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Dustin Gibson
Autumn and The Forest Guardians

Autumn wakes up in a forest and a new squirrel friend tells her about how she is a forest guardian and must take care of the forest. Her new squirrel friend also warns her not to go the edge of the forest as there is evil there. One day without realizing it Autumn wanders to the edge of the forest and finds that her forest is rotting away. She sets off on a quest to try and stop it and meets other forest guardians along the way. In helping them with their forest problems she eventually comes to understand that the rot taking over her forest is not evil at all. It's inevitable and on the other side is beauty unimaginable.

Alive with themes of rebirth and transformation, Gibson’s elegiac picture book offers a fresh, moving take on the season cycle. A young girl, Autumn, wakes up on a forest floor, the golden-leafed woods around her in sync with her name. Ellie, a chatty squirrel, fills Autumn in: She’s now a Guardian of one of the four forests, charged with taking care of it and its inhabitants. Ellie warns her not to wander to the forest’s edge, where some kind of evil lurks. Soon, though, after reveling in the beauty of fall and befriending a host of woodland creatures, Ellie gets lost and finds herself passing through the other three forests and meeting their guardians, diverse young women named Summer, Spring, and Winter.

The other forests vary from Autumn’s, of course, with Spring’s teeming with flowers and Winter’s laid over with snow. But the Guardians share a common trait: each grieves and fears the changes coming to her forest as time passes and the season she’s named for ends. Autumn senses that each Guardian is experiencing a cycle rather than an ending. “Your flowers are not dying!” she tells Spring. “They are being reborn!” Still, Autumn fears “the Rot” that has started to overtake her patch of woods, but the lesson about cycles of rebirth is made explicit in a dream by a wise woman of the forest: “These ‘Rots’ have a role: to clear the way for change.”

Autumn and the Forest Guardians invites young readers to perceive of seasonal change through a memorable, intuitive metaphorical framework that celebrates continual transformation. Nisa Tomak’s engaging illustrations capture the annual transformation of a forest, with detail worth poring over, colors that evoke each season’s feeling, and an emphasis on the smallness of humans in the face of nature. Gibson’s prose at times gets a touch wordy, with some text pages as dense as the illustrations are spare, but overall the book is a wise, rousing treat for budding nature lovers.

Takeaway: This inviting picture book offers young readers a wise new way to think about seasonal change.

Great for fans of: Kenard Pak’s Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn, Patricia MacLachlan’s My Friend Earth.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: B+
Illustrations: A
Editing: B+
Marketing copy: A