Quill and Quire

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Red Sky at Night

by Elly MacKay

A curated collection of old-timey weather sayings is artfully brought to life in this exquisite informational picture book.

Traditional aphorisms – including “Ring around the moon, rain will come soon” and “When ladybugs swarm, expect a day that’s warm” – provide the framework for the family narrative that plays out in Elly MacKay’s cut-paper dioramas. Looking through the kitchen window at dusk, a grandfather points out the ruby red sky to his grandchildren and deduces conditions are perfect for a fishing trip the next day.

At the crack of dawn, with rods and reels in hand, the crew sets sail in a little crimson boat, aptly christened Cloud Nine. After spending a fine day angling and swimming, they pitch a tent and camp overnight, all the while heeding nature’s forecast. When the family starts to notice harbingers of change – a strong easterly wind, seagulls heading to land, and towering dark clouds – they make their way home. By the time the big storm hits, people and pets are safe and snug indoors.

The barometric pressure can be sensed in MacKay’s luminous miniature theatres. “No weather is ill if the wind be still” provides inspiration for a crystal-clear, three-dimensional view of dragonflies languidly hovering over lily pads, while fish glide below the calm waters. When conditions take a turn for the worse and “the mountain roars,” delicate tissue-paper trees bend and sway beside a menacing lion-faced cloud.

The catchy adages have an easygoing rhyme that rolls off the tongue, and the Old Farmer’s Almanac imagery ranges from whimsical to dramatic. These wise mini–folk tales are also grounded in science, and the final pages offer meteorological explanations for all 23 sayings, with an indication of whether they are valid or bunk.