Friday, February 1, 2008

Poetry Book Review: Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico!


YUM! MMMM! QUE RICO! AMERICAS’ SPROUTINGS
Written by Pat Mora
Pictures by Rafael Lopez
Lee & Low Books, 2007


The Poems: Yum! MmMm! Que Rico! was one of my favorite children’s poetry books of 2007. I think it’s a terrific combination of haiku about edible plants native to the Americas, factual information about these foods, and vibrant artwork. Although Mora adheres to the traditional 5-7-5 format of this poetic form—hers are not your typical haiku. I think these “New World” haiku will be less abstract and more tangible to the mind of a child. Although many children may never have tasted a papaya or a prickly pear—many will have eaten, seen, smelled, and touched pumpkins, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, pineapples, peanuts, blueberries, and pecans. I think children will be able to relate to the haiku about these particular foods and the sensory experiences Mora describes when cooking and eating them.

Here are some examples of imagery and figurative language from Mora’s poems:

Chocolate is “brown magic melting on your tongue.”
A pineapple wears “a stiff prickly hat.”
Mashed potatoes are “salt and pepper clouds.”
A pumpkin is “autumn’s orange face.”
When a cooked cranberry pops in a pot, there are “scarlet fireworks.”
Melting vanilla ice cream runs down a cone “cooling your warm summer laugh.”
On eating papaya: “Chewing your perfume/we taste your leafy jungle.”

Classroom Connection: Mora’s haiku are refreshing and innovative. They are good examples of how a writer can respond in an imaginative way to different foods and to an experience as common as eating. A classroom teacher could certainly use Mora’s book as an inspiration for a classroom poetry-writing activity. Imagine a teacher bringing in foods like kiwi fruit, avocados, mushrooms, mangoes, scallions, bananas, apples, and strawberries for students to observe, eat, and then write poems about. The students could describe the foods in regard to how they look, smell, feel(the textures of the foods on the hands and in the mouth), and taste. Students could also be encouraged to make comparisons and to use figurative language as Mora did when describing the foods and gustatory sensations. (I tried a lesson similar to this with poems by Valerie Worth--Raw Carrots, Mushroom, Asparagus--and it was very successful.)

One year, I also did a lesson for National Education Week pairing the observation and tasting of foods with writing. I called the activity See It, Feel It, Smell It, Taste It, Write It. Parents sat with their children “experiencing” different edible objects like marshmallows and round slices of lemon. Then the parents and their children wrote about the foods using comparisons.

Informative Prose: One thing that sets this book apart from most collections of haiku poetry is Mora's inclusion of factual information about “Americas’ sproutings.”

Here are a few “tasty” factual tidbits Mora serves up in her prose paragraphs:

Native Americans ground blueberries for use in medicine, and European settlers boiled blueberries with milk to make gray paint. The word chocolate is derived from the word xoxolatl, which means “bitter water.” The Totonac Indians from Mexico used vanilla to make perfume, medicine, and insect repellant. A substance found in the milky liquid of unripe papayas is used in meat tenderizers. It was once believed that that pumpkin could be used to remove freckles and cure snakebites.

The Illustrations: Lopez’s illustrations rendered in acrylic on wood panels are exuberant and alive with color. They transform this book into a true celebration of edible plants native to the Americas. The textured, stylistic paintings are full of joy and humor—a sandal-wearing pineapple dances with maracas in one hand, red juice runs down the chin of a smiling boy as he relishes a fresh tomato, a drum-playing boy parties with his sandwich as they dance in a river of gooey peanut butter, flames sprout from the mouth of a sweating father who has just bitten into a chile pepper, and simmering cranberries explode from a pot in a cloud of purple steam bursting with pink, orange, aqua, and blue fireworks. Lopez’s art is a visual delight!

Click here to see two illustrations from the book.
Edited to add: Click here to see a preview of the book.

Note: Mora expresses her gratitude to her husband, a professor of anthropology who teaches a course on the Origins of Agriculture, and ethno-botanist Gary Paul Nathan for their help. She also includes a short list of sources.

