Guess and Win

I’ve always loved the Farmer’s Almanac and its old saws, especially those which make predictions or suggest the timing of things to be done based on observations of natural phenomena.  There is the classic about wooly bear caterpillars predicting the severity of the coming winter by their markings (alas, debunked by the National Weather Service), and I keep an eye on my dogwood tree every spring to watch for blossoms, which supposedly tell when the crappie are spawning in nearby lakes.  Dandelions in all three phases at once (bud, flower, and seed) mean it’s time to go hunting for morels (which, to be honest, I almost never find, since they are so much more scarce than the dandelions are in my yard).    

When my kids were little we kept an eye on little seasonal markers like these and made a game out of making predictions.  There are so many seasonal children’s books it can sometimes be a daunting task to find a new favorite, so here I offer a pairing of one great book for each season, along with a common phenomenon that can be easily observed and predicted. 


Every year, Baltimore orioles migrate from their wintering grounds in Central America to their breeding territory in the midwestern and northeastern U.S.  Luckily, Kansas is a favorite for these beautiful, bright orange birds.  You may see them around your house anyway, but a simple trick to attract them is to set out sliced oranges and grape jelly.  Tradition holds this should be done around April 15th, although they generally showed up around the first week of May during the years we held our household contest to guess the exact date of the first oriole sighting. 

A great children’s book to go along with this activity is Look Up: Bird Watching in Your Own Backyard, by Annette Cate.  It’s a general how-to and field guide, written in a warm, comical tone by a cartoonist whose illustrations manage to remain scientifically accurate and funny at the same time.

Look Up!             


When I heard a Kansas-born friend of mine bemoan the lack of fireflies where he now lives in California, I realized how magical they really are.  During their mating season, airborne males light up to woo females lingering down low in the grass.  Pick a date in early June and you may see the first backyard light show of the year.     

What exactly is going on here, and where are they during the other 10 months of the year when we don’t see their lights?  Read all about it in Among a Thousand Fireflies, by Helen Frost.  Rick Lieder’s amazing close-up photographs of fireflies in action, which illustrate the book, call to mind the BBC’s Planet Earth in their dreamlike clarity.

Among A Thousand Fireflies

Planet Earth III


I have a bad habit of talking about trees, and the presence of gingkos doesn’t help.  They are the arboreal version of a living dinosaur, the last of their kind.  No other tree has leaves shaped like a gingko’s, and every year they do a wondrous autumnal speed run when they all fall off at once.  Guess the date and you can take a sunset stroll across a carpet of brilliant yellow below the gingko of your choice (my favorite is the huge one across the street from the library, in Watson Park, just north of the swimming pool playground). 

There aren’t many children’s books about ginkgos, but there is one great one, Golden Threads, by Suzanne del Rizzo, with illustrations by Miki Sato.  This fable-like story tells the tale of a girl who lives on the shore of a lake beneath a giant ginkgo.  When her stuffed fox is lost in a storm, it is found by on the other side of the lake by a girl who mends it, then follows a trail of gingko leaves across the water a year later to reunite the fox with its beloved.



I still try to get a game of “Guess the First Snow” going every year (must be a full inch to qualify).  The kids will even play this one with me, too, although I suspect they just enjoy dreaming of snow days out of school.

First Snow, by South Korean author/illustrator Bomi Park, is the obvious choice here, and not just for its title, since it might be the closest anyone has come to matching the magic and mystery of the ultimate winter picture book, Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy DayFirst Snow follows the same story arc (is there any other on the first snowy day of the year?).  A child awakens, realizes it’s snowing, gears up, and heads outside.  Snow does the rest of the work. 

First Snow

The Snowy Day

-Dan Coleman is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.  

Photo by Marija Gajik, (Creative Commons license: CC BY-SA 4.0).