Tag Archives: mary lyn ray

mary lyn ray’s picture book life

Mary Lyn Ray. Picture book author. Conservationist. Huge inspiration.

Ray’s books are special to me. And I doubt I’m alone in that. They’re special period. Lyrical, lovely, connected to the earth and community.

I consider her the Barbara Kingsolver of children’s literature. Wendell Berry comes to mind too.

Many well-known picture book creators are author/illustrators, for good reason. So when an author on her own is well-known, someone illustrators want to partner with, that’s a big deal. It means they know how to do it just right.




Pumpkins: A Story for a Field illustrated by Barry Root (1996).

A man, a field to save, and magic. With pumpkins, of course. It has all the ingredients of a modern day fairy tale.

(I posted about Pumpkins last fall with my staple pumpkin muffin recipe that I really need to make again.)





Go to Sleep, Little Farm, with art by Christopher Silas Neal (2014).

In which everyone prepares for sleep in their own way.







CHRISTMAS_FARM_BOOKChristmas Farm, also illustrated by Barry Root (2008).

A woman and a five year old neighbor start growing trees. Five years later, the trees are ready to spread good cheer. And so are they.


Stars, illustrated by Marla Frazee (2011).

A poem that thinks like a kid. It’s perfect. Stars in the sky, in your pocket, on the calendar to mark a special day. Stars. Are and Is. Beautiful.







Welcome Brown Bird, illustrated by Peter Sylvada (2004).

Leave it to Mary Lyn Ray to write a book about the migration of birds that is poetic and moving enough to make you cry. (Me cry, anyway!) Two boys in different parts of the world both listen to the same brown bird singing in different places, at different times of year. Both are connected to that bird even though they will never know each other. Goosebumps.



Mud, illustrated by Lauren Stringer (1996).

Celebrates all things spring, especially squishy brown mud to play in.


DEER_DANCER_PICTUREBOOKDeer Dancer, also illustrated by Lauren Stringer (2014).

A young dancer is told to hold her head like she wears antlers. To listen with her cheekbones. Then she meets a deer who shows her how. These two make a beautiful dancing pair out in the green grass, in stillness and leaps and circles.






Mary Lyn Ray’s wonderful books touch on  seasons, nature, and animals. And using those elements, each of her stories hits home.



9 picture books from the 90s


This is my latest installment of picture books by the decade. How great was the 90s for picture books? Seriously great. At least I think so. (Notice I’ve used bubble writing for the years in each picture!)


Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran, illustrated by Barbara Cooney was on my PBs for summer list as well because it’s quintessentially summer and captures the magic of childhood at the same time. Ah, this book. A favorite. A classic. Perfection.


The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg is dark and clever and deals with (this is Chris Van Allsburg!) magic. A woman, a witch, a broom, what the neighbors think, and the meaning of evil.

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Pumpkins: A Story for a Field by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Barry Root. I’ve sung this one’s praises here before too. But really it just blows me away. Early Mary Lyn Ray is so so good. (As is later and current!)




Grandfather’s Journey by Allen Say is a dear to my heart book about immigration, family, and having two homes. It’s one of the first picture books I loved as an adult.


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The Library by Sarah Stewart, pictures by David Small is a tribute to books and libraries and this lovable nose-in-a-book-character, Elizabeth Brown, who embodies both.



A Special Kind of Love by Stephen Michael King is quite an unusual book. It’s about a father who can’t say the words, “I love you,” to his son, so he shows him through the stuff he makes with his hands.




Night Driving by John Coy, illustrated by Peter McCarthy is another father/son book. It’s slow and quiet like a road trip and full of details for soaking up.



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A Picture Book of Amelia Earhart by David A. Adler, illustrated by Jeff Fisher. I do love a heroic  historical lady biography.



Weslandia by Paul Fleischman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes is one of my favorite books, period. Wesley is a bullied boy. He’s also an ingenious one. Over summer vacation, he turns his backyard into a veritable civilization by growing one staple crop. It’s strange and brilliant and empowering.



Looking at this list of my faves from the 90s, I’m not sure what conclusions to draw exactly. But I would note the magical realism threaded through this list. Relationships with family members figure into this bunch too, as well as relationships to special places.

Okay, your turn! Please tell me any of your favorite 90s picture books in the comments!

And check out 8 picture books from the 80s too!






pumpkins + jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin muffins




Pumpkins: A Story For a Field by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Barry Root.

You may know Mary Lyn Ray’s work from the marvelous book, Stars. I first fell for Pumpkins. It was published in 1996,  but new to me two or three years ago. It’s about an old man, so that’ll get me every time. And it manages to tie together the most rooted, earthy stuff with the most magical.



Here’s the story. A field next door to the old man’s house is for sale. He knows that’ll mean development. He loves the field. So he sells everything he owns to buy it. But it’s still not enough money. Here’s where the pumpkins come in: he decides to grow them and sell them to pay for the field.


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And here’s where the magic comes in: he sends the pumpkins all over the world. (The process is where imagination takes over.) People everywhere discover jack-o-lanterns and pumpkin pie and the wonder of these orange gourds. This book is very like a fairy tale. A man saves something he loves by fairly impossible means. He loves a field that he can look at.



So in the spirit of pumpkin season, I give you two things.

1.) My new favorite vegan pumpkin muffin recipe. Can’t you just smell the pumpkin spice through the picture? I can. I’m drooling a little.


 I adapted these from this oatmeal pumpkin bread at Lunch Box Bunch. Delicious! You can follow the recipe over there except the batter goes in a muffin pan and cooks more like 30-40 minutes. I also made the following substitutions:

oat flour (vs. homemade)

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (vs. combination)

rice milk (vs. almond)

and I opted for agave syrup as sweetener and lemon zest and skipped the topping. The results were scrumptious. So much so that think I’ll make these again this weekend.


2.) A jack-o-lantern! This year, my guy and I made one with a sugar skull design. It’s kind of a Halloween/Dia de Los Meurtos two in one. And while it may be a skull,  it has hearts for eyes! Here it is looking sweet.



And here it is looking scary-cool!

sugarskulljackolanternDo you have a favorite pumpkiny recipe? Do share!

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