Although not every one of Mora’s haiku pops with a surprise or a clever twist at the end, there is plenty to excite the eyes and the literary palates of readers in Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico!. Yum! Mmmm! It’s a delicious melange of tasty haiku, savory facts, and luscious illustrations.



Karen Edmisten is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup this week.

14 comments:

Tricia said...

Thanks so much for the review. This looks like a lovely book. I have been frustrated as of late by the fact that our local bookstores carry little children's poetry beyond Prelutsky and the Poetry for Young People series. If I didn't read The Horn Book, Book List and your site, I'd never learn about new titles!

Thanks for sharing.

Elaine Magliaro said...

Tricia,

Yum! Mmmm! Que Rico! was nominated for a Cybils--so that's how I got my copy. I did see that it got a starred review in Booklist. I think it's also on the ALA/ALSC Notables list. I really like this book!

Karen E. said...

Now I'm hungry.

The book looks great -- thank you!

Liz in Ink said...

Ohhh, I sense a tasty purchase in my future... thanks, Elaine!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Karen and Liz--

I think this poetry book is a neat little package of haiku and facts. It would be a fine classroom resource that could be used across the curriculum. I love Lopez's illustrations--they really complement the text.

Kelly Fineman said...

As we were judges together, you know I liked this one as well, even if some of the poems (many of the P foods) aren't quite the haiku they could be.

It might pair well with a forthcoming title from Chronicle Books called Animals Christopher Columbus Saw, by Sandra Markle (for a unit about stuff that was already here).

Elaine Magliaro said...

Kelly,

I agree that some of the haiku might not have been all they could be. Still, this book really appealed to me. I think it's the combination of poetry, facts, and stunning artwork. In addition, I often look at children's books from both literary and curricular perspectives. I also think Mora's poems in this book would appeal to young children more than the traditional haiku.

Susan T. said...

I liked this book a lot, but when I read it to a small group of first-graders, I could tell that the language was going over their heads. They loved the pictures, but I think that younger kids would need some prep work to enjoy these poems. Both the form and the rich language would need some explaining. For that reason, I felt like there was a bit of mismatch between format (picture book) and reading level. Maybe I was just using it with the wrong age, since I do feel that prep work shouldn't be necessary, in general.

Elaine Magliaro said...

Susan,

I think how children react to a work of literature may depend upon the presentation. I know I would have used this book in my classroom--but I would probably have brought in some of the foods written about in the haiku: a pineapple, tomato, chocolate, peanuts and peanut butter, uncooked and cooked cranberries, etc. I'd have let the kids observe, feel, and taste the different foods--and then shared the poems. I think kids would have a positive response under those conditions.

Of course, I would never have done all that with most books I read aloud--but YUM! MMMM! QUE RICO! is not like most books. It's about poetry and geography and botany and history. As someone who used literature across the curriculum for many years, I learned how much more students can get out of a particular work of literature when they have some pre-reading activity that sets the stage for a better understanding and appreciation of it--and for an enthusiatic response.

I can imagine using this book in second, third, and fourth grades.

SevenImpossible said...

Thanks, Elaine. I've not seen it, but I'll add it to my library list.

Jules, 7-Imp

Mary Lee said...

Thanks for the great ideas! About this time of year, my writing workshop needs some fluffing. I think looking, touching and tasting will yield some excellent writing!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Jules,

I hope you like the book!


Mary Lee,

Oh great! If you do a writing activity inspired by the book, please let me/us know how the kids responded. I loved immersing my kids in subjects that they were going to write about in the classroom. It did indeed yield some excellent writing!

Susan T. said...

Elaine, I bet the first graders would have loved seeing, touching, and possibly tasting the food. That's a good idea. It would be a big production (with a class of 30!), but would certainly be worth it.

They're such dear little people, but they watch a lot of TV and I get the feeling that they don't hear too many books read aloud at home. I could be wrong, but...

Elaine Magliaro said...

Susan,

Thirty children in a first grade classroom? That's too many for optimal instruction. It's hard for a teacher to give children the individual attention they need when there are that many students in a class. If only we could get our priorities straight. The early grades lay the foundation. Primary grade classrooms should have no more than twenty-five children.

I wish more parents read aloud to their children daily. I think it's important for teachers in elementary and middle school to read aloud every day, too.