Ariela Lopez, Contributing Photographer

Children’s author and illustrator Adriana Hernández Bergstrom brought scenes of the southwest to four New Haven families through tumbleweed and tissue paper at her reading of her book “TUMBLE” on Saturday.

The reading was hosted by the New Haven Free Public Library as part of its children’s authors and illustrators series. The series brings in local children’s authors to share their books and host an activity for the library’s youngest attendees. Bergstrom’s event featured an arts and crafts project, where the children created southwest landscapes out of tissue paper, inspired by those depicted in “TUMBLE.” The audience also played a matching game, checking boxes on a prepared sheet of animals corresponding to the wildlife illustrated in the book. The event concluded with a second reading: Bergstrom shared her bilingual book “Countdown to Nochebuena,” which brought to life the foods, customs and cheer of a Cuban family’s Christmas Eve.

The children in attendance — including Bergstrom’s own son, Finn Bergstrom — ranged from nine months old to elementary school age. Bergstrom explained that “TUMBLE” is marketed for the zero-to-five age group because of its relatively short text, a decision that Bergstrom’s agent initially had doubts about.

“It’s nonfiction, it’s science, and you don’t typically get into STEM until they’re older,” Bergstrom said. “She was worried that it wasn’t going to find its audience. But it really struck a chord.”

A second-generation American whose parents were born in Cuba, Bergstrom grew up in Florida, studied theater and worked as a scenic artist, though she always wanted to become a children’s book author and illustrator. Her family moved to New Haven this past summer. 

“TUMBLE,” Bergstrom’s second published picture book, depicts the life cycle of a tumbleweed in a vibrant desert ecosystem. The story is told through short rhyming couplets: “Wind blows, tumble goes. Fence stops, tumble hops.”

Although “TUMBLE” was published this past summer, Bergstrom shared that the concept behind the book traces its roots back to the COVID-19 pandemic, when Finn invited her to a “story duel.” The challenge: each would write a story based on the word “tumble.”

“Mine was about a guy who kept tumbling in space,” Finn said, describing his story. “And a bunch of people died.”

For Bergstrom, the word instead evoked tumbleweed, a plant abundant throughout the southwestern United States, including Texas. The state is home to Bergstrom’s in-laws, the “southwest family” she thanks in the book’s dedication. Bergstrom brought a live tumbleweed to the reading, which the attendees were allowed to touch.

Bergstrom described how the concept of “TUMBLE” first came to her as an image. She said that the book was the first for which she created the drawings before writing the text.

Bergstrom saw the image of the “lonely tumbleweed” as representing the cyclicality of nature. The theme of cyclicality reflected Bergstrom’s experience during the pandemic, when she was quarantined with her stepfather who was in home hospice care.

“I think that was on my mind when I was thinking about this tumbleweed, which is essentially a seed-dispersing husk,” she said. “But it still has life in it, it’s still spreading life, even though it’s gone.”

“TUMBLE” is different from much contemporary children’s literature, and from Bergstrom’s previous work, because of its focus on science and the environment instead of a particular personified character. Although some of Bergstrom’s writing peers had suggested that she make the titular tumbleweed a character, Bergstrom found it important for it not to be anthropomorphic.

Bergstrom said that she reached out to the library about scheduling a reading before she arrived in New Haven.

“I knew that I was coming to this area, so I started writing to various librarians,” she said. “If I’m traveling to a city for whatever, I usually contact the librarians in the area to see if I can work something out. I put myself forward for everything. Otherwise, nobody will find you.”

Lucy Cochran, who works in the children’s section of the library, said that the library began the children’s author readings series about a year and a half ago. The readings are publicized to the library’s members through a digital calendar sent out via email. Turnout can vary based on the author’s popularity, the weather and what other events are happening in New Haven.

Cochran emphasized the importance of the author events for young readers.

“It’s beneficial for them to see themselves reflected sometimes in the author or in the story and other times to learn about something new, something different,” she said.

The Ives Main Library of the New Haven Free Public Library is located at 133 Elm St.