Last fall, on a whim, I decided that 2024 was going to be the Year of the Picture Book. Other than reading them to my niblings, I haven’t read picture books since I was a kid myself. I do not know why we stop reading them as adults. They are joyful, funny, informative, and moving. They are different from adult books, of course, but they can be just as brilliant in their own way.
I set out to read one picture book every day in 2024, but I was so excited that I started this new ritual back in November. I have a master list of close to 400 books—I think I am going to be reading picture books for the rest of my life! At the end of each month, I pour through the list, compile the next month’s TBR, and put all the books on hold at the library.
I cannot explain how much I love this daily act of reading a picture book. I have been surprised, over and over again, by how deeply picture books affect me. I’ve discovered some lifetime favorites that immediately went onto my Best of 2023 List: Rain Makes Applesauce by Julian Scheer and Marvin Bileck and When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson and Julie Flett. I love the ritual of choosing each day’s book the night before. I love letting myself slow down, taking my time with the illustrations in each book, giving them the attention they deserve. Reading picture books is one of the most purely joyful things in my life right now.
But of the many, many delights this project has brought me so far, perhaps the best one is how reading picture books has connected me to the seasons in a visceral way. Each month, I make sure to pick plenty of books about and/or set in that season.
In late November, as the days were getting darker, I read Winter’s Gifts by Kaitlin B. Curtice and Gloria Félix. It’s a beautiful book about a Potawatomi girl who loves winter and wants to share her family’s special winter traditions with her friends. During the first week of December, I read Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr, a book that captures the magic of a cold winter night in the woods. On December 21st, I read two gorgeous solstice books: The Shortest Day and The Longest Night.
I started off 2024 with Freedom Soup by Tami Charles and Jacqueline Alcántara, a wonderful, vibrant, joyful story about a Haitian American girl making Freedom Soup with her grandmother. It’s an ode to a special New Year’s Day tradition, and while it isn’t my tradition, it felt like the perfect way to begin a new year. A few days later, during the first real snowstorm of the winter, I read Divya Srinivasan’s sweet and whimsical Little Owl’s Snow while the flakes floated down past my window.
I’ve dabbled with seasonal reading in my non-picture book reading life, but there’s something about seasonal picture books that just hits differently. Maybe it’s that these books are so direct and earnest—they celebrate what they celebrate without fuss. Sure, there are adult novels about snowstorms, nonfiction books about how animals survive winter, and plenty of holiday romances. But even the best of these seasonal reads never makes me feel the way reading a picture book about a snowstorm during a blizzard does. Whether they are sad and serious, contemplative and soft, silly and chaotic, dreamy and weird, picture books evoke a sense of wonder in me. They remind me that I am here on this earth, a tiny being in a vast network of trees and birds and cultures and waters and weather systems. They make me feel a little less lost.
I used to be a farmer, and I have always loved being outside. Feeling connected to the seasons is not new for me. But the sense of groundedness that reading seasonal picture books gives me is new. There’s an immediacy to picture books that I don’t always find in other kinds of books. The other day, I read An Arctic Story, a book about how various creatures survive winter in the far north. I don’t live in the arctic, and yet I carried the book with me throughout my day. Walking with my dog in the woods, I thought about the hibernating bears and the silences left behind by all the birds that have migrated south. As the sun set in the late afternoon, I paid closer attention to the blues and purples and golds in the sky and in the shadows trees cast on the snow. I could tell you a hundred more stories like this, stories about how reading picture books has become, for me, a kind of loving and careful attention.
I can’t wait to read about maple sugaring as the sap starts to flow. My April picture books are going to be full of buds and rain and puddles. I’m going to revel in the abundance of August with all the garden books I can find, and maybe some vegetable poetry, too. I’m going to ease into fall with books about the harvest, and come full circle next December with even more solstice books. I am going to revel in every drawing and every story. I am going to let picture books be my guide. I am going to let them show me how to move through the seasons with all my senses, with my heart wide open, paying attention.