“Mud, Sand, and Snow” by Charlotte Agell. Islandport Press. Board book, 24 pages. $10.95

Cover courtesy of Islandport Press

Brunswick author/illustrator Charlotte Agell’s “Mud, Sand, and Snow” is a celebration of the senses as well as the four seasons. The rhymes rollick. Whether intentionally or not, Agell has composed the text as four limericks:

Wind spins us round in the fall

Our pumpkin’s the biggest of all

Leaves whoosh in the door

As we broom dance the floor

Before supper the crows start to call.

Agell’s illustrations rollick as much as the prose. They invite kids to see, smell, touch, listen to and explore the exciting, changing natural world, depicted in Agell’s trademark bright Scandinavian colors, by swirling and swinging, spinning, dancing, flying and singing along with the main character. This is an active, joyful and sturdy board book that should accompany many outdoor adventures, whatever the season.

“Maybe Tomorrow?” by Charlotte Agell. Illustrator: Ana Ramirez Gonzalez. Scholastic. Ages: 4-8, 40 pages. $17.99

Cover courtesy of Scholastic

In a striking contrast to her usual upbeat stories, Charlotte Agell’s newest picture book “Maybe Tomorrow?” (written but – unusually — not illustrated by her) is a poignant and honest depiction of the pain of loss and the power of friendship to ease that pain. Aided by illustrations that subtly depict changing facial expressions, the story is presented in a way that a child of any age can deeply and instinctively comprehend.

This book is not about an actual loss – no one dies or leaves. Instead, it is about coping with loss, accepting it without letting it overpower you. Agell has found the perfect symbol for all this: a heavy block that Elba, a pink hippo, has been dragging behind her for a long time, wherever she goes. When she meets Norris, an alligator surrounded by butterflies who is so happy he blinds her with his “shininess,” she resists his efforts to get her to play. “I don’t go on picnics,” she explains. Instead she wants to “sit here with my block.” “Maybe tomorrow,” Norris suggests.

Gradually Elba gives in to him – not because he pushes her, but just the opposite. Because he’s patient. And he helps her. They have tea, in the rain. Finally, to her own surprise, she agrees to a picnic at the seaside. Norris and his butterflies help carry the block. On the way she admits she misses Little Bird. Norris says he does, too. When Elba points out that he didn’t know Little Bird, he says “No, but you are my friend and I can help you miss her.”

With each encounter, Elba’s block grows smaller and lighter.

Here, in this tiny package (under 500 words), is the complete recipe for helping someone understand and cope with loss: Kindness, patience, willingness to listen and empathy. This is an amazing achievement for a picture book. Kudos to Agell and Gonzalez for bringing such a complex concept so vividly to life.

Amy MacDonald is a children’s author and freelance writer. She lives in Falmouth and can be contacted at [email protected]

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