As I write this, it is snowing outside, and the world is covered in ice. It seems like a perfect time to think about Joyce Sidman’s Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold, illustrated by Rick Allen.
Winter Bees is comprised of twelve poems exploring the flora and fauna of a winter setting. Sidman pairs each poem with a short informational paragraph giving some facts about the different poetical subjects.
After a table of contents, Winter Bees opens with “Dream of the Tundra Swan,” in which a flock of swans dream of flight as snow falls around them. Sidman uses beautiful descriptive language to set the scene. She writes of the “ice-blue sky,” “the sun’s pale wafer” and “the crisp drink of clouds.” This gives me the feeling of a brisk winter morning with the sun poking its way through the gray sky.
This collection features different forms of poetry, but not too disparate a range as to make it uneven. There are poems with traditional rhyme schemes, like “Big Brown Moose” (which I’ve read with my toddler storytime). Some, like “Snake’s Lullaby” are composed of rhyming couplets. Sidman also offers readers and listeners a pantoum with “Under Ice”, featuring quatrains with oft repeated lines (“in the under-ice world.”).
Each poem is laid out on the page in marriage with its accompanying illustration by Rick Allen, which feature beautiful winter scenes and a recurring fox character. The text works with the imagery to create a pleasing sight. In the case of “Vole in Winter,” the image is integral in setting the text and helping to tell the story, as the vole sights the fox and starts to run.
Winter Bees is arranged in a lose chronological order beginning with the falling snow in “Dream of the Tundra Swan” and ending with the blooms of skunk cabbage peeking through the white covered ground in “Triolet for Skunk Cabbage.” This progression through the winter season gives the collection a nice flow. Allen’s illustrations add to the quiet, but bright feeling, with a palette of white with bursts of orange and yellow.
Backmatter includes a glossary of scientific terms used throughout the book.
One poem that jumped out at me was “Brother Raven, Sister Wolf,” which describes the give and take relationship between the two trackers and hunters. The poem is presented as a succession of statements, first from the wolf, then the raven, of what they see and think of each other.
“You are Squawker, Croaker,
You are Slinker, Shadow,
The concept of unusual or unlikely animal partnerships is one I’ve always found to grab the attention of my patrons, so it would be interesting to take different pairs of symbiotic animals, such as the crocodile and the plover, and come up with a few lines that they may speak to each other about their partnership.
Sidman, Joyce. Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold. Illustrated by Rick Allen. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. ISBN: 9780547906508