A child plays, turning a stick into a magic wand, a sword, a baton or a microphone. In Jackie Azúa Kramer’s poetic picture book, The Green Umbrella (North South, 2017), illustrated with luminous enchantment by Maral Sassouni, animals stake their claims (in eloquent soliloquies) to Elephant’s umbrella. To Hedgehog it’s a sorely missed boat, to Cat— a tent, to Bear— a flying machine, and Rabbit thinks it’s his missing walking cane. As Elephant explains to each one why he is certain they are all mistaken, rain ceases and the sun comes out. They share a picnic in the shade of the green umbrella, which, like “the great green room” in Margery Wise Brown’s classic Goodnight, Moon, encompasses all. The umbrella is now a home for promising friendships and a launching pad for further adventures.
Searching for comparable picture books that combine the themes of loss, sharing and perception, I found the closest match in Who Took the Farmer’s Hat? by Joan L. Nodset, illustrated by Fritz Siebel (Harper & Row, 1963). A farmer loses his beloved, old brown hat to the wind. Searching for it, “The farmer ran fast, but the wind went faster.” Animals he meets as he searches have all seen his hat, but have taken it for something else. Squirrel thought it was a brown bird. Mouse saw a mouse hole in the grass. Fly saw a hill in a tree, Goat— a flowerpot, Duck— a boat, Bird— a nest. The farmer climbs up to the nest and finds an egg in his hat. Loath to disturb it, he tells bird that although it “looks a little like my old brown hat,” he can see it is a nest, after all. He buys himself a new brown hat that looks very much like the old one that (in the final spread) is now filled with baby birds.
In both of these delightful books, sharing is the reward, a message that seems to me more vital than ever now. The late, lamented author, Amy Krouse Rosenthal, dealt with this theme of the rewards of loss in Chopsticks (Disney-Hyperion, 2012), wittily illustrated by Scott Magoon. An inseparable pair of chopsticks (“practically attached at the hip”) must learn to go it alone when one is injured. Exploring new possibilities (playing pick up sticks, pole vaulting, etc.) a solo chopstick expands his repertoire. Reunited, the sticks discover great new ways to repurpose themselves. The book ends with a rousing piano finale. Chopsticks, of course.
Pablo Neruda wrote his poems in green ink, “the color of hope.” Walt Whitman asked, “What is the grass?” and answered with poetic speculations. In my poetry workshop, Ways of Sensing (inspired by Whitman and the Wallace Stevens poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird), a third grader gave an answer that Whitman had not considered: Grass is a green thread, sewing the Earth. These three picture books about perception highlight, in varied colors, ways that loss can strengthen bonds, stitching us all together.