And Now, We Wait

January 16, 2020 § 4 Comments

Happy New Year! Has anyone else noticed that the New Year always brings a mounting, restless anticipation about things to come? Maybe it’s because January is so much slower-paced than December (thank goodness); our minds naturally begin to leap ahead, craving that next fun event, that next milestone, even when we know we’d do better to slow down and allow ourselves to sink into the calm (dark mornings and grey afternoons included).

In any case, we’ve been doing our fair share of waiting lately. Waiting for snow days. Waiting to get braces off. Waiting for renovations to begin on our house. Waiting for our trip to Disney. Waiting for long summer days. And I’m feeling it as much as my kids. Waiting is hard.

Fortunately, we don’t have to wait any longer for Almost Time (Ages 4-7), a new picture book by Gary D. Schmidt and his late wife, Elizabeth Stickney (pseudonym), with art by G. Brian Karas. I don’t think the sensation of waiting has ever been so astutely served up for young children as in this sweet winter story about a boy eagerly anticipating, not one, but two exciting events.

For young Ethan, who lives with his father among a grove of maple trees, time in winter is marked by breakfast foods—specifically, by the increasing scarcity of a certain sweet additive he puts on his pancakes and stirs into his oatmeal. “When Ethan had to eat his pancakes with applesauce instead of maple syrup one Sunday morning, he knew it was almost sugaring time.”

That night, Ethan looks out into the snow-covered landscape and asks his father, “Is the sap running yet?” “Not until the days get warmer,” Dad tells him. As Ethan goes about his daily activities—sledding, helping his father with chores, going to school—he strains for any sign the season is changing. If he doesn’t don his hat and mittens, is that a sign the days are getting warmer? Nope, he’s still cold. If he tricks himself into seeing a sliver of daylight coming through his bedroom window, does that mean the days are getting longer? Nah, it’s still too dark to find his teddy bear without turning on a light.

What Ethan is learning is something we grown-ups know all too well: you can’t rush Mother Nature. And the pacing of the story reflects that. Another day, another breakfast, another sled run, another night by the light of the lamp. Karas’ quiet, evocative drawings perfectly capture the long shadows of winter, the frost on the windows, the bite in the air.

Partway through the story, Ethan begins anticipating a second event, one also tied to natural processes: the loss of a tooth. When his father inspects Ethan’s newly wiggly tooth, he tells him he’ll have to wait “about the same time it takes the sap to start running.” “Now Ethan had two things to wait for,” we are told, and we watch as Ethan continues to go through his days—breakfasting, sledding, carrying wood, eating lunch at school—only now frequently pausing to wiggle his tooth.

And then, one day at school, the tooth comes out! No text is needed: the joy on Ethan’s face and the tooth in his hand says it all.

Furthermore, when Ethan races off the school bus, Dad has a surprise of his own. The sap is flowing!

Ethan, we begin to realize, doesn’t just relish sugaring time for the delicious maple syrup it produces: the partnership it inspires between father and son is just as sweet. In two sequential spreads, we get glimpses of the process of hauling buckets of sap from trees, boiling it in flat pans over an open fire, and then bottling the thick, smooth, sugary syrup. Father and son work side by side, sneaking smiling glances at one another, giving thumbs up. (For children looking for step-by-step information about how maple syrup is made, don’t miss the new informative comics-style picture book, Bear Goes Sugaring.)

Come Sunday, when the sun comes up just a little earlier, while the robins walk through melting snow, “Ethan poured sweet maple syrup on his pancakes.” His look once again says everything: the best things in life are worth the wait.

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Review copy from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All opinions are my own. affiliate links are above, although I prefer that we all shop local when we can!

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