Friday, April 17, 2009

Red Sings from Treetops: A Book Review & An Invitation

Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors
Written by Joyce Sidman
Illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
Houghton Mifflin, 2009
A Little Background about How the Book Started
Here’s an excerpt from the interview I did with Joyce Sidman last year.

Elaine: You told me before that your most recent book, This Is Just to Say, came out of your work as a writer-in-residence—that it came pouring out of you in a way that other books haven’t. How long does it usually take for you to write a collection of poems? What is the process like?

Joyce: Well, it’s different for every book, but generally I start with an idea, or an image, or an emotion. I have a book coming out next year called Red Sings from Treetops—it’s about color in nature. This book started with the deep thrill that color gives me: a flaming red maple or the soft green of new buds. But an emotion or image is not enough—I have to figure out a “voice” for the book: a way to write it so that it captures that original emotion. I played around with all sorts of color poems, touching on this idea or that, and then retreating when it didn’t feel right. This happened over the course of a year. Finally one spring I looked down at some tracks in the mud, and a line came into my head: “Look down—brown. Deer were here, and a dainty raccoon.” That line isn’t even in the book anymore, but I knew that I’d found a way in, a way of talking about color as though it were alive. After that, the book took about three months to write and another few months of tinkering. I have to go slowly. If I force it, it’s just bad poetry. And I have to give it time to rest so I can look at it with fresh eyes and see if it still works.

From Joyce Sidman’s website: Color has always had the power to lift my spirits and thrill me. The first time I saw a cardinal on top of a tall tree, singing his heart out in the late winter sun, I thought, "WOW!" On my daily walks, I started looking for color everywhere, in each season. And it WAS everywhere--even in winter. To me, each color seemed like an old friend come alive somehow. This book is my attempt to bring color to life for others, as well.

About the Book
Those of us who know and love Joyce Sidman’s poetry books appreciate all the "tinkering" she does with her poems and all the time she gives them to rest so she can revisit them with “fresh eyes.” Sidman’s poetry for children is exceptional.

I’m happy to say that her newest book is no exception to the “exceptional” standard she set for herself in creating outstanding collections of poetry in the past. In Red Sings from Treetops, she gives readers insight into colors through her novel approach to writing about them. Sidman takes a seasonal look at BLUE and YELLOW and RED and GREEN and other colors—and shows us what they embody during different times of the year. For example, here’s what she writes about the pink of spring and the pink of winter:


And here,
in secret places,
peeps Pink:
the color of


In the WINTER dawn,
Pink blooms
Over pastel hills.

Pink prickles:
warm fingers
against cold cheeks.

To Sidman, in summer Yellow melts/everything it touches…/smells like butter,/tastes like salt. But in fall, Yellow is a school bus that grows wheels/and lumbers/down the block,/blinking:/Warning—classrooms ahead.

Sidman’s colors are alive. They move and sing and whisper and float and drip and breathe. In spring, RED squirms on the road after rain. PURPLE pours into summer evenings one shadow at a time. BROWN rustles and whispers underfoot in fall. In winter, GREEN waits in the hearts of trees, feeling the earth turn.

This is what the best poetry should do: Help us to look at common subjects with new eyes—help us to appreciate what lies beneath the surface—to see the reality of something as perceived in one’s imagination. Sidman thinks through the “layers” of colors in this collection and introduces us to their varied personalities.

Pamela Zagarenski’s art is the perfect complement for Sidman’s text. Her mixed media illustrations are stunning—and, like the poems, draw us into the seasonal lives of colors. Some pictures burst with brightness—a brilliant orange pumpkin in autumn…a brazen yellow sun in summer. In other pictures, colors are subdued—like the muted green of winter and pale pink of featherless baby birds in spring.

Write and Share a Color Poem
Last year, when I interviewed Joyce Sidman during National Poetry Month, she and I invited my blog readers to write poems of apology like the ones Joyce had written for her book This Is Just to Say. This year, I asked if she’d like me to invite people to write their own color poems.
Here’s what Joyce wrote:
I love to write color poems with the students I teach in my writer-in-residence weeks at local schools. We try to employ "synesthesia" (see my teacher's guide page: and use all five senses. They really enjoy it, and have definite feelings about certain colors. One beautiful line from a ten-year-old is "Red dances on the sun like a freed slave."

It would be fun to see what your readers could come up with--if you want, you could refer them to the teacher's guide page, and they could write one of the three kinds of color poems I have listed???

Here are a couple of poems that I posted previously at Wild Rose Reader. I didn’t write them as “color” poems—but they both touch on the subject.

Watermelon slice
I sink my teeth in
Savoring succulent flesh
Juice dribbling down my chin
Eating my way down
To a broad green grin

Green carpets the ground,
Reaches over the hills, blankets the broad valley,
And across the wide prairie, stalks of tall golden grain
Sway in the wind
Singing the song of the plain.

NOTE: Poem and artwork from Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. (c) 2009. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is at Becky’s Book Reviews this week.
At Blue Rose Girls today--POETRY FRIDAY: Opposite Poems
At Political Verses today--Gasbag: A Limbaughrhyme


Sara said...

Color wows me too. Several years ago, I read an article saying that scientists had determined that the color of the universe was a lovely blue-green, like turquoise jewelry. I wrote a prose poem about it, and was happily polishing it when I learned that the scientific community had changed their mind. The universe is NOT blue-green. Phooey.

jama said...

What a lovely post,Elaine. Joyce's new book looks absolutely wonderful. I'm looking forward to basking in her color poems.

Sigh. Like Sara, I wish the universe was blue-green (my favorite color combination). . .

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Ha! just like the "scientific community" to decide the color of the universe and then change their minds (collective mind?). That gives me a chuckle.

The universe really IS blue green.
And red, and black, and pink, and gold...

Keep polishing Sara!

This books looks like one I need to own. This is a lovely post. Thanks for the insight! I'll work on a color poem. I am going to pass on that link too, as we in the midst of mad poetry making here at school.

Liz in Ink said...

Oh, I am LUSTING over this book.
And over the blue-green universe that has been conjured up here...

Boni Ashburn said...

I can't wait to see this book! Thanks for sharing Joyce's process- very interesting what she says about finding the voice of the idea. Definitely the key to beautiful poetry :)

Mary Lee said...

How much longer will I be able to resist buying this book??? (Probably only a few hours!!!)

Perfectly said:

"This is what the best poetry should do: Help us to look at common subjects with new eyes—help us to appreciate what lies beneath the surface—to see the reality of something as perceived in one’s imagination."

jone said...

Ooh, another fabulous book from Siman. Can't wait to get it. Will try some color poems this week wit students.

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laurasalas said...

This is such a fabulous book! And, Elaine, I love your color poems!