Monday, February 16, 2015

Class Post - "Winter Bees & Other Poems of the Cold"

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Class Post - "Mammalabilia"

My first thought after finishing Douglas Florian’s Mammalabilia was that I wanted it to go on and on.  I wanted Florian’s take on the entire animal kingdom.  In twenty-one poems covering different mammals ranging from the tiger and the giraffe to the rhebok and the ibex, Mammalabilia offers short, sparkling poems in Florian’s signature whimsical style.

This collection begins with a table of contents, listing the animals to be explored.  Because of the nature of the poems, readers could choose to read from start to finish, or pick and choose those animals in which they are most interested.

Mammalabilia opens, appropriately, with “The Aardvarks,” a four-line poem with an ABCB rhyme scheme wherein Florian plays with the unusually spelling of the title animal by rhyming “staark” with “daark.”  While this non-customary spelling might throw off emerging readers, it is the perfect way to open this collection.  Using a traditional form, Florian sneaks in a little silliness, exposing readers both to a recognizable form of poetry, and something new.

Each poem is presented opposite one of Florian’s gouache paintings.  Often these paintings make for a nice addition, but in the case of “The Zebras,” the painting is vital to understanding the poem (in which the speaker asks “How many zebras/ Do you see?”).   Other poems, like “The Coyote,” “The Bactrian Camel” and “The Lemurs” ,play with shape, twisting and turning on the white page.  

I find this collection of Florian’s poetry to be very appealing.  I tend to favor humor, especially as an introduction, because I feel it is something to which all readers and listeners can relate.  Humor, I believe, is a great humor leveler.  Florian’s poems are neatly packaged jokes, perfect for sharing bit by bit.  Florian hits the animal highlights (the giraffe, the elephant) and also gives readers and listeners a glimpse at animals with which they might be less familiar, such as the tapir.  

One of my favorite poems (and paintings) in the collection is “The Fox.”

A fox composed this poem,
Not I.”

There are so many opportunities to teach and have fun with this short poem.  Florian utilizes alliteration, rhyme and first-person address, the joke being that a fox wrote his own self-serving poem, and possibly convinced the speaker to relay it.  Discussions could be very interesting if one wanted to unpack the layers of narrative here, but I think it would be fun to use this premise to write poems for other animals.  Why might a skunk say about himself, for example, as opposed to what the poet might say?  One could even take the exercise outside of the animal kingdom.  What would a cuckoo clock want to be said about it?

Florian, Douglas.  Mammalabilia.  San Diego: Harcourt, 2000. ISBN:9780152021672

Class Post - "Water Rolls, Water Rises"

Water is life.  The Earth is covered in water.  We are made of water.  Author Pat Mora explores the many environments of water with gentle, evocative verse and beautiful mixed media illustrations by Meilo So in Water Rolls, Water Rises / El agua rueda, el agua sube.

 In a series of three line stanzas, presented first in English, then Spanish, Mora celebrates the beauty of water in many forms and locations around the world.  “Water rises/ into soft fog,/ weaves down the street, strokes an old cat.”  Mora provokes strong imagery with her choice of language.  This stanza brings to mind the opening of Carl Sandburg’s “Fog” which goes, “The fog comes/ on little cat feet.”  Readers familiar with the older poem will feel the recollection and get the imagery of the feline fog.  Newer readers or listeners are given a chance to make the connection between the mild attitude of the fog and the elderly cat.

Another stanza makes good use of alliteration.  “Slow into rivers,/ water slithers and snakes/ through silent canyons at twilight and dawn.”  The repetition of the “s” sound provoke the image of a curling river.  The effect of these temperate stanzas, all of which roll smoothly off the tongue when read aloud, is to inspire feelings of calm and contentment.

While water is the star of Mora’s poem, it takes many forms, which readers and listeners can recognize.  Mora highlights weather such as fog and storms, bodies of water from ocean waves to forest streams and evokes archetypal images so that readers and listeners can easily imagine the world being described as the world that surrounds them.

Paired with Meilo So’s gorgeous illustrations inspired by real-life locations around the world, Mora’s verse suggests a variety of moods and thoughts.  “Down smooth canals,” framed by So’s tulips and corn, brought to my mind the dawn, rising over the water and revealing the windmill in the background.  “In the murmur of marsh wind,/ water slumbers on moss,” give to me a late afternoon breeze, as the sun starts to go down.
Backmatter, also presented bilingually, includes an author’s note from Mora detailing her inspirations, and a tour through the book’s illustrations and their real-life counterparts.

While Water Rolls, Water Rises does not take a seasonal structure, it does lend itself to seasonal readings, especially when taken a piece at a time.  One stanza reads:

“Swirling in wisps,
water twists then it twirls,
frosts scattered dry leaves, rubs lonely, bare trees.”

Obviously, this brings to mind the fall, with the fallen leaves and crisp, frosty mornings.  As there are many poetry books available that do present a seasonal structure, I would love to use Water Rolls, Water Rises, in conjunction with other titles (such as Hi, Koo by Jon J. Muth), in forming some seasonal poetry.  I would start with gathering words that evoke a season through the senses.  What do you smell in summer?  What do you feel in winter?  We can collect these words and blend them with seasonal memories.

Mora, Pat.  Water Rolls, Water Rises/ El agua rueda, el agua sube.  Illustrated by Meilo So. New York: Children’s Book Press, 2014.  ISBN:9780892393251