified when a hawk gets too close for comfort, filled with energy after a dip in a birdbath, joyful with a new mate and their bundle of babies, and captive in Hope's hands prior to his release to the freedom of the nutritious (for toads) garden are all emotions that we feel right along with this adventurous trip-taker.

Gram's story is inspired by a toad found the previous year. It is her gift to her beloved granddaughter who learned an important lesson, shown in the letter of thanks that finds its way to Gram's mailbox:

"Some of your pictures are pretty scary, Gram. Gem is definitely a lucky old toad. I can't believe I wanted to keep him for a pet at first. Toads are not pets. They want to be free, like everything does."

The stunning illustration on the last page is testament to the importance of the lesson learned.

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