The world is full of color, and the natural world has inspired poets since time immemorial. Acclaimed poet Joyce Sidman gives thanks for the colors of nature in Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors.
Beginning with Spring (because spring is the beginning of all things), Sidman writes that “red sings/ from treetops:/ cheer-cheer-cheer,/ each note dropping/ like a cherry/ into my ear.” (emphasis by the author.) The birds’ cheery music signals life coming back into the world, followed by red rhubarbs and red worms squiggling after the rain. Green follows, and yellow and purple. Spring turns to summer and “Yellow melts/ everything it touches.” Green fades with fall and white encompasses winter until the red birds come back, dropping notes “like a cherry/ into/ my/ ear.”
Poetical journeys through the seasons are somewhat common. 2014 saw the release of Jon J. Muth’s beautiful Hi, Koo!, a trip through the seasons on the haiku form of poetry. Sidman’s seasonal poetry in Red Sings from Treetops is less structured, more free verse. She likens the colors of the seasons to tastes, sounds and smells, bringing the reader and listener in to her world. “In spring/ White/ sounds like storms:/ snapped twigs and bouncing hail.”
Sidman keeps things relatively simple, calling upon only commonly used colors like white, black, yellow, green and blue, though in summer, “Blue grows new names:/ turquoise,/ azure,/ cerulean.” She focuses on everyday things, “smells like butter,/ tastes like salt,” so that the reader or listener can feel and relate to what she is saying.
While the colors of the seasons go dark and light, the tone of the collection remains cheerful, even in the face of thunderstorms. A child reading or listening to the poems could find stability in the cheerful acceptance of nature’s mood swings.
Red Sings from Treetops is beautifully illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski (who won a Caldecott honor for her work) with mixed media art. Obviously tying the artwork with Sidman’s colorful poetry, Zagarenski also plays with words and textures in a fairytale-like landscape where even the fish wear little paper crowns. Sidman’s poetry is presented within the art, or on a white panel, the color words always emphasized with their own designation.
Spring, summer and fall always seem to me to be alive with color, but I was delighted with the colors Sidman highlighted for "Winter." When it seems as if gray and white are all you have, it is nice to imagine the pink in your cheeks. Using winter, or a similarly non-colorful idea such as nighttime, I would work with young readers to imagine the colors we would find. Creating a poem out of the colors to be found in a blackout would be quite enjoyable.
Sidman, Joyce. Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors. Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, 2009. ISBN: 9780547014944