Books from the Past: The Story of May


The Story of May by Mordicai Gerstein was published by Harper Collins in 1993 for children ages 4-8. Mr. Gerstein has one a number of honors and awards for his work, including the New York Times “one of the ten best illustrated books of the year” for Wild Boy (1998), Victor (1998), Mountains of Tibet (1987), and Arnold of Ducks (1983). He won the Caldecott for The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (2004). Gerstein’s enchanting illustrations have gained significant critical acclaim and captured my attention as a child when I would beg my mother to read me The Story of May one more time.

On the first page, a beautiful spring dawn is emerging over the rolling green hills. Gerstein titles most of the pages with names of the months, so we begin with “April and May.” The month of April is the mother, who wakes up her daughter, the month of May, so she could teach “May how to scatter wildflowers, how to welcome returning birds, and how to make cherry and apple buds swell and blossom.” But May wanders too far and ends up meeting her Aunt June. Through their conversation, May learns that her father lives at the other end of the year and decides that she wants to visit him.
On her journey, May interacts with her diverse family, with each character portraying attributes of their particular season. June wears a green sundress and nibbles from her abundant garden. Uncle July sings in his overalls and devours watermelon. Grandpa August sails in his rainbow sailboat. Aunt September is surrounded by sunflowers, butterflies, and squash. Uncle October wears a suit of leaves, picks apples, and carves pumpkins. Grandma November serves cider in her cozy living room.

In a snowy white wonderland, May finally meets her father, December. He tells May about him and her mother, stating: “We had terrible fights; ice storms and sun showers. The other months were in a state of nervous confusion. Finally, the family decided we should all settle into some sensible order, and your mother and I were put at opposite ends of the year. And you are our daughter, the loveliest month of all.” One of the great strengthens of this book is to demonstrate the different sizes and structures that each unique family has.

When May decides that she misses spring, she continues her journey back home. Uncle January skis her down the slopes to her ice-skating Aunt February, who has a perpetual cold and gives Valentines to everyone. Cousin March swoops in on his kite to carry May back to her mother, April.

The last page has a similar image to the beginning, where May is sleeping beneath the trees with green hills in the background. The book concludes by stating that occasionally December visits May, which is why it is sometimes cold in spring, “But most of the time, the months stay where they belong. And because the earth is round and always turning, we visit each of the months every year, year after year, the way one does with family, or dear old friends.”

This is a beautiful ending to a book about seasons, time, love, and family. After you read it, you won’t be able to think of months without thinking of Gerstein’s illustrations and little May’s journey to discover her family.




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