I am extraordinarily lucky in that I have a group of wee ones who join me for storytime most weeks. They’re little — age three and under, with several babies in the mix — so we don’t tell long stories or read great doorstopper books. But with picture books, some of the best ones are pretty spare in terms of words.
I have a new favorite — new to the world, even — that I want to share widely. The BIG Umbrella written and illustrated by Amy June Bates, co-written with Juniper Bates. (A mother-daughter pair, the daughter being quite young, which is its own loveliness.) This book is an antidote for our ugly, contentious times. It is a story of inclusion and gladness — an “All are welcome, please come!” invitation leaps off its pages.
By the front door…
there is an umbrella.
It is BIG.
It is a big friendly umbrella.
There’s a page turn with each of those lines — the better to show off the wonderful art. The bright red umbrella catches even the youngest’s eyes.
The umbrella features a smiling face. The eyes are smiling, too. I think it’s the first anthropomorphic umbrella I’ve seen, now that I think about it. The umbrella is being taken out and about by a child in a yellow rain slicker. We are told — and see — that this big friendly umbrella likes to help, likes to spread its arms wide, “lives” to shelter those who need shelter.
In the next several page turns, the big umbrella takes in one friend after another — a blue jacketed child first…then a tutu-clad dancer…and a red sneakered sports star.
And that is only the beginning of who the big red umbrella shelters. We learn it can take in the tallest among us (giant bird feet appear and are cut-off at the top of the page before we’re to the knee) as well as the hairiest (a benevolent hairy beast.) It takes in those clad in plaid and those with four legs. The umbrella just keeps getting bigger as they all crowd under it together.
Towards the end of the book there is a gentle reminder that although some worry there won’t be enough room, there always is.
I almost cried when I read it. But I was saved by the smiles around the circle — those wee ones got it! They can’t pronounce umbrella, many of them, but sitting in a crowded space on their parents’ laps, with their young friends…they got it. There’s always room.