A Picture Book of the Week (PBOW) Feature

Flora’s Very Windy Day
Jeanne Birdsall, author
Matt Phelan, illustrator
Clarion, 2010

I’m a fan of Jeanne Birdsall’s Penderwick books, and I’ve also enjoyed what I’ve seen of Matt Phelan’s work (in fact, I recommended his Around the World graphic novel for one of our Redeemed Reader 2013 Summer Reading Read-Along titles). When I noticed this book in Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago, I immediately pulled it down to read it. My first thought was, “Why haven’t I heard about this book? It’s lovely!” (And I’ve since checked it out from the library for more rereads.)

Sometimes you just need a “charming” picture book–not one that’s breaking the mold, shaking things up, being a touch obscure in the name of “art.” You want a good read that’s enhanced by great illustrations. That’s what this book delivers. Let’s unpack it a bit.

Cover/Endpapers: Everything about this cover says “Fall” and “Windy.” Kids are flying through the air, trees are sporting their autumn colors, the kids are wearing coats, the author’s and illustrator’s names are curved. Even the title font choice is “windy” in feel. If you’re perceptive, you’ll notice that these two children are probably brother and sister since the girl is bigger than the boy–and also that this story is about the girl since she’s front and center. And you’d be right. Endpapers are purple and plain. Why purple? Did you notice those boots on the boy? Purple does play subtly into the story. Nice choice, book designers!

Opening Pages: The action starts immediately: windy tree on title page, two children starting to have an argument on the next pages–we’re prepped for the angry emotion we see right away on that first page of the text. Flora is MAD. And we already know why!

Illustrations/Composition: These are just marvelous. Some pages have lots of white space with sequential action nicely shown (Flora struggling into her boots, her brother being blown away). Some pages feature full page illustrations with enough white space left for text (such as when the mother is present). Other pages are double spreads that take up the entire page (Flora sailing up to her brother, the various conversations Flora has with the different elements). You might note that the double spreads are all during the windy “sky” times, while the other types are firmly grounded on earth. The bookends to the sky journey are the spreads featuring those red boots up close (and empty!). These are the types of decisions that set the better picture books apart. There’s a lot of intentionality in them. I could go on about palette, facial expressions, perspective–but I won’t. Just don’t miss that final text-free page!

Text: Birdsall writes beautifully here. No talking down, no overuse of clever phrases or words in general, no analyzing. Just a great story in a childlike voice. Flora is mad at her brother and doesn’t want to have him tagging along; she wishes she were somewhere else. The wind scoops up her brother (she follows), and then various elements (rainbows, eagle, moon, and more) ask if her brother can stay with them. Flora realizes in the end that she loves her brother after all. Aww… see? But it’s not saccharine in the least.

This book should be in your local library as well as in your local bookstore. Enjoy!

If you’ve read this book, what did you think? Do you like it? No? Why?

Next PBOW Feature: Moonday by Adam Rex (finally!)