Tuesday was another holiday-bundle day. This time we had three books about Groundhog Day – the day when what is essentially an overgrown ground squirrel plays weatherman and lets us know whether Spring will arrive early or late. If the groundhog steps out on a sunny day and sees his shadow, we are in for several more weeks of winter. If he steps out on a cloudy, dreary day and does not see his shadow, Spring is on it’s way. The holiday apparently has its origins with German immigrants who had historically relied upon hedgehogs as their prognosticators of Primavera before arriving in America. However, when they set foot in Pennsylvania they were unable to find any hedgehogs and were consequently forced to rely upon groundhogs (also known as woodchucks) to help them plan for Spring.
“Punxsutawney Phyllis” by Susanna Leonard Hill
is a play on the name of the world’s most famous groundhog: Punxsutawney Phil. In fact, Phyllis is a member of Phil’s family – the current “Phil” being the latest in a long line of Phils over the years. Phyllis has senses that are keenly attuned to the changing of the seasons and she eventually succeeds in convincing her uncle, currently filling the role of Punxsutawney Phil, that she is his one true heir – despite the admonitions of her brother and her cousin that a girl can’t take on the famous role. We particularly liked the “What is Groundhog Day” page at the end of the book which included old English, Scottish, and German sayings about Candlemas Day. In Scotland, for example, the saying was, “If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there’ll be two winters in the year.”
The cutest illustrations of the evening were in the book “It’s Up to You, Griffin!” by Susan T. Pickford. Griffin is a groundhog who is given a special task by Mother Nature. He must rise earlier than all the other hibernating groundhogs to let the other animals in the forest know that Spring is on the way. Griffin is honored to the point of distraction, and frets over the importance of his new role…will he be up to the task? Spoiler alert: he is!…albeit, after a little hiccup where he arises a little too early and is freaked out by his own shadow. When he reemerges several weeks later, however, the time is finally right and Griffin dances through the forest spreading the good news that Spring has arrived.
Our third holiday-themed book this evening was “The Secret of the First One Up” by Iris Hiskey Arno. The secret? That the first groundhog who emerges from hibernation has the honor of letting the other animals in the forest know whether Spring is ready to arrive. Lila the groundhog learns that there is a “secret of the first one up” from her uncle but doesn’t learn the secret itself until she arises first and emerges to a crowd of expectant forest animals. This book has been very popular with our youngest, who has been playfully aware of her own shadow over the past week. One disclaimer, our family has taken the liberty of substituting “magic” for “secret” in our reading. We prefer that interpretation, and it fits better with the fact that we teach keeping surprises, but not secrets in our family.