Posted by: Erica Gillingham | June 8, 2012

The Impending Summer

Mama, Is It Summer Yet? 

Nikki McClure, New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, pb.978-0-8109-8468-4, £11.99, 2010, 32pp.

Firstly, sorry for the late posting–with the change in the weather (haha), I was taken ill this last week. But, I’m back to health & have been waiting to share this picture book with you for two whole weeks now!

I first came across Nikki McClure’s paper cuts when living in Santa Cruz, CA, a town so in-tune with her images they have become synonymous with each other in my head. When I came across her picture books in a bookstore in London, it was like a breath of fresh air. Then I saw the title, Mama, Is It Summer Yet?, and I laughed: I have asked my partner this basic question–is it summer yet?!--during our last 4 years of British summer!

Hailing from a similarly wet climate, Nikki McClure’s Mama, Is It Summer Yet? (2010) opens with mother and child standing at the window, the trees bare and cut-out snowflakes taped to the glass. While both of them face away from the reader, the single line on the opposite page, “Mama, is it summer yet?”, begins the implied conversation between mother and child that is the accompanying text to McClure’s images. Call and response on alternating double-page spreads, the mother recounts to her “little one” the reasons why it is “not yet” summer. What I love about what McClure does with the mother’s responses is that instead of describing the current season in terms of how it is not summer (i.e. it’s cold, or windy, or January, for goodness sake), the text offers hopeful clues for the change of the seasons until it is undeniably summer once more.

For example, the text accompanying the image of the mother tying up the child’s scarf against the wind reads:

“Not yet, my little one. But the buds are swelling. Soon new leaves will unfold.”

Or, again, above the mother and child sprawled out on a picnic blanket beneath a tree:

“Not yet, my little one. But the trees are blossoming. Soon tiny apples will appear.”

The text moves the story forward, but it really is the images that narrate the passing of time. McClure’s paper cuts are stunning in their expression and simple power, as seen on the cover for example. For each of the child-speaking double pages spreads, the left-hand page is a muted block colour (green, brown, blue, purple, etc) while the mother and child appear on the right-hand page in black and white, preparing to do one task or another. Turn the page for the mother’s response, the image transcends all borders in depicting what season-relevant activity mother and child are up to. On this second double-page spread, the colour from the child’s question page also draws attention to the elements relevant to the mother’s response, e.g. if the question page is yellow than it is the ducklings (plus wells and life jacket) that have been picked out and coloured in yellow. And when it is finally summer? Well, then all the colours appear!

Even the end pages of this picture book are gorgeous: red with “snowflakes” designed out of all the parts of a strawberry plant–berries, blossoms, leaves and stems. Mama, Is It Summer Yet? is fantastic for any child who is curious about the seasons, any family that loves the outdoors, DIY or gardening, and any person who just can’t wait for it to be summer already.

And, whether it is this picture book or another (or a calendar, or a print), if you are unfamiliar with Nikki McClure’s work, do check her out! As her website reads, McClure “creates a bold language that translates the complex poetry of motherhood, nature, and activism into a simple and endearing picture.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

HT Amazon for the photo.

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