It’s back to school time! You can tell by the chill in the evenings, the frenetic energy in your youthful household, and by how few pair of sneakers are left in boys size 5 at the local sporting goods store.
In those households whose children school at school, the laundry has been processed, the mending pile is shrinking, and first-day outfits are being picked out of the proceeds. The newly-purchased sneakers are pristine. Plans for ingress and egress from school are being finalized, bedtimes are being reviewed, and, having just finished making sure everyone has enough in the way of pants, you are already generating the list of who needs what items of wet- and cold-weather outerwear for their biweekly half-day outdoor education program.
It’s a time for returning and regrouping as well as starting fresh. Seeing old schoolmates and meeting new ones. Returning to a sports team or picking up a new instrument. And, for many, whether we school at school or home, a time to sit down and make a study of something that interests us.
From picture books about sugaring in the olden days to modern how-to manuals for kids, children’s literature on maple syrup making is prolific, varied, and fun! So, in honor of the back-to-school season, we give you a review of ten children’s books about maple for our youngest readers and listeners. May it inspire your family reading, your family activities, or even your homeschool curriculum this year!
First, for the youngest listeners and readers, there are picture books about the science and process of making maple syrup. Out of the four we reviewed, we recommend two titles highly and the remaining two with reservation.
Maple Trees by Marcia S. Freeman (copyright 1999) is a good, basic tree identification book. It delivers big, simple words in large font at one or two sentences per page and is illustrated by big, bright photographs. The information provided is nevertheless accurate and helpful; this is a great science text for a beginning reader. And for the beginning reader curious about making syrup, a familiar character! Curious George Makes Maple Syrup (copyright 2013) is an up-to-date and accurate walk-through of the basic steps of sugaring. It explains some phrases that might be confusing to young children (to “tap” a tree), and illustrates both how much work it is to make maple syrup and how worth it that work is.
Maple Trees by Alan Fowler (copyright 2001), and From Maple Tree to Syrup by Melanie Mitchell (copyright 2004) are fine books for kids whose adults can explain away inconsistencies between the text and the pictures (e.g., where the words explain metal spouts, but the accompanying picture shows a wooden spout, or where the pictures alternate between lines and buckets without explanation), or dispute inaccuracies (e.g., that planting trees is a typical first-step to making syrup). However, for kids whose families aren’t familiar with the process of making maple syrup, it may be best to start with different titles.
There are also many wonderful picture books that tell stories about maple trees and maple syrup for the youngest children. We highly recommend all six titles we came across in that category.
Sugar on Snow by Nan Parson Rossiter (copyright 2002) is a wonderful, true-to-life story about two elementary-school-aged brothers helping their mother and father make maple syrup on a modern homestead. The story is simple and warm, and the illustrations of sugaring are bright and clean. Especially precious are the inset depictions of what woodland wildlife is up to in sugaring season.
For the very youngest readers, there is Sugar White Snow and Evergreens by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky (copyright 2014), a tour-by-color of an old fashioned farm during sugaring season illustrated with modern, playful art.
Everyone will love At Grandpa’s Sugar Bush by Margaret Carney and Janet Wilson (copyright 1997), a darling story about a modern backyard maple-syrup making operation run by a young boy and his grandfather. Beautiful, impressionistic pictures illustrate this sweetest-of-stories, wherein the grandfather teaches the grandson how to sugar, but also how to pause and appreciate the signs of spring. The country grandchild and grandparent alike will recognize themselves in this book.
The Big Tree by Bruce Hiscock (copyright 1991) is a great one for the budding (pun intended) history buff! This is the story of the life of one special maple tree that is “born” before the American Revolutionary War and reaches maturity in the present day. The illustrations are charming and informative and help the book teach gently about the many uses of a maple tree, important historical events and basic tree biology. A great read.
At last, The Sugaring-Off Party by Jonathan London (copyright 1995) brings us to Quebec, the maple capital of the world! Sprinkled with fun, French phrases (“mon petit chou” is “my little cabbage,” a term of endearment), this is a story of an extended Quebecois family sugaring together in the old days as told by a grandmother to a grandson on the eve of a modern “sugaring-off” party. The wood-block style illustrations are stunningly beautiful and, appropriately, lend a living technicolor to a story about old, but living, traditions.
Finally, our favorite of this collection is Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall (copyright 2000), which depicts a multigenerational country family making syrup on the family farm. The story is timeless—it’s hard to tell whether it takes place in the 1950s or 1990s—but also modern in that its protagonist is a little girl. The illustrations, in a familiar style, capture beautifully the dynamics of this family, as well as the true-to-life, tireless (take it from us) participation of Rosie the Springer Spaniel in every little thing they do!
This was so much fun, we hope to review more books soon! We’ve just picked up a pile appropriate for established readers and have again been pleased by the variety and quality of what we’ve found.
Until then, happy reading and dreaming of sugaring season. Right around the corner!