Monday, March 2, 2015

Class Post - Review - "Santa Clauses"

Grammatically, a “clause” is the shortest piece of writing that can express a complete preposition, with a subject and a verb.  In the hands of master poet Bob Raczka, these clauses become Santa Clauses, subtitled, Short Poems from the North Pole.

Santa Clauses opens with a beautiful illustration of a typewriter by Chuck Groenick featuring a letter explaining the premise of the book.  “Years ago, Mrs. Claus gave him [Santa] a book of haiku, a Japanese form of poetry.”  What follows are 25 poems in the haiku style, one for every day in December leading up to and including Christmas day, purportedly written by Santa himself.  In the first poem, letters for Santa, “Wishes blowing in,” overwhelm St. Nick with “December’s first storm.”  Other poems deal with Santa’s preparation for Christmas (December 6th – “Replacing bad bulbs/ with good ones”), enjoying the winter (December 15th – “One hundred strings of/ outdoor lights can’t compete with/ tonight’s aurora”) or simple, everyday pleasures (December 18th – “Mrs. Claus and I/ wrapped neatly in our bed quilts - / matching packages”).  By December 25th, Santa is ready, flying over “fields and towns - / a toy train layout.”

There are many wonderful poetry books for children featuring haiku.  The short format makes these poems easier to read and even memorize for young readers and listeners.  By opting for this format, Raczka can tell a complete story, Santa and Mrs. Claus preparing for Christmas Day, in little bites, perfect for daily digestion.  Raczka uses poetic language to paint his pictures of the North Pole.  On December 10th, Santa writes, “The north wind and I/ whistling to “Let it Snow!”/ on the radio.”  Raczka personifies the wind by saying it whistles along with a song, just as Santa does. 

The imagery of Raczka’s verse, such as “Clouds of reindeer breath” (December 14th) and “Workshop storm warning/ in effect, heaving sawdust accumulation” (December 20th) creates beautiful pictures for readers and listeners to enjoy.  The quiet simplicity of the haiku fosters a calm, soothing narrative from poem to poem, day to day.  Placing landmark Christmas events, like taking home the perfect tree (December 7th) next to commonplace occurrences such as spotting one’s own shadow (December 8th) places great 
importance on our routine days, making the unremarkable remarkable.

Santa Clauses is laid out beautifully, with one haiku for each day with its date heading on its own page, with an accompanying illustration by Groenick, and the occasional two page spread.  These illustrations are awash in the blue of night and warm indoor earth tones.  The text is very readable, either dark against a light or white background, or white against a dark background.

Christmas books are always a big hit at my library, and oddly enough, not just at Christmastime.  I have children throughout the year asking for holiday stories.  Released in September of 2014, Santa Clauses has only one holiday season under its belt, but it is sure to be a book I will return to and recommend throughout the year for children looking for holiday cheer.  It is accessible, wonderful for reading aloud and sharing.

Haiku is a popular form of poetry that is often crafted with students, and I think Raczka has hit upon something very unique in his day to day exploration of a popular holiday.  My favorite haiku from the collection is “December 17th”:

“Sitting by the fire
reading “A Christmas Carol”
listening for ghosts.”

Reading “A Christmas Carol” is a yearly tradition for me, so I was very pleased to see it celebrated here.  I think it would be fun to have children craft their own haiku, celebrating their own favorite traditions from different holidays.  Do they love Easter egg hunts?  Or trick-or-treating? Or fireworks on the Fourth of July?  Because haiku are short, hopefully this would be a non-intimidating exercise that would allow children to focus on one particular thought.

Raczka, Bob.  Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole.  Illustrated by Chuck Groenick.  Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2014.  ISBN: 9781467718059

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