How Mama Brought the Spring
By Fran Manushkin
Illustrated by Holly Berry
Dutton (a division of Penguin Young Readers Group)
On shelves now
When you live in a climate that has distinct seasons, you learn basic elemental truths; at a certain point in any given year you are going to be sick and tired of winter. Usually that point happens sometime in the middle of February. It’s after the groundhog has done his whole spot-the-shadow confabulation and you’re gearing up for a long stretch of overcast skies, marrow chilling days, and general bleakness. Spring, it seems, is just this beautiful intangible dream. This has been the case for centuries and, global warming permitting, will probably continue to exist somewhere. When this happens, it’s nice to have a book like How Mama Brought the Spring to help chase away the chill winds. The kind of book that warms you deep down to your very core.
It isn’t that Rosy Levine doesn’t want to get up . . . okay, maybe it is. And who can blame her? Outside the sun hasn’t shown its face in days and it seems like spring will never come to Illinois. Fortunately Rosy’s mother understands, and to cheer her daughter up she tells her the story of how her own mother once brought spring to Minsk. On a day very much like this one Rosy’s mother was also buried deep under her covers until she heard her mama up to something. In the kitchen the two of them start to make a mysterious food that involves yellow circles as bright as sunflowers and a blue tablecloth like a deep blue sky. As the two continue to cook the day grows warmer and warmer until the whole family is sitting down to delicious blintzes and the air outside has grown warm and balmy. And so Rosy and her own mother set out to do the same, hoping to bring a little bit of sunshine to a cold Chicago day.
While weeding the "little book" section of my library’s picture book collection I happened to stumble across one of Fran Manushkin’s earliest titles, Baby. It was a fun spin on a baby fully intent on not leaving the womb, no matter what its relatives promised it. I know some mothers who can relate. Manushkin has always liked the inner workings of a family, to say nothing of the inherent magic in the everyday. And How Mama Brought the Spring really does make blintzes sound like the most delicious food conceived by man, woman, or child. The recipe in the back contains everything a person would need (though what’s "farmer cheese"?) and this might mean that the book is a good food related story to include in world food classroom projects.
I wasn’t familiar with illustrator Holly Berry’s work, though I’d seen copies of I’m a Pig and The Gingerbread Cowboy in my library. She uses a combination of watercolor and colored pencil that happens to complement this particular story very well. Her cold drafty rooms very gray and chilly. Her warm spring winds are the same buttery yellow as the blintzes themselves. And Berry is continually playing with the . . . . should I call it "the borders" of her books? That doesn’t seem quite right. When I say "border" you’re going to imagine a pattern running up, down, and across the edges of the pages in a neat little fashion. Berry, on the other hand, is hardly so exact. The bottoms of her pages may show a man shoveling snow or the view of a frozen village sometimes. Other times the page skews and we’re looking at the wild angle of two different patterned cloths overlapping one another. Speaking of patterns, I was particularly taken with Berry’s penchant for giving unpatterned natural objects, like the sun, a style entirely of their own. I was also fond of the blue blintz tablecloth forming the book’s endpapers. They’re all little touches, but together they give the book zing.
I was a little baffled by the review of this book in the publication Publishers Weekly. While almost all the professional reviews have been positive, Publishers Weekly wondered why the book didn’t discuss the fact that this was a Jewish food created by Jewish people. I’m not entirely sure what the objection is here. I mean, the main character’s name is Rosy Levine. Just because the characters aren’t dancing the Horah around the table doesn’t mean the book is ignoring the characters’ roots.
As I stare out my window at the bleak winter weather, I daydream about the warm months. It doesn’t hurt to have a couple books to help me with these daydreams. How Mama Brought the Spring is just one of those books that feel good to read when you need a reminder of what’s to come. A delicious and warm little book.
On shelves now.