Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss; illustrated by Marc Simont (1949)

I live in southern California now, so winter is a thing of nostalgia to me now, a memory of Christmas lights twinkling in the snow, sledding and snowball fights, snowmen and the silent sound of snow falling.

Real winter, the kind when the snow is brown, and driving to work becomes a madhouse of scary danger, and slipping on the ice and breaking something is a real possibility, when your nose and toes are frozen all the time, I remember that too, but those memories aren't as fun. The Happy Day is about that kind of winter.  

Winter is beautiful in this book though.  Marc Simont's Caldecott Award winning, monochrome illustrations are stark and lovely.  But the end, with it's one bit of color, a yellow flower growing in the snow, and the bears and mice and squirrels and groundhogs - this groundhog in particular -

even the snails are dancing for joy around it...  Well, people who live through winter, northern people know, The Happy Day is that day when the first flowers burst through the crust and snow, and everyone knows that not only is spring finally here, but winter is almost over.

Ruth Krauss writes prose poetry:

"They stop.  They laugh. 
They laugh.  They dance."

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
There are two kinds of winter:  the nostalgic winter, in which Christmas lights twinkle in the snow and everyone drinks hot chocolate around a fireplace, and real winter, in which snow is yellow and brown, commutes to work are dangerous nightmares, and everyone's  noses and toes freeze off.  The Happy Day perfectly channels the feelings of joy the sufferers of real winter have when the first flowers of spring starts to bloom.  "They stop," Krauss writes in perfect picture book prose poetry.  "They laugh. They laugh.  They dance."  Simont's monochrome winter is stark and lovely, with that one perfect bit of spring color at the end that creates such understandable happiness; he definitely deserved the 1950 Caldecott Honor (which also, interestingly, went to Bartholomew and the Oobleck that year!).  

When I was a little boy, my Grandma fed the squirrels dried ears of corn in the winter.  There was a feeder my Grandpa nailed to the huge old cottonwood tree that grew behind their house.  Whenever my brother (two years younger) and I stayed with my grandparents, we would watch te squirrels.  We each got to name "our" squirrel:  mine was named Charlie, and my brother called his squirrel Monkey.  

This squirrel reminds me of those squirrels - their bright eager eyes and quick movements.

I still love squirrels to this day, especially red squirrels.

Simont's dancing mouse on the title page.

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